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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Bad back led to jail torment
by Tanya Gupta
BBC News website

Tracy Wilkinson
Tracy Wilkinson was given the painkiller for a back injury
When Tracy Wilkinson phoned her friend from Dubai she could not believe her own words.

The Sussex woman had been reduced to making a desperate phone call to England after her holiday plans were shattered because she had been given the painkiller codeine.

Although easy to buy in the UK, availability of codeine is strictly governed in the Middle East emirate.

Suffering from a back injury, Mrs Wilkinson - a sports osteopath - had had emergency injections of the drug at a hospital in Dubai.

She did not know the treatment would lead to her being thrown into jail.

For the next two months, she was incarcerated with 100 other women who had been accused of offences ranging from theft to drug crime and prostitution.

During a two-month ordeal of dysentery, flea-infestation and head lice, she was subjected to a nightmare of bureaucracy and weekly court appearances.

And it was when Mrs Wilkinson was involved in one of her precious 30-second phone calls to a friend she realised the absurdity of her situation.

"You're not going to believe this," she said.

"I'm a 'drugs baroness' and I'm in prison in Dubai."

Painkiller injections

Mother-of-two Mrs Wilkinson, 43, who has a 18-month-old granddaughter, had been looking forward to her holiday in the shopping paradise of Dubai which boasts magnificent beaches, luxury hotels and tax-free shopping.

The day after arriving in March 2005 she began to feel unwell from the continuing effects of a slipped disc and visited a hospital.

Dubai International Airport
Tracy Wilkinson was detained at Dubai airport on 5 March

She said: "They injected me and that was the codeine - it was an anti-inflammatory, codeine and muscle relaxant."

The next day she went to the airport where she was halted because of a visa discrepancy and led to an immigration room for questioning.

"They just shout at you in broken English, there were seven or eight men in a room with me, no women, it was really intimidating."

Mrs Wilkinson was allowed to board a flight but then decided to wait for the next plane because her back had gone into spasm and she was in too much pain. Four hours later, she was not allowed to leave.

"They wanted to know why I was in Dubai, where I lived in Dubai, what work did I do.

"I said I was a business lady - but I found out later that meant 'prostitute' to them."

At one stage, she was made to give a urine test which revealed codeine in her sample.

Mrs Wilkinson was accused of self-administering the banned opiate - in Dubai it is legal to take codeine only if it has been prescribed.

Hours later she found herself in prison - the only European being held, alongside Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Chinese and Koreans.

"That's when they chained me. I was in a tiny cell, in handcuffs, with my arm raised high up.

"I was kicking and making a noise, chained to the bars, my arm higher than my shoulder. I was like that for eight hours."

Tracy Wilkinson on arrival at Heathrow
Tracy Wilkinson was jailed for more than two months in Dubai

Mrs Wilkinson said all questioning and paperwork was in Arabic and she did not know what she was charged with until she showed a piece of paper to another woman, who said she was accused of drugs smuggling - an offence carrying a penalty of up to 25 years.

"The prison guards called me Britannia," she said.

She said she knew from phone calls to her children, aged 17 and 20, that the UK press had reported she was facing a four-year jail sentence.

"Some of the girls helped me in prison," she said.

"A couple were difficult - the majority were nice.

"I didn't see daylight for two and a half months - my eyes are still bad.

"What keeps you going is the determination because you know you are innocent."

After Fair Trials Abroad took over the case, Mrs Wilkinson was given bail. She was cleared in May.

Her legal representative Stephen Jakobi said: "The real problem is that they (Dubai) have laws for which they are willing to fling foreigners into prison but they expect to have a tourist industry."

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