British backpacker Eleanor Hawkins will 'fly home tomorrow' after jail sentence for stripping on sacred Malaysian mountain

She was among a group of tourists who were blamed for causing a deadly earthquake by posing naked on Mount Kinabalu

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 12 June 2015 18:20
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Eleanor Hawkins is 'scared and shocked' to be locked up, according to her father
Eleanor Hawkins is 'scared and shocked' to be locked up, according to her father

A British woman who was jailed and fined almost £900 for stripping on a sacred mountain in Malaysia will fly back to the UK tomorrow.

Eleanor Hawkins, 23, was sentenced to three days in prison for a public nuisance offence at Kota Kinabalu Magistrates' Court today but has already served the time in custody.

Her lawyer said she is expected to be freed tonight and will fly back home to her family on the first available flight tomorrow.

A group of ten tourists were blamed for causing a deadly earthquake after they stripped on Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu

Miss Hawkins was with a group of 10 backpackers at the summit of Mount Kinabalu who were seen taking their clothes off for celebratory photos on 30 May - an act politicians blamed for triggering a deadly earthquake.

She and three other members of the group - Canadian siblings Lindsey and Danielle Petersen, and Dutch traveller Dylan Snel – had admitted committing an “obscene act” earlier today.

Because the four defendants have already been held in custody for three days since their arrests on Tuesday, the judge ruled that their punishment had been served and ordered them to leave the country, Sky News reported.

The fine of 5,000 Malaysian ringgit converts to roughly £860 and the offence could have been be punished with up to three months in prison under Malaysian law.

The defendants were also accused of urinating on the mountain and swearing at a guide who told them to treat it with respect, although the four denied swearing at the man and telling him to "go to hell" in court, and the official record was amended.

The Malay Mail reported that the court was told the climbers had challenged each other to see who could remain naked in the cold for the longest.

Defence lawyer Ronny Cham was quoted saying defendants had suffered enough trauma and that extensive international news coverage of the incident has served as deterrent for others.

"Their act had brought shame and ridicule upon themselves and their respective countries," he added, according to the BBC.

Jamil Aripin, a prosecutor, agreed that there was no link between the earthquake and the stripping but said it had outraged the local community.

Miss Hawkins had been driven to court by officials wearing balaclavas and arrived shortly before 8am (BST), being ushered inside by guards as international media clamoured to get a picture.

Mount Kinabalu during a rescue mission after an earthquake near the peak claimed 18 lives

Journalists in the courtroom said that diplomats from the UK, Canada and the Netherlands were present for the sentencing hearing, sitting just behind their respective citizens.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "We remain in contact with Ms Hawkins and her family following this morning's court appearance, and will continue to provide consular assistance."

Six days after the tourists took the naked photos, a magnitude-5.9 earthquake struck the 13,400ft-high mountain, killing 18 people and leaving hundreds more stranded.

Joseph Pairin Kitingan, the deputy chief minister of Sabah state, was among the politicians attributing the earthquake to travellers showing “disrespect to the sacred mountain”.

Eleanor Hawkins arriving at court in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, on 12 June

The Kadazan-Dusun tribe believe Mount Kinabalu houses their dead ancestors’ spirits, conducting rituals to appease them, and guides reportedly tell climbers to treat it with respect.

Yesterday, Miss Hawkins' father said his daughter “knows what she did was stupid and disrespectful and is very sorry for the offence that she has caused the Malaysian people”.

He added: “We hope that the Malaysian authorities deal with the misdemeanour and not link it to the unfortunate tragic events that occurred the following week.”

A tourist takes pictures of Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu

Miss Hawkins, who comes from Derby and recently graduated with a masters in aeronautical engineering from Southampton University, is in the middle of a gap year travelling around south-east Asia that started in January.

Mr Cham said she was due to be freed from police custody tonight and release documentation was being arranged so she could board the first available flight back to Britain tomorrow.

Police are believed to be seeking the six other tourists as suspects, although unconfirmed reports suggest they may have already left Sabah.

Additional reporting by agencies

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