Saudi royals order crackdown on drinking after Briton found dead in swimming pool

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The Independent Online

British workers in Saudi Arabia face a renewed crackdown on alcohol use after a man from Wales died during what was believed to have been an illegal drinks party.

Legal sources in the kingdom, with links to the royal family, claim Saudi patience has been stretched to breaking point in a year when drinking and alcohol smuggling has left one man killed by a bomb and 12 Britons arrested. Five have already been sentenced to be publicly flogged.

The death this week of Robert Cartlidge, a 26 year old aircraft engineer, found in a swimming pool at a private club run by British Aerospace in Riyadh, was the last straw, the sources said.

"No one is suggesting Mr Cartlidge did anything wrong. There hasn't even been a post mortem yet and our condolences go out to his family. It's just that these parties seem to degenerate into drunkenness and terrible accidents can happen. When people come to our country, they are told of the law, yet they make a decision to flout it. Our royal family has been very tolerant and understanding of Western ways, but the flagrant disregard for our customs and beliefs has become intolerable."

Mr Cartlidge, of Nantarw, near Cardiff, had been staying in Riyadh as a guest of BAE Systems staff who had taken him to a social club. He was found drowned, in his underpants and T-shirt but still wearing his watch and spectacles.

The Foreign Office said yesterday it was not confirmed whether he had been drinking. "If the Saudis don't do an autopsy, it is likely a UK coroner will order one once Mr Cartlidge's body is repatriated," said a spokeswoman.

Sources say the Saudi authorities have become increasingly exasperated with the behaviour of expatriates, notably Britons. They are understood to have watched in disbelief on Wednesday as BAE paid out £1m in compensation to Cherry Frame, a pilot's wife who was paralysed after being pushed into a swimming pool on one of the firm's compounds in Riyadh, again during an illegal drinks party.

Four Britons are appealing against sentences – but not convictions – handed out for alcohol peddling. David Mornin, 49, a former fireman from Greenock, was sentenced to 300 lashes, one year in jail and a £7,400 fine; his father-in-law, Kevin Hawkins, from Lancaster, was sentenced to 500 lashes and 30 months. Paul Moss, 31, from Merseyside, was sentenced to 500 lashes and two years; Ken Hartley faces 300 lashes and 30 months; and Ron Yates from Bolton, Lancashire, has been sentenced to 20 months in jail and 600 lashes.

Six more men, Leslie Walker, James King, Peter Branden, James Lee, Gary Onions and James Cottle have yet to be sentenced to their alleged parts in alcohol trading.

The man in most dire straits is Sandy Mitchell, 44, a Scot who "confessed" on Saudi television to a spate of bombings, one of which killed Christopher Rodway, 47, a fellow Briton, last November. Many observers believed his confession was scripted, but if found guilty he faces death by beheading.

Although the Saudi case against Mr Mitchell, an anaesthetics technicician at the Saudi military hospital, remains secret, diplomatic sources say the authorities will attempt to link him to a "turf war" over alcohol smuggling. Mr Mitchell's family believe it is preposterous to suggest a professional like him would become involved, but for others the rewards are great.

A litre of raw alcohol, known as "Sid", after sidic, the Arab word for "my friend", costs between £18 and £25 in Riyadh. Sales can make around £2,000 a week for those who deal in it.

But Scotch is more lucrative; a £19 bottle of Johnnie Walker can be sold for £120. The Scotch is smuggled in 20ft sea containers that can hold 1,100 cases. That can realise a £1.3m profit on each shipment.

A source who knows the trade said: "They pay large bribes to officials, but the profits are still enormous." And, over claims that the bombings may have been caused in a turf war over smuggled alcohol, he added: "One would fight hard to hang on to that kind of network."

An expatriate who returned from Saudi this year said illegal drinking was the most common form of entertainment. "There are many crazy parties, most of which will go on until sunrise, if not the afternoon of the next day," he said.

"Nearly all expats in the kingdom live in company compounds, which are walled and have security gates to monitor who comes in and out.

"Non-residents are not allowed in without permission from a resident, but it would be very rare for a Saudi to be turned away because the security guards are too scared to say no. 'Security' are the internal police of the compounds. They know about people selling alcohol but they tend to leave expats alone."

But that is likely to change. "The compounds are not owned by the companies who employ the expatriates but by Saudi Arabian landlords," said the source close to the royal family. "It is unlikely that the guards on these compounds will be as ready to turn a blind eye as they were."

In many holiday hotspots, Britons behaving badly under a heady mix of alcohol and sunshine have upset the people. Drunken behaviour in Saudi Arabia is far more serious; here it can get you jailed, flogged and deported.