A British football coach who was jailed for 25 years in Dubai for possessing CBD vape oil has had his sentence reduced to 10 years at appeal.
It comes days after the UAE confirmed it would introduce new laws meaning foreigners found with drugs can be deported rather than jailed, provided it is their first offence.
Billy Hood, 25, was arrested in January and in October convicted of drug trafficking with intent to supply after the vape oil was found in the boot of his car.
His case was today brought in front of an Abu Dhabi appeal court, which recognised Mr Hood had ‘unintentionally possessed’ the drugs but had no ‘intent to supply’, and reduced the term by 15 years.
Pressure group Detained in Dubai – an organisation that helps foreign nationals arrested in the Emirate – said the court ‘sentenced him to TEN YEARS in prison, despite new legislation eliminating prison sentences for foreigners found in possession and allowing for deportation instead.’
The new legislation does not come into effect until January 2022 and may not be applied retroactively.
Billy Hood, (pictured) the British football coach who was jailed for 25 years in Dubai for possessing CBD vape oil has had his sentence reduced to 10 years at appeal
Mr Hood, 24, (pictured with his grandmother) was arrested in January, convicted by a Emirati court of drug trafficking with intent to supply
Detained in Dubai CEO Radha Stirling today branded police ‘extremely negligent’ over the arrest of Mr Hood.
‘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,’ she said.
Following the appeals judgement today, Ms Stirling slammed Dubai police for ‘forcing [Mr Hood] to confess with promises of his imminent release.’
‘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,’ she said.
‘He was given both a carrot and a stick, so some prosecutor could get his dues. It’s all too familiar a story.’
Following the judgement, Mr Hood’s mother, Breda Guckion, 55, said: ‘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 words cannot express how broken I am feeling’.
A clemency request has been submitted to the UAE government by the British Foreign Office but Mr Hood’s father Alex has said his son’s case should ‘top of the list’.
‘The Brits have developed strong ties with the UAE so why aren’t they using their relationship to help people like Billy? This should be on the top of their list,’ he said.
‘Our son is not interested in drugs at all, not consuming, selling or trafficking. It wasn’t his fault at all that his friend left the vape bottles in his car. Why should he be punished for someone else’s actions?
‘All of his tests came back negative and there is zero evidence of selling or trafficking. It’s like something out of a movie and I can barely cope with the frustration of not being able to help him. We are campaigning out here but he’s in there completely alone.’
Mr Hood’s best friend Alfie Cain previously claimed he told him he was slapped, tasered, beaten for five days to make him sign a confession and only given bread and small amounts of water while at the Al-Barsha prison.
He told Mr Cain he only signed a confession to the drugs charges, which was written in Arabic, because officers said if he did the abuse would stop.
Ms Guckion 55 also previously claimed officers laughed in her son’s face as he slept on the floor of a prison cell with 30 others and told him that if he didn’t sign the confession, ‘you’re not getting out of here’.
Family members have said he was so frightened and tired that he agreed to sign a confession not knowing he had admitted to such serious crimes.
Speaking about Mr Hood’s confession, Mr Cain said: ‘Billy said they told him he could go home if he signed the paper, that’s why he gave in and signed that piece of paper in Arabic he had no idea what he signing, but he just wanted to make it stop.’
Billy Hood’s best friend Alfie Cain, 24, (pictured on Good Morning Britain) has claimed Hood told him he was beaten, slapped, and only given bread and small amounts of water while at the Al-Barsha jail by police officers
In early November, Mr Hood’s family said they had ‘zero contact with him’ since his transfer and that ‘he has not even been able to get in touch with his lawyer’.
At the time, Mr Hood’s mother Breda told Ms Stirling: ‘I can’t imagine what he’s going through now. He’s been moved from pillar to post and was just finally relieved to be with other British citizens in Dubai when they suddenly moved him to Abu Dhabi.
‘He’s going through the most stressful time in his entire life and can’t even communicate with his family, his lawyer or the British Embassy.’
Ms Stirling previously accused the UAE of forming a ‘manufactured a case’ against Mr Hood, but the Emirate has denied this, saying that he was charged based on a number of items found in his vehicle.
A statement from the UAE Public Prosecution said: ‘Mr. Hood was found to be in possession of quantities of synthetic cannabis oil.
‘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.’
Police in Dubai are thought to have singled out Mr Hood after monitoring WhatsApp messages and looking for key words related to drugs.
A week before his arrest the friend who owned the vape liquid sent a message telling Hood he had mistakenly left it behind in his car.
Hood, who played semi-professional football for Kensington and Ealing Borough FC, was stunned when police unexpectedly turned up at his flat in January and demanded to search his home and company car.
Four small vials of vape liquid containing cannabis oil (CBD) and a vape pen were later found in the passenger door compartment.
Vape liquid containing CBD with less than 0.2 per cent of THC is legal in the UK but will be illegal in the UAE until January 2022 (stock)
After his arrest Hood volunteered to take a urine test for drugs which came back negative.
Vape liquid containing CBD (cannabis oil) is sold by high street stores in the UK and perfectly legal although they must contain less than 0.2 per cent of THC which is the ingredient that leads to users getting ‘high’.
Police also found a few thousand pounds in cash in his flat but Mr Hood’s employers told police they had paid him they money while his bank account was being set up.
He said one of the arresting officers said they were interested in him from social media but did not take his phone or computer. He maintains there was no mention of the vape liquid on social media but in one WhatsApp message.
The pressure group Detained in Dubai, who are representing the family, believe the only explanation for police turning up unannounced could be authorities monitoring WhatsApp and reading the message about the vape liquid.
After he was handed a 25 year sentence in October, Mr Hood said in a statement released by his lawyer: ‘I do not smoke vape pens, cigarettes or even sheesha. I am very anti-drugs and spend my days coaching in schools with children.
‘I had just moved to a new home in Dubai and went to get a phone charger from my car when I was suddenly approached by police.
‘They jumped out to arrest me, handcuffed me. One officers pointed a taser at me, threatening to use it if I did not cooperate.
‘They demanded I show them where the drugs were. I was shocked and confused and told them I wasn’t in possession of any drugs.’
Before his transfer, Mr Hood’s best friend Alfie Cain claimed he told him he was slapped, tasered, beaten for five days to make him sign a confession and only given bread and small amounts of water while at the Al-Barsha prison (pictured)
The UAE has said it will ease some of its harsh drug laws, relaxing penalties for travelers who arrive in the country with products containing THC, the main intoxicating chemical in cannabis, from January 2
The new law, published in the UAE’s official gazette, says people caught carrying food, drinks and other items with cannabis into the country will no longer land in prison if it’s their first time.
Instead, authorities will confiscate and destroy the products.
The law marks a change for one of the world’s most restrictive nations when it comes to importing common drugs for personal use, from cannabis to over-the-counter medications like narcotics, sedatives and amphetamines.
The country strictly prohibits the sale and trafficking of drugs, with drug use punishable by four years in jail.
Other changes include reducing minimum sentences from two years to three months for first-time drug offenders and offering convicts rehabilitation at a detention facility separate from other felons.
Foreign drug users who are caught are typically deported to their home countries after imprisonment, but the new law leaves that decision up to the judge.
For decades, the nation’s penal code, based on Islamic law, or Shariah, has routinely landed expats and tourists in jail for offenses that few Westerners would otherwise consider crimes.
The reforms come as part of a wider legal overhaul announced as the UAE celebrates a half-century since its founding and seeks to boost its image as a cosmopolitan hub attractive to tourists and investors.