London - A Briton who managed the world’s tallest building faces up to three years in prison in the United Arab Emirates after being charged with sexual assault for touching a hotel security guard’s hip during an argument.
John Murphy, 52, has already lost his job as operations manager for the 2,716.5ft Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, following the incident at the Armed Forces Officers’ Club and Hotel in Abu Dhabi last month.
The former soldier is due to receive the verdict on Sunday. If found guilty, he has been told to expect a sentence of two to three years, followed by deportation.
On Wednesday he said: ‘I’ve had no opportunity to offer a defence, and have lost all of my savings. My landlord is suing me for non-payment. It feels like my life is over.’ The grandfather, originally from Blackheath, south London, now fears being sent back to the ‘hellhole’ jail where he previously spent six weeks after his arrest before he got bail. The trouble began when Mr Murphy and his wife Annabel, 42, were on a weekend mini-break at the hotel, owned by the Abu Dhabi Royal Family.
The church-going couple invited her cousin, who works as a sports massage therapist at the hotel, to their room in the early evening.
Hotel staff suspected the cousin was providing a massage out-of-hours, which was not allowed under their rules, Mr Murphy said. Two security guards threw him out and then turned on Mr Murphy.
He tried explaining the cousin had no equipment with him and showed photographs on Facebook to prove they were related. The argument continued in the lobby, where Mr Murphy claimed the two hotel staff became ‘aggressive’.
He said: ‘I needed to escape and used a trick my father had shown me. With the biggest guy, in front, I tugged his jacket on the left side with my left hand, and gave a slight push on his right hip, with my right hand. This allowed me to dart past him and head down the corridor to the lift where there were a lot of people.’
Mr Murphy lodged a police complaint against the hotel staff the next day. But the hotel lodged a counter-complaint of sexual assault against him and he was arrested at work the following week.
He said: ‘To my disbelief, I was taken to the police station, then put in actual chains like in an old movie and whisked away to a hearing in a small court office. It was all in Arabic, with the judge instructing me through an interpreter.’After the hearing, Mr Murphy was put in the police station’s cells for ten days. He was then transferred to Al Wathba jail.
He said: ‘It was the most terrifying experience. There was incessant noise, I honestly didn’t expect to get out alive. It was baking hot, the food was rotting garbage, and the place was so overcrowded that people took it in turns to sleep.
‘I got bail six weeks later, and believe I’m still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I can’t sleep, and have awful flashbacks.’
Last year another Briton, Jamie Harron, 27, was jailed in Dubai accused of touching another man’s hip to avoid spilling a drink. Radha Stirling, the founder of human rights NGO, Detained In Dubai, said: ‘John Murphy is the latest in a long line of Westerners horrifically abused by the UAE legal system.’
Neither UAE authorities nor the Armed Forces Officers’ Club and Hotel responded to comment requests.