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Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 15:12 UK

Beach sex sentence 'sets example'

By Christian Fraser
BBC News

Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors montage picture
Vince Acors and Michelle Palmer have been given a three-month jail term

It was the summer tabloid sensation. A British couple arrested for having sex, on a public beach, in a country of strict Islamic values.

For three months 36-year-old Michelle Palmer and her one night stand Vince Acors were barred from leaving Dubai.

Now they have been sentenced to three months in prison and ordered to leave the country once that sentence has been served. The humiliation is complete.

There had been speculation, given the importance of tourism to the Dubai economy, that the judges sitting on this case would be lenient.

But three months will serve as a warning to others that while the Dubai authorities might turn a blind eye to some things that go on behind closed doors, they won't tolerate this type of drunken behaviour.

Not that Dubai is on its own in considering such behaviour offensive and punishable by law.

'Silly girl'

The couple were arrested in July on the popular Jumeirah beach. They had been drinking all day after meeting at a champagne brunch party.

The policemen who arrested them said, despite an earlier warning about their inappropriate behaviour, he had later returned to find them having sex on a sunlounger.

As the pair were dragged away the policeman said he was assaulted by Ms Palmer who waved a shoe in his face.

There have been so many different versions of the story - tests had proved they did have sex, her lawyer insisted they hadn't, it was even reported they had got married in secret to avoid a harsher sentence.

But even before a verdict had been delivered, Ms Palmer's indiscretion had cost her a tax free executive job and her reputation.

Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai
The Burj Al Arab hotel is symbolic of Dubai's glamorous reputation

Her friends say she is so upset by what happened - and how it has been covered - that she has been admitted to hospital suffering panic attacks.

Not that the British expat community have much sympathy.

"She is a silly girl," said Samantha Wright, 26, from Bristol. "Before I came here I read up on the dos and don'ts. I wouldn't dream of kissing my friend out on the street.

"This is an Islamic country. We have to respect their traditions. We expect the same in our country. You should dress and behave appropriately when you are somebody's guest."

The focus of the story has - as it often does - fallen on the role of the woman. Vince Acors, a father of one and company director, has been spared any of the same humiliation.

He was dubbed "Vince Charming" for his success with women.

But is it just the two Britons that were on trial here?

Dubai is a city so full of contradiction.

When you get given a brochure that sells Dubai as some glamorous party city that is not the cultural or legal reality that is found here
Wael Al Sayegh,
Alghaf HRC [cultural consultancy]
It's a strict conservative society, where homosexuality is illegal and its forbidden to kiss your wife in public - but also a city that caters for almost every Western taste.

They have attracted so many expats over the years Emiratis are now the minority, barely 20% of the population.

In one sense the Emiratis should be congratulated for their tolerance, and other Middle Eastern countries look on enviously as the economy expands at a staggering rate.

But at what cost to their culture?

Some blame the cheap package holidays which travel companies are now selling. For Britons, Dubai is now the second most popular, long-haul destination after Florida - last year attracting over one million British tourists.

'Tolerant'

"It's the pace of change," said Wael Al Sayegh, of Alghaf HRC, a cultural consultancy.

"There are businesses outside the region that are now selling Dubai in a manner that might be financially viable for their business but not in any shape or form a cultural reality."

"When you get given a brochure that sells Dubai as some glamorous party city that is not the cultural or legal reality that is found here.

"We have always been an open-minded and tolerant nation and obviously different lifestyles are accommodated for, but not at the expense of our culture and the very elements that made us tolerant in the first place."

Opinions differed on what to do with this couple. Some wanted the judges to set an example with a heavier sentence. Others said a guilty verdict would be damaging to the image the ruling Al Makhtoum family has created.

In the end the judges - and probably the majority of Emiratis - felt the behaviour was so appalling that a three month custodial sentence was the bare minimum they deserved.



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SEE ALSO
Sex-on-beach trial Britons guilty
16 Oct 08 |  Middle East
Country profile: United Arab Emirates
12 Feb 08 |  Country profiles
Is sex on the beach legal?
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