Polo club urged to cut ties with sheikh over ‘hacking’

David Brown, The Times
October 9, 2021

An exclusive club closely associated with the royal family has been urged to sever its links with the ruler of Dubai after a judge found he had orchestrated the hacking of mobile phones.

The Guards Polo Club was founded by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1955 and Princes Charles, William and Harry have all played at its headquarters at Windsor Great Park. The Queen is a regular visitor.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 72, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, is also a regular guest.

High court rulings made public this week found he had orchestrated the hacking of the phones of his former wife, the Jordanian princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, 47, and her lawyers, the Tory peer Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia and Nicholas Manners.

He had earlier been found responsible for the kidnapping of his daughters Princess Shamsa, 40, in Cambridge in 2000 and her sister Princess Latifa, 35, from a yacht in the Indian Ocean in 2018.

The sheikh’s lawyers complained that a proposed exclusion zone around Haya’s Surrey mansion would breach his right to freedom as it would make it difficult for him to visit the Guards Polo Club from his £75 million Longcross estate, near the village of Chobham.

In a court submission his legal team, headed by Lord Pannick, QC, said the sheikh has had “roots in the area for generations”, adding: “He has strong social associations there, including with members of the royal family and in the horse-racing fraternity.”

Al-Maktoum is frequently photographed at the Guards Polo Club. Latifa and Shamsa’s older sister, Princess Maitha, 41, led the United Arab Emirates polo team to victory in the Cartier Queen’s Cup at the club in June.

The sheikh and Haya had attended games at the Guards Club together before she fled to London in fear for her life with the two young children in 2019 after al-Maktoum became concerned about her close relationship with her British bodyguard.

The club’s board includes high-ranking retired army officers and senior city executives. David Haigh, a former lawyer for Latifa and the first publicly confirmed British victim of the Pegasus software hacking, said yesterday that al-Maktoum’s close association with the Guards Club helped to enhance his international image.

“The Dubai ruler should be radioactive to the great and good of British society, to our government and to the Queen and prestigious organisations like the Guards Polo Club,” said Haigh.

“The fact that he is still not raises serious questions about who we allow to sit at Britain’s top tables, and precisely what they are doing there and why. Do we stand for human rights and the rule of law or not, or do we look the other way when there is money to be made?”

Lawyers representing Haya, the youngest of al-Maktoum’s six wives, alleged in submissions that the sheikh broke five UK laws including interception of communications, perverting the course of justice and breaches of the data protection act.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, concluded it was more likely than not the sheikh was responsible for the use of the sophisticated Pegasus spyware to hack the telephones and there had been abuse of power by a head of government.

The Guards Polo Club could not be reached for comment.