The fantasist tabloids of Britain

Ellie Holman, a Swedish resident of the UK, who was detained at Dubai airport with her four-year-old daughter for three days, claimed she was offered unpalatable food and forced to clean toilets simply for consuming a glass of wine with her meal on the flight.

She was reported saying the room in which she was confined was swelteringly hot and security personnel refused to allow her daughter to use the toilet. Or that is what almost every British newspaper would have their readers believe purely on the say-so of her lawyer. ‘Journalists’ predicted she would be forced to remain in country for up to a year until her trial was concluded and her family would be bankrupted in the process.

As someone who lived in Dubai for 14 years and frequently return, when I first read this story in the Daily Mail I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Every single aspect was patently ridiculous, reminiscent of officious behaviour in some underdeveloped world dictatorship. Just about every tabloid ran the story based on hearsay from a sole source without any care for fact-checking. It’s as though their editors fundamentally believe that all Europeans are saints and countries by virtue of being Arab must be sinners.

Moreover, Dubai-bashing has been their favourite sport for decades. In the 1980s, two British nationals were arrested for the murder of a gate guard at Chicago Beach Village. Headlines screamed ‘Death by the Sword in Dubai’ whereas that penalty has never existed. The killers did not receive the death penalty and were permitted to serve part of their sentences in their home country. During the 2008 global economic downturn that impacted not only the UAE but the entire region and beyond UK doom and gloom pundits gleefully took their crystal balls to say Dubai was poised to disappear under the sands. Poof!

Once the case against the woman was dropped and the true facts came out most of those sensationalist rags either went silent published half-truths or continued sensationalising her lies.

Fact: She arrived presenting an expired Swedish passport. Fact: She subsequently presented an Iranian passport and was told she could enter the country for 96 hours that would involve changing her original date of departure. Fact: She became abusive to the immigration officer and refused to pay associated fines before filming the exchange on her phone. Fact: She and her daughter were held at the airport for less than 24 hours, not three days.

Anyone who has seen the inside of Dubai’s state-of-the-art, award-winning airport will surely find it a stretch to believe there are areas without air-conditioning or without toilet facilities. Dubai’s police force and airport staff are trained in public relations; they are some of the most visitor-friendly personnel on the planet as almost all Dubai residents will surely attest. I have to wonder how many foreigners have been prosecuted for consuming just a glass rather than being drunk and disorderly in public. I can confidently write none whatsoever.

Dubai’s Attorney General Essam Eisa Al Humaidan issued a clarifying statement confirming that Holman attempted to enter with a passport that had expired on June 10 before producing an Iranian passport permitting a 96-hour stay. She angrily refused to pay the fees for a transit visa, instead photographed and insulted the immigration officer.

She was not charged with consuming alcohol but rather using profane language and photographing a government official at a border crossing which is not tolerated anywhere in the world. She and her child were subsequently held for less than a day and were provided with “full services.”

Holman was ultimately deported and has now told an Australian paper that she “feared being raped in a Dubai prison.” What utter nonsense is this! The woman, an aesthetician who advertises Botox treatments, is clearly a basket case. Years ago, I was shown around a woman’s prison in Dubai and was allowed to interview prisoners freely. I was amazed at the facilities on offer and the cleanliness. The guards I met were all female.

A headline in the Independent published on August 17 still reads “Flying into trouble over a glass of wine.” In the meantime, rather than count her blessings Holman is expanding on her lies while basking in her 15 minutes of fame. Shame on her and her media promoters who rarely let facts get in the way of a good story!

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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