The family of a former British soldier detained in the United Arab Emirates say the stress they are suffering “eclipses” the anxiety they felt when he was serving in war zones.
Andrew Neal, 44, a married father-of-two who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, has been held in Dubai for more than four months after being accused of selling drugs, a charge he denies, according to a legal advocacy group.
The head of Detained in Dubai, which is representing the Neal family, claimed today that the person who accused Mr Neal of selling drugs had retracted his statement.
But still the Briton – a military dog trainer and handler recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder – remains behind bars.
In a tape recording provided to Sky News by Detained in Dubai, his father Maurice Neal said: “The stress and worry about Andy over these past four-and-a-half months frankly eclipses whatever anxiety we felt when he was serving in conflict zones overseas over all the years.
“If anything happened to him then we knew it was for a cause and service to our country. He is suffering now and is facing danger and hardships for absolutely no reason whatsoever.”
The 69-year-old said he was “very worried” about the toll that his son’s detention was taking on him, his wife and children.
“They can’t understand why their dad has been absent all this time and neither can we,” said Mr Neal. “It just makes no sense and the inaction of the British government has been deeply disappointing.
“This should have all been resolved four months ago but the nightmare just drags on with no end in sight – it is unbearable.”
Earlier, the legal advocacy group’s founder, Radha Stirling, appealed to the foreign secretary and Mark Spencer, the Conservative MP for Sherwood, for help.
She said: “We are calling on the support of Jeremy Hunt and Mark Spencer to stand up for Andy Neal, a man who has dedicated much of his life to supporting the British forces abroad.”
She also urged the UAE government to “respond to this injustice swiftly”.
In a statement to Sky News, Ms Stirling added: “It is shameful that law enforcement has a rubber stamp to ruin people’s lives, rob children of their parents, and jail innocent persons with impunity.
“How is it that forced confessions are still standard procedure in the UAE?”
It was not immediately possible to obtain a response from the Dubai authorities about the claims.
Mr Neal, who was born in Nottingham and spent 24 years in the army from 1991, is the latest person to fall foul of the law in the Gulf state.
A British-Sudanese football fan is in detention reportedly for wearing a Qatar shirt to a football match – deemed an offence in the country.
The UAE has denied this was the reason for the arrest of Ali Issa Ahmad, accusing the 26-year-old of making false statements and wasting police time.
British academic Matthew Hedges was held in solitary confinement and charged with being an MI6 officer last year after what he says was a forced confession.
Mr Neal, who moved to Dubai in 2015 with his family to run a dog training business, was taken away by Dubai police at his apartment on 4 October in front of his wife and nanny, according to the statement from Detained in Dubai.
The advocacy group said it was given details of Mr Neal’s case from his wife and parents.
It accused the police of confronting him in a basement car park and showing him what they said was a warrant in an Arabic WhatsApp message.
Detained in Dubai said in a statement: “They searched Andy, searched his car twice and then made their way up to his apartment where Andy’s wife and sleeping children were.”
The couple have a six-year-old daughter and a son, aged two.
The police are alleged to have searched a couple of drawers and wardrobes in a bedroom.
Officers allegedly punched Mr Neal twice in the stomach, pinned him against the wall by his neck and then sat him in a chair in the middle of the bedroom, according to the statement.
The former soldier, who is said to have 14 medals and a commendation, was allegedly told that someone had identified him as having sold drugs to them, but Mr Neal said he was innocent, the advocacy group said.
It is claimed Mr Neal spent 17 hours at a police station “painfully handcuffed with no food, water or access to the bathroom”.
The group claimed: “The police drew up a statement in Arabic and forced Andy to sign it by way of his fingerprint, and when Andy complained that he had no idea what was written, the interrogator said ‘exactly what you said’.”
The group said said Mr Neal and his wife subsequently found out the document was a confession that he purchased and sold drugs.
The former soldier was taken to the al Barsha police station.
Detained in Dubai claimed that subsequent hearings with the prosecution were confused and a number of hearings cancelled.
Asked about the case, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said: “We are providing assistance to a British man after his arrest in Dubai and are in touch with his family and the UAE authorities.”
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