Has a mother who was jailed in Dubai for drinking a glass of wine on a flight spoken out?

  • img Harvey Cawdron
  • POSTED ON 15 Aug 2018


A mother jailed in Dubai after drinking a glass of wine on a flight from London has spoken to the Daily Mail about her experience for the first time. 

Dr Ellie Holman discussed how she was spat at, had her hair pulled and feared she would be raped whilst imprisoned for 3 days. She claimed that since her return, she has been the target of smear stories and online trolls. 

Holman, 44, who was locked up with her 4-year-old daughter, describes her treatment as 'inhuman', with the incident leaving her exhausted and taking anti-anxiety medication. 

She told MailOnline that 'The last four weeks have been hell for me and my family. I left to go on a holiday with my youngest daughter to a country I loved visiting and ended up in jail.'

She added that 'Nothing had prepared me for what happened, but my survival instinct kicked in and for my daughter's sake I had to be strong. It is like an out-of-body experience. I still can't believe that I spent three days in jail. I have never been in trouble in my life and yet here I was sharing a cell block with 30 other women. It is unreal. I feel like I will wake up from a bad nightmare.'

The registered dentist, now working as an aesthetics specialist, was released on Sunday. She was reunited with her fiancé and her 3 children the night after Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, intervened and ordered her release. 

She was born in Iran and raised in Sweden, but had lived in the UK for nearly 20 years.

As well as 3 days in jail, Holman spent almost a month living under house arrest in Dubai, her future unclear as she was informed that she may have to wait a year for a court hearing.

She said 'I was desperately missing my children and all I could think about was when I would see them again'.

Now safely back home, she agreed to speak to MailOnline to make the details of her arrest and detention clear.

Before her flight home, the Dubai government provided her with flowers and fast food for the children. They also paid for her flight. However, they also issued a statement claiming that she used an out-of-date passport to get into the country, swore at officials and filmed them on her mobile phone. 

The government made no mention of the drinking accusation that made headlines around the world, and also claimed that Holman had been deported. 

The state-owned press have since reported that she previously gave illegal Botox treatments in the UAE, something she has dismissed as smear. 

She said that at the time of her arrest, she was arriving for a 5-day holiday for her youngest daughter, and had only given treatments to friends in the past. She added that Emirati authorities did not mention allegations of illegal treatments during her case. 

Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, said that 'Dubai's government-controlled media has tried to distract the public from the core issue of the charges that were laid upon Ellie.' 

Holman said 'They have lied to save face but all I have ever done is tell the truth. I accept my big mistake was to film the immigration officer. I now realise that was stupid and I should not have done that. But did that really warrant being jailed for three days with my daughter, being spat at and having my hair pulled?'

Since her plight was first highlighted, she claimed to have received vile messages from people, mostly living in Dubai, accusing her of lying. 

On July the 13th, the day of her flight, prison was the last thing on her mind. She was offered a glass of red wine on the flight to accompany her meal. She said 'I enjoy a glass of wine with my meal and accepted it from the cabin crew. That was the only alcohol I had on the flight. I've flown to Dubai a dozen times and had a drink on the flight. Everyone else on the flight was drinking with their meal. It is what happens.' 

At Dubai international airport, she handed her passport over at the immigration desk. The officer's computer told him that her visa had already been used 2 months earlier, which she admitted was her mistake. He advised her to get a transit visa, which would allow her to stay in the country for the duration of her trip. 

However, the immigration officer then took 1 look at her passport and said 'You get a ticket and go on a flight home.'

Holman said 'I did not swear and told him I was told I could get a transit visa. He just refused to listen and he was so close I could feel his spit on my face. He was jabbing a finger in my face and was rude and aggressive. He looked at me as if I was like the dirt under his shoes, and I think it was because I was from Iran. If it had been a European woman he might not have reacted in the same way.'

She said that fear prompted her to film the officer, which further inflamed the situation. Within seconds, she was surrounded by 20 others, and 1 asked if she had consumed any alcohol on the flight. She said 'I was being honest and told him about the glass of wine. That was it. He just said you are drunk. I told him I'd had one glass, but he would not listen.' 

Her phone was confiscated and she was informed that she had been arrested for consuming alcohol, swearing at an official and illegally filming. 

She said 'I never swear in front of my children. I had my four-year-old daughter with me and I would never use bad language in front of her. People in Britain film police all the time. I was doing it for my own protection.'

She was then surrounded by over a dozen officers who picked her up and carried her to a cell, with her daughter trailing behind. 

She said 'My feet were off the ground. Someone spat at me and they were pulling at my hair. I was terrified and crying. Bibi was behind me and she was crying. It was awful and all I could think of was why I did not take up the offer to buy a ticket and go home. I kept on thinking, "what have I done?". All I could think of was poor Bibi and how confused and frightened she must be.'

Both were held in a cell and denied food and water. Bibi was not allowed to use a toilet and so had to urinate on the floor. 

After some time, a guard allowed Holman to contact her friend waiting in the arrivals hall to let her know that she had been arrested. 

Several hours later, the pair were taken to a police station, where Holman was asked to take a breathalyser test. She said that 'A woman said to me that I was going to jail whether I refused to take the test or took it. I knew then I was in big trouble and I was scared. They would not listen to me and had already made up their minds.' 

She took the breathalyser, knowing she had only consumed 1 glass of wine. 

She said 'I demanded to see the result but they refused and took me to prison,' she said. 'I now know it was 0.04 per cent, which is half the drink drive limit. That was what I had. As we drove through the prison gates, that was when it really hit me that I was in trouble. Until then I thought they would let me go, put us on a plane and that would be the end of it. I kept hoping that was what was going to happen.' 

Instead, she was taken to a cell containing 4 bunk beds. The toilets were holes in the ground and she said that the whole place was 'hot and foul smelling'. 

They were imprisoned for 3 days. Each morning, at 5am, they were woken with the other prisoners and forced to attend a role call in which they had to shout out their names. 

She said that 'There was no air conditioning in the cells, so the 30 women on the block would drag their mattresses out and sleep in the canteen area'. After that, her survival instinct kicked in. She said 'I didn't know how long I would be in prison, but I had to be strong for Bibi and not show that I was afraid'.

She added that 'A pregnant woman told me how she had been raped while being held in the prison. I feared it could happen to me, but thankfully with Bibi with me all the time nothing occurred. The guards always referred to me as "that Iranian woman". They never used my name but just that I was Iranian. I know the two countries do not get on and I think that played big part in what happened.' 

Holman said that the other women, some of which had overstayed their visas, showed her and her daughter kindness that helped them get through their time in jail. 

She said 'The food was disgusting but they used money to buy Bibi crisps and left them under the mattress for her. I cannot thank them enough for the kindness they showed. Bibi doesn't like spicy food but the only thing she had to eat was a pot noodle with chilli. She was so hungry she ate the noodles but after each mouthful would take a drink of water. It was heartbreaking to watch her doing that but she was so hungry she had to eat.'

Holman's partner flew out to Dubai and contacted the British consul to try and secure her release. Holman said that 'The consul made all the right noises but they were useless. The Swedish embassy were also useless and did not want to help.' 

She was eventually allowed out of prison, but kept under house arrest in a property owned by a friend. She was told to hire a lawyer. Her partner returned home with Bibi. 

She resided alone in the villa while her lawyer attempted to get the charges against her dropped. She was informed that if she paid the immigration official she was alleged to have sworn at £40,000, the case would be annulled. 

She said 'I stopped using the lawyer and contacted the Detained in Dubai group to see if they could help'.

After the MailOnline publicised her plight last Thursday, she received a phone call informing her that the country's ruler would resolve the issue. She received an apology and was told she could take the first available flight back to the UK. 

She said 'I cannot thank MailOnline enough for helping me come back home. Without the story being publicized and taken up by other media I might still be there'.

The ordeal has left Holman requiring anti-anxiety medication. She said that Bibi is now too afraid to sleep on her own, but otherwise appears unscarred by the prison experience. 

Holman said 'I used to love going to Dubai where I have many friends, but I will never go back. If I had known I could be arrested for having a single drink on the plane then I would never have touched a drop.' 

The NGO Detained in Dubai said 'Laws regarding alcohol are very confusing in Dubai and that is the problem. It is not illegal to drink in a licensed premises, such as a hotel, but as soon as you step out in public you can be arrested for having consumed alcohol or if you are deemed to be drunk. Elle was not drunk or aggressive. Her arrest highlights an issue that is an ongoing risk to travellers. Tourists can be charged with having alcohol in their bloodstream in public. They should be aware that they could be arrested the minute they leave for having alcohol in their blood.'