A British academic held in the United Arab Emirates for more than six months in 2018 has begun legal action in London against four officials he says were involved in his detention and alleged torture, reviving a diplomatic sore between the UK and its close Gulf ally.
Matthew Hedges, a doctoral candidate at Durham university, is suing for damages for assault, false imprisonment and the intentional infliction of psychiatric injury, according to a statement issued on Wednesday, the third anniversary of his arrest at Dubai airport.
The four officials include a former senior member of the Abu Dhabi police, and serving and former senior officials from the state security public prosecution, the interior ministry and the intelligence service.
They worked together to organise his arrest and alleged mistreatment, according to the claim form lodged by Hedges’ solicitors, Carter-Ruck, at the High Court. He is seeking to recover £200,000 to £350,000 in damages.
“Today, my fight for justice continues and my lawyers have filed a case in the civil courts in order to hold those responsible to account,” he said. “I hope it will ensure that what happened to me should never be allowed to happen again.”
The media offices of the UAE and Abu Dhabi governments did not respond to requests for comment. The UAE has previously denied any mistreatment of Hedges.
He claimed the UAE had refused to answer a separate complaint served on his behalf by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The lack of redress had “prolonged my trauma and made it very difficult to move on with my life”, he added.
He also said the Foreign Office had not done enough to help him clear his name. The Foreign Office said it encourages the UAE to uphold human rights. “FCDO staff and ministers worked incredibly hard on Matthew’s case and were delighted he was able to return to the UK,” it said in a statement.
The UAE accused Hedges, who was in the country researching his thesis, of being a spy for MI6, the UK’s overseas intelligence service. A court in Abu Dhabi found him guilty of espionage, charges he denied and for which he received a pardon.
The academic’s research focused on the UAE’s security development since the Arab uprisings of 2010/2011, a sensitive topic in the Gulf state.
Relations with the UK, which denied that he was a spy, were strained by his detention. The allies have had to accept that they will continue to disagree with each other on the truth of the matter.
The UK-UAE partnership has bounced back since the nadir of the Hedges affair, with diplomats saying the relationship is again in good health.
The UAE in March agreed a major investment partnership with the UK, pledging to invest in British healthcare, technology, clean energy and infrastructure.