There are demands for independent inquiries into the roles of the Foreign Office and Cambridgeshire police after an investigation into the abduction of a princess on a British street was allowed to lapse.
Princess Shamsa Al Maktoum of Dubai was snatched two decades ago by men working for her father, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, the billionaire ruler of Dubai, who is a friend of the Queen.
Politicians and human rights groups said the inquiries were vital if political interference into the investigation was to be ruled out, and for the public’s faith in the rule of law to be maintained.
The demands came amid extraordinary claims that Shamsa had contacted the Cambridgeshire force in 2017, asking it to help secure her release from Dubai, 17 years after she was snatched in Cambridge.
The force is already under scrutiny after the bombshell ruling in the high court family division, published last week, which established that Sheikh Mohammed had kidnapped both Shamsa and her younger sister, Princess Latifa.
The “fact-finding” ruling found that Shamsa had fled the Dubai family’s Surrey estate in 2000, but men working on behalf of her father captured her in Cambridge and forcibly returned her to Dubai, where she has been held against her will for 20 years.
A request by David Beck, the Cambridgeshire detective leading the investigation into the abduction, to interview potential witnesses in Dubai, was turned down in 2002, the court heard. The force has subsequently said it did not have sufficient evidence to proceed, and the investigation lapsed.
David Haigh, a human rights lawyer, shared confidential information with Cambridgeshire police relating to the two princesses in 2018 and 2019 as he sought to have the investigation into Shamsa’s abduction reopened.
During his meetings with detectives, Haigh said a female detective had told him that Shamsa had phoned in 2017 requesting the force’s help.
Haigh told the Observer: “She said ‘I was here when she [Shamsa] called us six months ago’ and I said ‘oh’ and then she said, ‘didn’t you know that?’”
Cambridgeshire police confirmed that it conducted a further review of the original investigation in 2017, only to again conclude that there was insufficient evidence for further action.
A spokeswoman for the force said: “As with any crime it is inappropriate for us to make any comment in relation to specific contact or accounts from any victim. As far as the IOPC [Independent Office for Police Conduct] is concerned, since the release of the public judgment the case is now subject to further review by ourselves. This will take a period of time to progress but whether a referral is required will be an area for discussion.”
Last week’s ruling also detailed two unsuccessful attempts by Latifa to flee the United Arab Emirates, most recently in 2018 when she tried to escape by yacht. Radha Stirling, chief executive of Detained in Dubai, who alerted authorities to Latifa’s 2018 abduction and has submitted evidence to the UN and the FBI, confirmed that both women have been making “ongoing attempts to get their messages out”.
Downing Street has insisted that the Foreign Office had no role in the investigation into Shamsa’s abduction or its outcome.
But the Foreign Office has confirmed that it holds information relevant to the investigation, which it refused to disclose to the high court, claiming that it would harm the UK’s relationship with the UAE.
“Given the seriousness of the allegations concerning Cambridgeshire police’s due diligence during the investigation into Princess Shamsa’s disappearance, a self-referral to the IOPC is the right course of action,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director.
“It’s of paramount importance that public confidence in the police isn’t undermined by cases like this, not least when there are claims of political interference at the highest levels.”
Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson, said: “The government must now establish an independent inquiry into what role the Foreign Office played in preventing that investigation going ahead. The British people must know who took these decisions and why.”
Stirling also backed an investigation into the Foreign Office’s role, saying: “If it disallowed an investigation into the unlawful abduction of a woman, they have sent a dangerous message to the UAE, essentially sanctioning this behaviour.”
Haigh said campaigners seeking the release of Shamsa and Latifa were “going to start making an absolute nuisance of ourselves” by targeting the horse racing industry. The sheikh is the most powerful person in British racing, which requires owners to pass a “fit and proper test”.
Following the publication of last week’s ruling, the sheikh said: “As a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process; this has resulted in the release of a ‘fact-finding’ judgment which inevitably tells only one side of the story.”
Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch said: “The UAE authorities should immediately free Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa, allow them to leave the UAE if they wish, investigate their abduction and allegations of torture, and bring those responsible to account.”