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‘Sex on the beach’ couple spared jail in Dubai

DUBAI — An appeals court in Dubai on Tuesday suspended three-month jail terms against two Britons convicted of having sex on the beach in the booming Gulf city-state but ordered them to leave the country.

Michelle Palmer, 36, and Vince Acors, 34, who have been on bail during their trial, were not in court for the verdict but their lawyer said they were “very happy” at the news.

Hassan Matar said a three-month prison sentence imposed by a lower court had been suspended but that the pair would now be deported, implying that their conviction still stood.

“The court found they deserved mercy,” Matar said. “The ruling proves that the judicial system in Dubai is fair… it is not subject to external pressure.”

The two were found guilty in October in a highly publicised case in the emirate, which despite its pro-Western outlook still adheres to certain strict Islamic rules and bans sex out of wedlock.

Palmer and Acors denied charges of having sex in public and public indecency, but admitted to being under the influence of alcohol when they were caught on Dubai’s Jumeirah public beach in July after meeting at a champagne brunch in one of the city’s glitzy five-star hotels.

In addition to the jail sentence and deportation, they were each fined 179 pounds for drinking alcohol, but both the defence and prosecution had appealed over the prison term.

Under the laws of the United Arab Emirates the maximum sentence for sex outside marriage is one year imprisonment and the minimum is three months.

“They are very happy about what happened today, this is a very good verdict,” Matar told Britain’s Sky News television, adding that the departure date of the pair would be kept secret.

“The verdict concerning their expulsion remains valid,” he had said earlier, adding there was no deadline for their deportation. “There are only a few routine procedures to complete for their departure.”

Matar said he was planning to call for a suspension of the deportation order to allow Palmer and Acors to return to the United Arab Emirates in future if they wished.

At the opening of their trial in August, both denied having sex, with Palmer saying they were simply “kissing and hugging.”

Matar had insisted that the results of a medical test on Palmer just hours after they were arrested on July 5 showed “she had not engaged in recent sexual intercourse,” while the medical report for Acors was inconclusive.

Palmer was sacked from her job as a publishing executive in the UAE following the case, while Acors was visiting Dubai at the time.

The case turned the spotlight on the lifestyle of the 120,000-plus British residents of the UAE, around 100,000 of whom live in Dubai, a city of opulent hotels and shopping malls which hosts hundreds of thousands of Western residents and tourists.

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