A British football coach who was jailed for 25 years in Dubai for possessing CBD vape oil has had his sentenced reduced to 10 years on appeal.
It comes after the United Arab Emirates recently said it would bring in new laws meaning foreigners found to be in possession of products containing THC, the main intoxicating chemical in cannabis, can be deported rather than jailed as long as it is their first offence.
Billy Hood, 25, from Kensington, London, was working as a football coach in the UAE when police discovered four small bottles of the CBD oil derived from cannabis, and a vape pen, in his car and arrested him on 31 January.
He was convicted of drug trafficking with intent to supply by a court and has been held ever since.
CBD oil, which is derived from cannabis, is legal in the UK but because it sometimes contains trace elements of THC it is not tolerated under the UAE’s strict drug laws.
Mr Hood says the bottles and vape pen were left in his car by a friend he had driven to the airport two weeks prior to his arrest, and that he was forced to sign a confession written in Arabic after being held in appalling conditions for four days.
He says he was refused a translator and told he would not be released from his cell, where he was held with 30 other men and given only bread and water, unless he signed the document.
On Tuesday, his mother, Breda Guckion, said she was feeling “broken” by the latest legal ruling, adding: “It’s very confusing. How can this have escalated as far as it has?
“I tried not to get my hopes up for today as I knew something like this might happen, but I now have to face the possibility that I may not see my son before Christmas and I can’t tell you how broken I am feeling.”
The campaign group Detained in Dubai, which is lobbying for the Briton’s release, said: “Abu Dhabi Courts accept Billy Hood did not traffic nor sell the CBD vape oil left in his car by a visiting friend.
“They accept that he ‘unintentionally possessed’ the CBD but have sentenced him to 10 years in prison, despite new legislation eliminating prison sentences for foreigners found in possession and allowing for deportation.”
Radha Stirling, chief executive of Detained in Dubai, said: “The UAE has just claimed they will eliminate prison sentences for foreigners found to be in possession of THC products, opting for deportation instead but this law does not come into effect until January 2022 and may not apply retroactively.”
She added: “Dubai police were extremely negligent when they charged Billy Hood with trafficking and selling the mini bottles of CBD vape oil found in his car.
“They turned what would have been a small possession case at worst into a federal case that has seen him locked up for almost a year and facing a life sentence in Abu Dhabi.
“There was no evidence whatsoever of trafficking and none of selling. Dubai’s overzealous prosecution has ruined this young man’s life and put him and his family through hell.
“Billy was forced to confess to federal crimes with promises of his imminent release. He was given both a carrot and a stick, so some prosecutor could get his dues. It’s all too familiar a story.”
A clemency request has been submitted by the Foreign Office for Billy’s release and a petition set up by the family has attracted almost 160,000 signatures.
“We pray every day for Billy’s release,” said Billy’s brother Alex.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are giving consular support to a British man who has been imprisoned in the UAE. We are in contact with his family in the UK.”
Earlier this year, the UAE government said: “The General Directorate for Drug Control (GDDC) received a tip-off that Mr Billy Hood, possessed quantities of synthetic cannabis oil with the intention of selling.
“Consequently, Mr Hood was apprehended on 2 February 2021 and then charged with drug trafficking, following the search of the vehicle he was driving.
“Mr Hood was found to be in possession of quantities of synthetic cannabis oil, known scientifically as ‘MDMB-4en-PINACA’.
“The police search of Mr Hood’s vehicle found the cannabis oil, substantial amounts of cash, an electronic hookah, various storage bottles and boxes, and 570 individual cartridges to be used for substance vaping.
“Mr Hood was convicted based on evidence including the items found in his possession, information on his phone, third party statement, and his own confession.”
It added that Mr Hood had access to an interpreter at all times, his ruling was made in accordance with UAE law, and that the substance in question has no therapeutic use.