Mother locked up with toddler in "foul" Dubai jail for three days for allegedly having glass of wine on Emirates flight

The UAE maintains a deliberately misleading façade that alcohol consumption is perfectly legal for visitors, according to British human rights NGO Detained in Dubai

                            Mother locked up with toddler in "foul" Dubai jail for three days for allegedly having glass of wine on Emirates flight
(Source:Getty Images)

A mother revealed her horrifying experience after being locked in a dirty jail cell in Dubai with her four-year-old daughter for three whole days after she drank a complimentary glass of wine while on an Emirates flight from London.

44-year-old Ellie Holman had been arrested after she was questioned by an immigration official at the Dubai International Airport for drinking alcohol during her eight-hour flight. A dentist and a mother to three children, Holman said that she was held in a "baking hot and foul smelling" airport detention center and had not been allowed to call her husband. Holman and her family are from Sevenoaks in Kent. She may have to spend a year in the Emirati state before her case is finally settled.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, she said: "My little girl had to go to the toilet on the cell floor. I have never heard her cry in the same way as she did in that cell. My passport remains confiscated until the case is settled, which I have been told will take at least a year. So far, this situation has cost me around £30,000 in legal fees, expenses and missed work. My practice is closed. All our savings have gone."

It all started when she got off an Emirates airlines flight from London to Dubai on July 13. While on the flight, Holman had been served a glass of red wine along with her meal. Alcohol being served on board a flight has been a standard practice for Emirates for any flights from the UK to Dubai. When she arrived in the Emirati state, she was questioned by an immigration official who told her that her visa was not valid. She told him that, since she had been to the UAE a few times earlier and that the visa had not expired, she had assumed that it was still valid for use.

The immigration official then told the dentist that the visa she had was only valid for one visit and that she had to buy a ticket and go back to London immediately. Holman said that she had pleaded with the "dismissive and rude" official so that she could apply for a new visa at the airport after telling him that her young daughter was exhausted. She said: "The thought of buying another ticket and turning straight around for another long flight was unthinkable."

During the intense standoff with the immigration official, Holman said that he had become livid with her and then refused to answer any more of her questions. She told the Daily Mail that the man had suddenly asked her if she had been drinking. She said: "I told him I had a glass of wine on the flight. It was given to me free by Emirates staff." The official then rudely told her that, even if the alcohol was consumed, possession of it was illegal in the UAE.

The official started to get more and more agitated and that's when Holman decided to start filming him on her phone so that she would have some evidence of his rude behavior later. Seconds after taking out her phone, she was surrounded by armed police and was told that filming of any airport officials was a criminal offense in the country.

The mother and daughter were taken to a holding cell in the airport and had their passports and phones confiscated. Holman said that her daughter Bibi was inconsolable by this time and that she had tried her best to comfort her by reading books to her while they were jailed. 

The pair were then taken to a police station where Holman was told that she was to give a blood sample for an alcohol test to be conducted. She said that the guard had taken out her earrings and had then tried to rip out her extensions. The police detention staff only spoke in Arabic and Holman said that she had begged them for some food and water. She also claimed that the two of them had asked to use the toilet but had been refused.

Holman, who is a Swedish national, said that she and her daughter had been ordered to sleep in the canteen area that was being used by other inmates. She claimed that the lights in the room were always on and that, with no air conditioner, the area was "baking hot and foul smelling". The mother also said that, even though she was exhausted and shocked by what was going on, the male guards in the detention center did not offer to help her lift a mattress. She claimed that they just stood there and laughed. Holman said: "My daughter is a happy, smiley girl, but she was terrified." 

The horrified duo got to a police building where she said a man in a filthy white lab coat said that he was going to take a sample of her blood as evidence that she had consumed alcohol. She had been told later that the results showed she had 0.04% alcohol in her blood which is a reading that is way below the UK drink-drive limit. 

While the mother and daughter were detained, Holman said that they did not eat. She said: "The food smelled like rotting garbage and neither Bibi or I could face trying it. I stayed awake for the whole three days." She also claimed that they were not given a pillow or a change of clothes while in detention and that she had been forced to clean the toilets and mop the floor while Bibi stood next to her. Holman said that her daughter had been in shock and that she could not be comforted.

Her husband Gary, in the meantime, was back at their home in Kent sick with worry because he hadn't heard from his wife. Holman said: "Friends had found out I was in jail and tried to visit. Nobody was allowed to see us. We were not told."

The frantic husband then flew to Dubai leaving their other two children, 9-year-old Suri and 8-year-old Noah, with some relatives. Holman was taken back to the airport in handcuffs and granted bail after the detention. Bibi and Gary have currently been allowed to fly back to the UK while the dentist is staying with some friends in the Emirati state. 

Describing the experience of seeing his wife and daughter jailed, Gary said that it was "devastating for the whole family". He said: "The thought of Ellie and our little girl in that awful prison breaks my heart. Ellie is a sensible, professional person and an excellent mother who would never knowingly break the law. Why do Emirates Airlines serve alcohol for a passenger to drink and then pass through the airport. This has been devastating for the whole family. Ellie was taking a much-needed break with little Bibi, who was looking forward to the beach and playing in the sea. I hope this can all be over so we can all be together again and start to heal."

Detained in Dubai is a British human rights NGO that is representing the dentist and its CEO Radha Stirling said in a statement: "The UAE maintains a deliberately misleading façade that alcohol consumption is perfectly legal for visitors. This is exampled by bars at the airport, by hotels, restaurants, and clubs serving drinks. Tourists cannot be blamed for believing that the Emirates are tolerant of Western drinking habits but this is far from reality. It is wholly illegal for any tourist to have any level of alcohol in their blood. It is illegal to consume alcohol at a bar, a hotel and a restaurant and if breathalyzed, that person will be jailed." 

A partner at the organization, David Haigh, added: "It's heartbreaking to see a mother and child arrested over something so trivial as a glass of wine."