Neighbours rail against sheikh as fence ‘flouts planning rules’

Will Humphries
December 13, 2018, The Times

Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya
The fence could create problems for wildlife around the Longcross estate owned by Sheikh Mohammed, who is one of the best known owners in British racing

The ruler of Dubai has been accused of showing “cynical disregard” for planning laws by erecting a two-metre high spiked metal fence around his country estate in Surrey.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 69, who founded the Godolphin racehorse stud, was also accused of damaging the environment, putting wildlife including birds such as the rare Dartford warbler at risk.

The row centres on a security fence that has gone up around his £75 million Longcross estate, allegedly without planning permission. One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said: “The sheikh and his people have shown a cynical disregard for the planning laws.”

The neighbour said that the fence was totally inappropriate for the area and blocked vital wildlife corridors used by animals to travel across the countryside between Chobham Common near by and the previously open estate.

It is understood that Sheikh Mohammed, who is vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, intends to apply for retrospective planning permission.

“It is highly puzzling that he did not apply for permission before all this came to light,” the neighbour said. “The fences should be removed immediately to mitigate the damage to wildlife.”

The Longcross estate is one part of a vast property portfolio controlled by Sheikh Mohammed, who is believed to have a fortune in excess of £9 billion.

Before the fence was erected, the estate’s boundary was marked by a lower, wooden fence or, in some places, no fence at all. Although landowners are normally allowed to erect boundary fences, Sheikh Mohammed’s land is covered by an Article 4 direction under planning law, meaning that even minor changes must receive permission from the council.

Security at the estate was already tight, with perimeter guards, CCTV and an inner security fence. However, in 2000 even these precautions were unable to prevent Sheikha Shamsa, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters, escaping from her father’s estate and making it across Chobham Common before being returned. She has not been seen since fleeing the Longcross estate at the age of 19, but is alleged to have been tracked down in Cambridge several weeks later and taken by her father’s men to Dubai.

One of her younger sisters, Sheikha Latifa, claimed in March that Sheikha Shamsa was being kept in a drugged state in the Zabeel Palace in Dubai and was like a “zombie”.

Sheikha Latifa, 33, made the claim in a video that she sent to Detained in Dubai, a human rights organisation, before saying that she, too, had recently attempted to “escape” her father.

The Emirati princess spent seven years plotting her escape from the country by sea, including learning how to scuba dive in her pool, only to be thwarted 30 miles from the coast of India, she said.

The lengths to which the princess had gone to escape her controlling father and the wealthy country that she thought of as a gilded prison were shown in a BBC documentary broadcast last week and entitled Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess. It showed Sheikha Latifa diving in an indoor swimming pool in February.

She had contacted Hervé Jaubert, a former French spy and naval officer. He had previously escaped the emirate by evading security, dressing in a burka and then scuba diving into international waters. Tiina Jauhiainen, the princess’s Finnish martial arts instructor and confidant, drove with her across the border into Oman, where they were picked up by a dinghy and then jet-skied to Mr Jaubert’s yacht. She had altered her initial plan to scuba dive to the yacht after it became clear that it would be too difficult.

After a week the vessel was raided as it sailed near the coast of Goa. The princess was dragged away by what appeared to be commandos.

She has not been seen since March but her family claim that she is “safe” in Dubai. In a statement before the documentary was broadcast, Dubai’s royal court said that it was “saddened by the media speculation”.

The government of Dubai has been contacted for comment regarding the fence at Longcross. Runnymede borough council declined to comment.