The missing Dubai princess has appealed to British police to reinvestigate the fate of an older sister who disappeared in Cambridge two decades ago, according to a smuggled letter.
Princess Latifa, 35, who says that she is being held captive by her family, said that police could help to free Princess Shamsa, 39.
The older sister ran away in 2000 from a Surrey estate owned by her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. She was seized two months later. Cambridgeshire police investigated the case at the time but were blocked from pursuing it to the United Arab Emirates.
“All I ask of you is to please give attention on her case because it could get her her freedom,” Latifa, 35, wrote in the letter, which has been shared with the BBC. “Your help and attention on her case could free her. She has strong links to England. She really loves England, all of her fondest memories are of her time there.”
Details of what happened to Shamsa, who was staying at the Longcross estate, near Chobham, when she fled, were only fully revealed when Latifa, who is her full sister by one of Sheikh Mohammed’s six wives, ran away herself in 2018.
In a video recorded and sent to the campaign group Detained in Dubai, to be released only if she were recaptured, she described how Shamsa had been held in prison and then drugged to keep her docile after her escape attempt.
Latifa said she herself had tried to escape before. This time, she almost made it to India on a yacht owned by a Frenchman, Hervé Jaubert, along with a Finnish friend, Tiina Jauhiainen, but they were intercepted by the Indian and Emirati navies.
Last week BBC Panorama updated the story by releasing more videos, this time secretly recorded in 2019 by Latifa on a phone smuggled into the villa in Dubai where she said she was being held captive.
It is not clear how the letter being revealed now was released. The BBC said it was written in 2019, though dated February 2018, before her escape, to disguise the details of its origins. It has been passed to the police.
The letter repeated Latifa’s earlier claims about her sister’s treatment after she was flown back to Dubai from England in 2000. “She was kept incommunicado with no release date, trial or charge,” it said. “She was tortured by getting her feet caned.”
Cambridgeshire police confirmed that they had received the letter and said it would be added to a continuing review of the case. “This is a very complex and serious matter and as such there are details of the case that it would be inappropriate to discuss publicly,” the force said in a statement.
The Foreign Office subsequently confirmed that Dubai, which has close relations with Britain, had approached it about Shamsa’s case when her disappearance was being investigated.
A senior police officer who was blocked from investigating the kidnapping of Shamsa at the time of her abduction claimed last year that the truth about the case was being suppressed to save official “embarrassment”. David Beck, the detective chief inspector who was in charge of the original investigation, was denied permission by the Crown Prosecution Service to travel to Dubai to interview witnesses, and the investigation was dropped.
He said he had been prevented from reviewing the police files in the case despite being required to give evidence in the High Court.
“They said in the statements in court they quoted ‘significant sensitivities’ and to me ‘significant sensitivities’ means someone is going to get embarrassed,” Beck said. “Well, personal embarrassment is not a reason for withholding the truth about the evidence.”
Last week Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said that the video footage was “deeply troubling” and that Britain would “watch very closely developments on that front”.
As part of custody hearings in London in 2019 connected to Sheikh Mohammed’s divorce from another wife, Princess Haya of Jordan, he issued a statement that Shamsa was “vulnerable” and that he had ordered a “rescue mission” for her in 2000. However, the judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, ruled that the sheikh had ordered the abduction of both daughters.
It is not that no one knew about the kidnapping of Princess Shamsa from the streets of Cambridge in August 2000. She managed to get word out through a lawyer, and police began an investigation (Richard Spencer writes).
The princess had fled the estate of her father, Sheikh Mohammed, near Chobham, Surrey, in a black Range Rover before heading to Cambridge. Once there she checked into the University Arms Hotel but on August 19 her break for freedom came to an abrupt end. Shamsa was captured by a team of her father’s operatives who had been trailing her since her escape. It was not long before she was back in Dubai and, after police were blocked from travelling there, the investigation stalled.
So for almost two decades everyone forgot about the free-spirited 18-year-old. One person who did not was her younger sister Latifa. She was 14 at the time and the punishment meted out to Shamsa, rather than cowing her, made her even more determined to follow suit. She made her own first escape attempt two years later, heading over the border from Dubai to neighbouring Oman before being captured and returned home.
Later on, she saw her sister emerge from incarceration a shell of the girl with whom she had grown up. “She had to be led around by her hand,” Latifa said in one of the statements leaked to the BBC. “She couldn’t open her eyes. She was given a bunch of pills to control her. Those pills made her like a zombie.”
Other than that, Shamsa is the invisible princess. Her brothers, sisters and cousins are celebrities in Dubai, with Instagram accounts showing glamorous lives with all the luxuries that come with having a Gulf emir as your father.
Her older brother, Sheikh Hamdan, the crown prince, keeps a white tiger as a pet. A cousin, also called Latifa, shares the family passion for horses and competed as an equestrian at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Sheikh Mohammed says both princesses are being cared for in the bosom of his family. He says they have declined requests to speak to a lawyer. The UN has asked for proof of life.
The sheikh is absolute ruler of his emirate and there is little any outside power, including Cambridgeshire police, can do to stop him treating his daughters as he wishes.
In 2000, though, Dubai was much less well known than it is today, something of a magnet for British tourists, football stars, influencers and businessmen. The battle for Shamsa and Latifa, and for the image of the Maktoum family, has some way to go yet.