The abduction of a young woman from the streets of Cambridge is the origin-story of how Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai treats the women in his life
I’m making this video because it could be the last video I make.Youtube video – Escape from Dubai
Basia Cummings, narrating: This is the story of one of the world’s richest monarchs.
He’s the most evil person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s pure evil. There’s nothing good in him. He’s responsible for so many people’s deaths and ruining so many people’s lives.Youtube video – Escape from Dubai
Basia, narrating: The story of a father, his wife, and daughters;
Welcome to Dubai. This is my grandfather’s house where my father and mother and us lived.BBC News
Basia, narrating: Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai since 2006, vice-President of the United Arab Emirates, and one of the most powerful men in the Middle East.
A man who’s overseen the near-total transformation of his country.
A place where, back in 1968, there were only 13 cars registered.
What you see now is the tourism, the airline, the football sponsorship. But below the waterline, there’s this huge investment fund (a sovereign wealth fund) and financial influence that extends across the western world.
And even further below the waterline, things which Sheikh Mohammed really would prefer we didn’t see.
Things which are starting to come to light anyway, through human rights groups – and through the courts.
Because in the past three years, two of Dubai’s Princesses have tried to escape the Sheikh’s grasp.
First his daughter, Princess Latifa, who fled on a boat in the Indian Ocean, but was captured by armed guards, and taken back to Dubai. Her story became an international sensation, mostly because of her own genius at publicising it.
This is Princess Latifa al Maktoum, daughter of the billionaire ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed.Panorama
Basia, narrating: Then, less than a year later, the Sheikh’s wife – Princess Haya – successfully escaped.
To London. With their two young children. Where she’s now involved in a high-profile custody battle in the family courts against her ex-husband.
Well the wife of Dubai’s billionaire ruler has reportedly fled to London with her two children and is seeking a divorce. Princess Haya bint al Hussein is said to have escaped from the United Arab Emirates.BBC News
Basia, narrating: Latifa and Haya. Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter and ex-wife. Who say they have both been hounded in appalling ways but both, at least – through their ordeals – have added to the ledger of what we know about how the ruler of Dubai behaves.
But there’s another woman. One, whose story has been almost entirely forgotten. Princess Shamsa.
I’m Basia Cummings and you’re listening to the Slow Newscast. This week, we return to the summer of 2000 and to a young woman, aged 19, who tried to make a break for a life beyond the confines of her family.
It’s a story about convenient friends and inconvenient truths, and about how Dubai captured the West, even as its ruler was allegedly kidnapping and drugging his own daughters.
It’s the origin-story of Sheikh Mohammed’s coercion and control of the women in his family.
And it starts on a cold day in February, in a police station in Cambridge.
David Beck: My name’s David Beck. I’m a retired Detective Chief Inspector from Cambridgeshire police. In 2001 I was the officer in charge of Cambridge city CID.
Basia, narrating: David Beck is a retired detective living – as in all good detective shows – in a windswept town on the Yorkshire coast: Whitby.
David: It’s quite a large hall, it’s a rowing club social function hall, just looking out of Whitby Harbour.
Basia, narrating: Back in 2000, 21 years ago now, David was working in Cambridge, on the most complex case.
David: Murders, serious assaults, serious robberies. And my other responsibility was in charge of the force hostage and kidnap negotiation unit. So in both of those capacities it was appropriate that the allegation that was made should land on my desk.
Basia, narrating: You can hear the papers rustle on the desk as he speaks. He’s got his witness statement.
And he describes how, on the 28th of February 2001, a letter appeared on his desk.
David: Well the first thing was, I’ve got an allegation against the head of a state so that is going to carry some significance in terms of public interest, I suppose. So my first action was to contact a force senior officer and to have a meeting with him and the force legal advisor to say, look, we’ve got this allegation, what do you want me to do with it? And he said, well, you’ve got an allegation, investigate it. So I started to do so.
Basia, narrating: The letter made an astonishing claim.
David: The allegation initially was that she had been kidnapped by a group of armed men from the streets of Cambridge, taken against her will to the family property in Newmarket from where she was sedated, placed on a helicopter, taken to the airfield near London where the family has some aircraft. And from there flown out of the country to, at the time, I believe it was Deauville.
Basia, narrating: It was the stuff of films. A princess, kidnapped, drugged, bundled onto a private plane and taken out of the country.
A crime that, if true, was already six months old before the police were alerted to it.
So David, of course, began to investigate.
David: First thing I did was just to get an officer to go to the hotel in question which is where she had been booked, in the Royal Cambridge hotel. And yes, it was confirmed, she had been staying there.
We got a statement from the hotel staff to say she’d been booked into a room. We had, I believe, either video or stills footage of her when she left the hotel signing out and there was a male in the background, who I couldn’t identify.
I believe that we also had shots of her outside the hotel being put into a car and driven off. So that seemed to corroborate the first part of the allegation. The next thing I did was to contact air traffic control and say, look, did you have any flights from the airfield near London to Newmarket on the day in question?
And they said, yes, that was a short notice flight booked from Gravesend and another very short notice flight plan for a jet to leave Gravesend to I believe it was Deauville in France at the time. So there appeared at that point should be some justification that parts of the allegations were true.
Basia, narrating: So who was this young woman?
David: All I knew at the time, which she was an 18 year old young girl who clearly enjoyed the freedom of living in this country and wanted more of it.
Basia, narrating: Her name was Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – to give her her full title.
The daughter of Sheikh Mohammed, who was then the Crown Prince of Dubai, his brother was Sheikh Maktoum, the ruler.
Those who knew Shamsa described her as a headstrong young woman. Her riding instructor, a woman called Lucy Stevenson, said that she “didn’t like authority”, that she was unruly, and hated pomp.
Lucy described this brilliant scene: that during her riding lessons on Chobham Common in Surrey, where her family had a grand estate, Shamsa would get a kick out of speeding away, as her bodyguard tried to catch up with her.
The few photographs of her shared in public show her with long shiny black hair, often on a horse, or near one. In the photo that’s most used since her disappearance, she’s proudly holding up a gold horse-riding trophy.
Shamsa was cheeky like to push all the boundaries and she wasn’t what you would call a princess you know she was full of life and adventureMarcus Essabri on BBC News
Basia, narrating: This is Marcus Essabri. Shamsa’s cousin.
They were close and as Shamsa began to feel like she was trapped in a gilded cage, she wrote Marcus a letter.
In September 1999, she sent him a note that said: “I was thinking of running away. I know that won’t solve any of my problems — that’s why I considered talking to my mother again.”
It reads like the angst of a typical, frustrated teenager, from a teenager who maybe dreamed of being typical.
And the idea of running away from her life, had taken hold.
All I’m saying is that I made up my mind at the moment. I have hope, I have a goal but to get there I’ll have to sacrifice some of the things I have.Marcus reading out the letter Shamsa sent to him on 60 Minutes Australia
Basia, narrating: But David, the police investigator tasked with trying to make sense of Shamsa’s disappearance, he knew nothing of this.
At the Sheikh’s family home in Newmarket – close to the famous racecourse, where he would send his world-beating horses to compete, and where he was becoming friendlier with British royals – staff just refused to speak to David.
The Sheikh was not yet the ruler of Dubai, but even as Crown Prince he wielded significant diplomatic and political power. Enough, perhaps, to bring the shutters down on trouble.
And then David Beck got a call from the Foreign Office.
The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, wanted to be kept abreast of the developments.
David: The next thing I got was a phonecall from someone in the Foreign Office, the Foreign Office Arab desk, he told me that the Foreign Secretary had asked to be kept informed of any developments. So I made a note of his name and didn’t speak to him any further at that stage or indeed since.
Basia: What was his name?
David: His name was Duncan Norman.
Basia, narrating: No one at the Foreign Office would verify this. It’s too long ago to remember, for most people. Too long ago, apparently, to remember the possible kidnapping of an Emirati Princess.
But at the time of David’s investigation, that man that he mentioned – Duncan Norman – was a Desk Officer for the Foreign Office overseeing the Gulf Section.
So it makes sense – that in this delicate matter, involving a man who was fast becoming a key ally in the Middle East, a friend of the queen’s, that the government would want to know just how far this Cambridge DCI was getting.
And things would get stranger, for David Beck.
He had been given a phone number in the original complaint – a way that he might be able to speak to Shamsa herself. To find out, directly, if the allegation was true.
The number was for a half-fake name – Shamsa Lamara.
David: The name I was given was Shamsa Lamara which indicates to me that Lamara was the surname. So, I took that at face value. I rang the number and I recall speaking to Shamsa, or a lady who gave her name as Shamsa certainly, who gave me the names of three men who she said had entered the UK via Emirates Airlines flight. I tried to check with special grants Emirates Airlines but their records didn’t go back that far. So I wasn’t able to confirm whether those three names were legitimate or not, but they certainly will still be on the file.
Basia: And tell me about that phone call. So you believe that you did speak to Shamsa.
David: I believe so. Yes and she sounded, from memory, quite agitated and was trying to rush to give me as much information as she could do.
Basia, narrating: Despite a wall of silence from anyone connected to Sheikh Mohammed, David made quiet and determined progress.
Speaking to other witnesses, he was able to establish what happened that night, in August of 2000.
To corroborate that, yes, Shamsa had indeed been taken from Cambridge to Newmarket, and then flown out of the country.
David: I was then contacted by someone from the Dubai office in London, giving his name as Mohammed al Shaivani who said that he had information to give in respect of what had happened. About a week later, I got quite a lengthy letter from him, saying yes he had been there at the night in question, he knew there was a young lady but he did not know who it was but he’d seen a photo of Shamsa subsequently and he thought that she resembled the young lady who was put onto the helicopter.
Basia, narrating: After three months of investigation – approaching the end of summer 2001 – almost a year after Princess Shamsa had first gone missing, David had followed every lead open to him in the UK, he’d traced her final steps, he had spoken to friends, eyewitnesses and had circled round the Sheikh’s entourage. And I get this image from him, this lone police officer, trying to find a chink in the armour of an impossibly rich, ruling family, facing the somewhat pathetic reality that the police were really no match if the Sheikh wanted to hide something.
David knew he needed to speak to Shamsa herself in person. To be completely certain that she had, in fact, be abducted. And to do that, he was going to need to go to Dubai.
David: We decided that the best thing to do would be for me to actually apply to go to Dubai to speak to Shamsa and say, look, are you serious about this? Or are you just trying to cause trouble for your father?
I arranged a meeting with a member of the Crown Prosecution Service, which is the first step in the process. I had a meeting with him in London and he asked me to prepare a report asking to go to Dubai. He said that would be forwarded from the CPS to the Foreign Office who would in turn forward it to the embassy in Dubai. I was told about a week or two weeks later that that request had been denied. Where along the line that had been denied, I don’t know, it wasn’t said to me. I don’t know where it was, the answer will lie on the file, which remains a secret.
Basia, narrating: And there, it seemed, David’s story ended.
Until, a news report. In December 2001, ten months after David Beck had first started his investigation, The Guardian newspaper covered the story of Princess Shamsa’s disappearance.
The headline: unruly daughter of wealthy sheikh made a bid for freedom. But what happened next?
It was the first piece published about Shamsa. And it gained attention in Parliament, questions quickly turned to how much the British government knew. One MP asked what contact there had been between Sheikh Mohammed – Shamsa’s father – and the Foreign Office during this time.
And the response, from a parliamentary undersecretary called Ben Bradshaw, was simply: “We have informed them this is a matter for the police.”
And that was it.
David’s investigation had really nowhere else to go without cooperation. The UK government was deflecting to the police, the police were looking to the government.
And so less than 18 months after disappearing from a Cambridge street, the story of Shamsa was just forgotten.
And to this day, more than 21 years later, she has never been seen in public. Her story, it seemed, had been too complicated, and too inconvenient.
Until, that is – her sister, Latifa, decided to fight for her.
Hello my name is Latifa Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. My birthday is December 5 1985. My sister is Shamsa al Maktoum. In 2000 she escaped on holiday in the UK. She was 18 and I was 14 and after two months on the run she was captured and brought back to Dubai and she spent a total of eight years in prison and two years.Youtube video – Escape from Dubai
Basia, narrating: This is Princess Latifa, Shamsa’s younger sister.
Another, ‘unruly’ young woman. You might be more familiar with her story, because she, too, tried to escape her life in Sheikh Mohammed’s glittering prison.
She was snatched from this yacht by Emirati special forces off the coast of India, as she tried to make an extraordinary escape from her father and the city-state he rules.BBC Newsnight
Basia, narrating: Only this time, nearly 20 years after her sister, she had a new weapon on her side: social media.
I was imprisoned and tortured repeatedly by his men. After one year and one month I was allowed to leave and I went to the house – my mum’s house...Youtube video – Escape from Dubai
Basia, narrating: After she filmed this 39 minute video, detailing everything that she claimed to have endured, Latifa tried to escape for a second time.
She’d been planning it for years.
With the help of a French spy and a Finnish fitness instructor and friend – called Tiina Jauhiainen.
The plan, in the early hours the 24th February 2018, was to embark on a 26 mile journey by inflatable boat and jet ski, to a yacht in the Indian Ocean. And from there to fly from India to the US to claim asylum.
But the yacht was intercepted by Indian Special Forces. And Latifa, Tina and the French spy were held at gunpoint. Latifa was dragged away, kicking and screaming.
The video she had prepared, in case exactly this happened, was then posted online – and has now been viewed 5 million times on Youtube alone.
If you are watching this video, it’s not such a good thing. Either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation. So where do I begin? In 2000 my sister Shamsa, while she was on holiday in England, she was 18 years old, going on 19, she ran away. In the two months that she was free, we were in contact and I was still in Dubai.Youtube video – Escape from Dubai
Basia, narrating: It was a clever part of the choreography of her escape attempt: a viral video in which she tore away at the stage-managed story of the Sheikh’s life.
Because ever since Shamsa’s disappearance, the Sheikh’s success story had dominated: billions poured in to transform Dubai into an aspirational hub of wealth and culture in the Middle East.
And above it all, the Sheikh, now ruler after his brother’s death, a man of vision – surrounded by a loving family, 30 children from 6 wives.
On Instagram, perfectly staged images, the kind Instagram thrives on, presented this as a happy, wealthy, and open family. In 2017, he even wrote a book about how to cultivate happiness, and positivity.
Sanya Burgess: Hi, good morning.
Basia: Morning. Thanks so much for talking to us so early.
Sanya: No worries. Let me just whack my audio recorded on.
Basia, narrating: To unpick this relationship, between the birth of a city, and a father and his two daughters, I wanted to speak to Sanya Burgess.
She’s the Digital Investigations Reporter at Sky News and covered the case of Princess Latifa and her sister Shamsa really closely.
Sanya: In 2001, it was being ruled over by Sheikh Mohammed’s brother and so it was well on its way from, when the Maktoum’s initially founded Dubai, when it was a small fishing village. It was growing and growing and growing, but really that massively accelerated under Sheikh Mohammed who took power in 2006 after his brother died. And he is the billionaire who turned Dubai into this gold, marble and glass wonderland that we see now and Dubai is still changing still under Sheikh Mohammed’s hand, moving away from oil revenues and much more towards an economy based on property, business and tourism.
And tourism is a really key thing here. There’s been a huge marketing push to show Dubai as an aspirational destination, a playground for the rich and those who want to look rich. That’s really how they want to have their mark on the world and be known as. And even during the pandemic, while we were all sat in our pyjamas, watching box sets, we were seeing pictures of influencers on the beach, sipping cocktails, you know, gorgeous sun and sand.
But the reality is, a stone’s throw away from one of the Emirates most popular beaches, Latifa claims she was held in a villa just around the corner from Jumeirah beach. So there are two sides to the vision of Dubai.
Basia, narrating: If you’ve ever followed an influencer on Instagram, you’ll know the beach Sanya’s talking about. The one, it seemed, was the refuge of almost every former Love Island contestant during the pandemic.
The social media stars who’d pose beneath one of the Sheikh’s projects, the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa;
The whole city had moved away from relying on oil revenue and towards services and property, and projects that have something of the Soviet impossible ambition about them, like the series out man made Islands, in the shape of a palm leaf, visible from space.
Sanya: So first up, there’s this kind of international side. So, although he has occasionally faced criticism from other leaders in particular around the revelations of Latifa and Shamsa. But if we look for example at the UK, he has a multi-million pound property portfolio here. He and the queen have a shared love of horses and have been snapped together by paparazzi multiple times. And indeed the Sheikh owns a horse racing stable here, and many of our politicians have posed happily alongside him and have an ongoing relationship with him for a myriad of practical reasons.
You then also have the side of him with how he’s viewed in the UAE. And if you believe much of the country’s media and the carefully crafted PR around him, he is a beloved father figure who brought prosperity to Dubai. He’s a custodian of Emirati culture. He’s known for writing these beautiful poems in traditional Arabic, that’s very fundamental to Emirati culture. And there are lots of good reasons for why he’s seen in this way.In his heyday he grew Dubai into this global city. He launched government owned projects, like the Emirati airlines. He pushed for the construction of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.
He did do a lot of good for the city. And indeed, if you follow him or any of his large family on social media, especially Instagram, they’re very active on Instagram, which I always find a bit amusing, you’ll see there are fan pages, they have millions of followers. They get tons of positive comments under photos. It’s the sort of praise a lot of world leaders would pay so much money to get.
Basia, narrating: But although Shamsa’s had been largely forgotten, there was always a darkness stalking this carefully controlled success story.
The Sheikh couldn’t escape from the reality of how this city in the Persian Gulf could spring up taller and faster and more futuristic than any other.
Right now, I seriously wish the world would wake up and look beyond the glitter to the actual darkness which is there behind. I seriously don’t think there is a lot of moral consciousness amongst the employers over here. And I would not say just one of the companies, most of the companies have absolutely no regard for human life or the human element of this job.VICE
Basia, narrating: And, literally almost just out of shot, Latifa was locked away – hidden in a villa right next to the thousands of tourists and businesses flocking to Dubai.
2019 was the turning point. So much of what we know about what happened to Latifa, and to Shamsa, came out through another of the Sheikh’s battles against the ‘unruly’ women in his life.
This time against Princess Haya – the daughter of a Jordanian King – whom he married in 2004.
After she made the decision to flee to the UK, the Sheikh took action against her almost immediately, pursuing her through the UK courts.
Sanya: We were talking about the different sides of Sheikh Mohammed, and there is a kind of third side, which is the not public side. And this is the side of him that we’ve had glimpses of through the court case, through Latifa’s videos and the claims made by these family members. And that paints a picture of a controlling and powerful man who does not like people not behaving how he wants them to.
So when we talk about these unruly women, if we look at Princess Haya, this court case is what kind of blew this story open in many ways and was able to corroborate a lot of the claims that we were having. The sheikh took her to court because she had fled away from Dubai after a number of months of tension, shall we say, between the two of them even though he must have known that the British courts would be independent and he couldn’t control the outcome. He still pursued her in those courts. And it had been quite a difficult case to sit through. I attended much of it and you would see Haya there every single day, she never missed a single day, including when she was ill.
And at times when you were hearing some of the testimony being heard, you could see the look on her face, how horrific that experience was for her personally. And during that case allegations were made against him of a campaign of threats and intimidation against Princess Haya, including allegedly arranging twice for a gun to be left on her pillow and for a helicopter to land on her front lawn, a man to get out and say, hello, I’m here to take you to prison.
You know, the sheikh has later said he’s admitted to the helicopter, but said, oh, it was a misunderstanding that wasn’t supposed to happen. And that again feeds into this view of this controlling patriarch. It’s not just specifically that it’s these two daughters. We’ve also had allegations from the sheikh’s first wife, Randa Al Banna, who tells us angry rages and abuse against her. And she claims as well, but she’s been blocked for decades now from seeing her own daughter and grandchildren. And it is worth remembering these aren’t criminal courts. They’re essentially rulings looking at things on the balance of probability.
The sheikh always strenuously denies all these allegations and says where he has acted, it’s for his family safety and welfare. But these little chinks that we’re seeing present a picture of someone who, he will be a doting father and happily pose on Instagram with you for the world to see if you play by the rules of his court. If you push against the evidence, it suggests he will pursue you, and he will, in the same way of how when he was transforming Dubai he got what he wanted, he was on a mission, you could argue, he applies that same kind of motivation to his family matters.
Basia, narrating: The legal proceedings revealed a litany of intimidation and harassment.
What happened to Shamsa was important to establish – to point to a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.
It emerged that the Sheikh had been interviewed by police in 2019 about Shamsa. And crucially, he didn’t deny the story.
He said she went missing because she felt “constricted by the security arrangements” around her. That she was “more vulnerable than other young women of her age because her status made her a kidnap risk”
He said that he and her mother jointly “decided to organise a search for her”.
David Beck, the now retired police officer, was called as a witness in the proceedings.
So he requested access to the files on his investigation he had delivered to his senior officers in 2001. The request was rejected.
David: Well, here’s my file but then I suppose it’s also the Cambridge constabulary’s official record. And as a retired officer, I have no further conduct over it, but I was just very surprised that my own organisation appeared to be quite happy for me to go to court and give potentially misleading or inaccurate evidence for the sake of whatever was on the file and the only answer I got from them was that they would rather I didn’t comply with any interviews or whatever because there are, in inverted commas, significant sensitivities involved. Now to me a significant sensitivities means that someone is potentially likely to be embarrassed if the truth has come out.
Well, to me getting embarrassed is no reason for withholding the truth. And I was quite disappointed by that because every police officer, without being corny, every police officer when they first join on the first day, they swear an oath that they will do their duty without fear or favour and certain senior officers in my experience need reminding of that from time to time. And that’s all I’d say on that.
Basia, narrating: But the family court case was a tipping point.
Thanks, in part, to a team of lawyers and activists working on highlighting Princess Latifa’s imprisonment things started to move.
Basia: So David, why don’t you just start by introducing yourself, your name, what you do, just so we’ve got that for the podcast.
Basia, narrating: The man at the forefront of the campaign, who has been in touch with Latifa directly is David Haigh.
David Haigh: So my name’s David Haigh. I’m a human rights lawyer and I co-founded the Free Princess Latifa campaign back in 2018.
Basia, narrating: Much of the testimony we have from Princess Latifa comes thanks to people like David.
And so perhaps, it was inevitable that the force of the state would soon be trained on him, too.
He’s the ruler of Dubai but stands accused of breaking British law. The high court ruling Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum ordered the phones of his ex-wife and her lawyers to be hacked in an ongoing custody battle taking place in the UK it found Princess Haya and her barrister the conservative peer Baroness Shackleton had their phones targeted by multi-million pound spyware called pegasus, a program manufactured by an Israeli company the NSO group and sold exclusively to nation states.Sky News
Basia, narrating: David Haigh’s phone has been hacked by the Sheikh’s team.
A piece of spyware called Pegasus – which infiltrates a phone without the victim ever knowing or clicking on anything – was found on his phone.
The phone number he had been using to speak to Latifa had been compromised.
Pegasus had also been used to monitor Princess Haya, and her divorce lawyer, Fiona Shackleton.
But David Haigh was undeterred.
David Haigh: The video that probably a lot of people have seen now on YouTube, the 2018 video of Latifa, explaining why she left, that was an edited version. And there was an unedited one which we had a transcript of and that obviously talks a fair amount about Shamsa. And so we felt that we could take that as essentially as eye witness evidence, if you like, to the police in Cambridge to try and get them to reopen, or at least start looking at the investigation into Shamsa again, as a way of bringing the case and what happened to her and Tina into the British system. So Tina and I, one day just got on the train and went to Cambridge, and handed over this, gave a witness statement. And that was back in late 2018, I think. And then, probably assisted them with their inquiries as it were since, I think giving about two or three witness statements spending quite a bit of time with them handing over new evidence as and when we got it. And then as you may know, we then found Marcus Essabri, who’s Latifa and Shamsa’s cousin. And he very kindly supported the cause and the campaign and spoke publicly for the first time about what happened to him and how he was perhaps one of the last people that Shamsa contacted before she essentially escaped and then was kidnapped.
And he shared some letters that he had with the Sunday Times at the time, quite chilling letters, because it really is a personal letter from Shamsa to to him saying that know she really can’t cope anymore, she’s had enough and is going to leave. And then shortly thereafter she did. And so there’s quite a lot of kind of involvement in relation to Shamsa throughout this.
And then obviously when the fact finding judgment in the Princess Haya trial came out, which was 2019, that was obviously quite focused on Shamsa and very damning findings against the Dubai ruler and those who facilitated his actions there so that obviously is very, very kind of pertinent as well;.
Basia, narrating: David Haigh is hopeful that he can get the police to officially reopen the investigation into Shamsa.
David Haigh: I mean, it’s evidence, you know, essentially almost from the source, from the person that was kidnapped as to what happened, who was involved.
And then also what happened when they were returned to Dubai. And that’s obviously something, I think, which the Cambridge police lacked at the time, because effectively you know, they needed to go to Dubai at the time because they didn’t have a victim. The victim had gone back to Dubai, so they needed to have a victim to continue with their investigation.
Basia: And what do you, what do you expect Cambridgeshire Police to do with it? Do you think it would be grounds to open a criminal investigation?
David: I mean, I certainly hope so. I think we’ve seen we’ve got very strong civil court findings that conclude quite rightly that a woman was kidnapped, you know, over 20 years ago from the streets of Cambridge.
The investigation by the police into that kidnap was effectively covered up by politicians. And those are the findings of a judge. I mean, maybe a civil judge, so far not a criminal level but that’s something that can’t be ignored. You know, this is a crime that was carried out on the streets of England. That was then covered up. It’s now come back to life.
Basia, narrating: You could hear David carefully not telling me too much about the evidence he submitted to police while they’re looking at it.
But the details are likely to come out soon. Including those involved in the kidnap who potentially remain in the UK.
And confirmation that Shamsa’s in Dubai, and that the years of isolation have taken their toll on her.
There is a haunting bit of the judgement in Princess Haya’s case – where Justice Andrew MacFarlane summarises all the evidence that had been brought before him.
He quotes from a letter, apparently written by her six months after the abduction.
“I am locked up until today,” it reads. “I haven’t seen anyone, not even the man you call my father. I told you this would happen, I know these people, they have all the money, they have all the power, they think they can do anything. You said that if he kidnapped me, you would contact the Home Office and involve them. Now, I am not only asking you to report this immediately, I am asking your help and to involve the authorities (involve everyone).”
Everyone was involved. And yet, somehow, nothing happened.
Shamsa remains hidden away, the life she dreamed of 21 years ago still out of reach.
And working on this story made me think a lot about what it means to be an ‘unruly’ woman. It’s only thanks to other women in the Sheikh’s life, who refused to submit to his control, that any of this is public.
Without their unruliness, we might know even less about the way this powerful man behaves, in particular to the women closest to him
And what consequence does he now face? If Shamsa’s story tells us anything, it’s how limp our leaders can be when the truth is inconvenient.
After the revelations of hacking emerged in the Princess Haya family court case, rumours were reported in British tabloids of the first sanction I can find taken against Sheikh Mohammed in the UK. Twenty years after the alleged kidnap of Shamsa on British soil, and three years after Latifa was captured in the Indian Ocean, it was said that the Queen had banned him from the Royal Box at the Ascot races.
Meanwhile, in the file marked ‘Business As Usual’ life goes on. The month before last, the UAE – of which Dubai is part, with Sheikh Mohammed as vice-president – announced plans to invest $14bn in the UK.
The British government’s Investment Minister said a sum that big would make other investors “sit up and take notice”. He even held out the hope that it would help the government’s levelling-up agenda. That certainly emphasises how important it is to the government. And maybe it’s intended to give the money something like a ‘moral’ purpose – if it’s going to improve lives in left-behind parts of the country.
But of all the morally-compromised relationships the UK has with trading partners around the world – and I’m trying not to be naive about the trade-offs that are bound to be in play when you’re dealing with big finance, with counter-terrorism, with messy regional politics – of all those morally-compromised relationships, it’s hard to think of a single one which is personified around a single man in the way our relationship with Dubai is.
If we’d drawn a line after Princess Shamsa if we’d refused to deal with – and hob-nob with – a man suspected of organising a kidnap on the streets of Cambridge, maybe Sheikh Mohammed would have sat up and taken notice. Maybe Latifa and Haya would have been spared some of what they went through long after Shamsa was safely tucked away?
In the scheme of things tiny gains. But remember Robin Cook who was foreign secretary when Shamsa was snatched? Famously, he came up with the idea of an “ethical foreign policy”. The fate of three women’s lives might have been a great place to start.
Thanks for listening. This episode was produced by Matt Russell, with research by Nimo Omer.