A British man visiting the United Arab Emirates probably wasn’t thinking what a taxi fare feud with a state-owned taxi driver could do to his life.
In May 2013, David Ballantine, 46, got in a fight with a taxi driver in Dubai over a petty amount of around $2, as a result of which he was trapped in the city for almost two years. He was jailed for 69 days and his passport was also confiscated.
The former Tory politician from Edinburgh claims he had already paid the fine, but a mere misunderstanding “ruined his life.”
It all started when Ballantine was traveling with a group of friends. They had just started their taxi journey, but immediately asked the driver to stop because of a misunderstanding of who was meant to ride in the car.
But according to Ballantine, the driver continued for about 150 feet, and pulled up near a policeman.
He then complained to the policeman, who told the British man he would have to pay the minimum amount of AED 10 ($2).
Ballantine went to a cash point, took the money out and dropped it in the cab through the window, before walking toward his friends.
This is when the state employed cab-driver decided to turn things upside down for the Briton.
“He [the taxi driver] was waiting for me to pay and when he saw in his mirror that I had walked back to my friends, he reversed the taxi aggressively back to where my group was. He accused me of not paying. I told him I had, and showed him where it was. He claimed that was his own money,” explained Ballantine.
“He was angry by now, and not wanting to admit that he could be wrong. The driver just became more and more hostile until he physically attacked me.”
“At this point I became worried. I was in a fight, in Dubai, where I knew the law could be harsh, and I knew the government-employed taxi driver would be believed over the Westerner, regardless of evidence,” Ballantine said.
“I never attacked him back, just avoided him as much as I could.”
However Ballantine’s fears came true and the same policeman witnessed the feud, he came back and asked the taxi driver for an explanation, the driver lied to him and Ballantine was arrested at the spot. The officer didn’t even ask for his side of the story.
“I honestly still hoped to put the matter behind me. A small fine, or a night in the cells,” Ballantine recalls.
“The taxi money was paid. We proved this by showing two receipts. One for the AED 100 that I had withdrawn in front of the policeman, another for the AED 90 that I had in my pockets when I was taken to the police station. There was nowhere else I could have spent the money. But nobody was interested.”
Ballantine’s passport was confiscated, preventing him from leaving the country before the trial. The court proceedings were dragged out and he had to spend two long years in Dubai.
“I couldn't work legally, so I worked 'off the books' for the first year, until eventually needing to rely on handouts from friends and family over the course of the following year. After two years in limbo, I was sentenced to 69 days in jail. Ironically, one of the charges was 'outstaying my visa' — a charge I could hardly have avoided as the police had confiscated my passport,” he lamented.
“Once those final 69 days were over, I was deported back to Scotland.”
Ballentine criticized the British government, claiming they completely failed to help him with any kind of affordable legal support.
“The U.K. government did nothing to help. They visited once, and gave me a list of lawyers that I couldn't afford,” he said.
The only people who helped following his release was a nonprofit organization called “Detained in Dubai” that helps foreigners regardless of their citizenship or financial status.
Ballentine mentioned how their CEO, Radha Stirling, helped his case.
Stirling recently provided support for another Scot jailed in the U.A.E.
Jamie Harron, 27, was sentenced to three months in jail after accidentally brushing the hip of a man in a bar. He recently returned to the U.K. after Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum waived his conviction.
Thumbnail Credits: Pixabay, LollemyArtPhotographyimages