A British army veteran who might be suffering from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder after years of working as a paramedic with bomb disposal squads has been ordered to pay a £100,000 fine or face being incarcerated in a notorious Emirati prison after he told check-in staff at Abu Dhabi International Airport that he feared there would be a bomb on his flight.
Steve Long, 39 of Stockport, had travelled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to visit a friend and get some winter sun but his family arranged for him to return to home to Britain earlier than planned because his mental health was showing signs of deterioration.
His family had planned to meet him at the airport on January 28 and whisk him to the hospital for a mental health assessment, but Steve never made his flight after he was detained by police and locked up in jail.
When he got to the check-in counter for his Etihad Airways flight, Steve told staff that he was scared there was a bomb on the plane. “He wasn’t making a bad joke; he was in the grips of residual trauma,” explains Radha Stirling, founder of Detained in Dubai, a British charity that specialises in helping foreigners caught up in the UAE’s criminal justice system.
Stirling believes Steve’s breakdown may have been triggered by recent Houthi rebel attacks on the UAE that has resulted in at least two deaths. The terrorist group has fired ballistic missiles at Abu Dhabi and have a stated aim to target Abu Dhabi airport.
“Airport staff could have taken Steve aside and simply talked to him to allay his fears,” Stirling says.
“Instead, after Etihad made a criminal complaint, he was arrested and faces a prison sentence. Airline security makes no distinction between threats and passenger concerns about threats; they are treating Steve as though he intended to cause a disruption, when in reality, he was just scared.”
Despite being transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Abu Dhabi, a criminal court found him guilty of making a threat. An appeal has already been heard and rejected, leaving Steve with the option of either paying a £100,000 fine or spending time in prison.
“Steve was literally attending his court hearings from a psychiatric ward, the judge did not take into consideration that he is unwell, and he had no advocate to explain the circumstances,” his sister, Claire, says.
“Steve does not deserve to be punished; he needs treatment. We are asking the UAE to show some compassion and let Steve come home where he can get the care he needs.”
His family flew out to Abu Dhabi the day after finding out he had been arrested. When they were eventually allowed to see him, Steve was found to be dehydrated and suffering from rhabdomyolysis after spending hours in police restraints.
He was transferred to a hospital and after a week admitted to a psychiatric ward. Once his mental health condition improves, Steve is likely to be returned to a prison cell where access to medication will be limited.
His family are calling on the UAE authorities to review Steve’s case once more and have set up a GoFundMe page in the hope of raising enough money to pay the fine.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.