UAE tried to ‘influence’ Tory ministers to ‘mislead’ the public, sacked embassy guard says in court papers

The claims have emerged days after the UAE was accused of being behind spyware infecting phones at Downing Street and the Foreign Office

Steve Bird, The Telegraph
April 23, 2022

The United Arab Emirates tried to “influence” Government ministers to “mislead” the British public about important international affairs, a sacked embassy bodyguard claims.

Conservative politicians including Ben Wallace and Gavin Williamson, the current and former defence secretaries, Leo Docherty, the military veterans minister, and Alistair Burt, the former minister for the Middle East, were named as alleged targets of the Gulf state in legal court papers seen by the Telegraph.

Lee Hurford, a close protection officer to the former ambassador, Sulaiman Almazroui, at the London embassy, has also claimed the UAE “paid” a company to “monitor” Jeremy Corbyn, the then leader of the opposition.

He also alleges the Gulf state attempted to “discredit” Al Jazeera, the 24-hour Middle East news channel, and to “undermine” the Free Princess Latifa Campaign, a group trying to help the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE prime minister, who fled from her family but was seized and brought back to Dubai four years ago.

The bodyguard’s allegations form part of a defence bundle lawyers prepared after he was accused of conspiring to blackmail the former ambassador.

Gavin Williamson was among the Conservative politicians named as alleged targets of the Gulf state in legal papers seen by the Telegraph (CREDIT: Stefan Rousseau/PA)

While Hurford, a former Royal Marine, admitted stealing confidential documents and money from the embassy in 2018, he denied plotting to blackmail the ambassador.

The blackmail trial was dropped and the charge ordered to lie on file at a court hearing this month.

But the claims in Hurford’s defence statement have emerged just days after the UAE was accused of being behind spyware infecting phones at Downing Street and the Foreign Office in 2020 and 2021.

Citizen Lab, a research unit at the University of Toronto, contacted the British Government to warn that it had detected “multiple suspected instances of Pegasus spyware infections” at the departments. Pegasus is an Israeli surveillance software that can be secretly embedded on phones to access data, the camera and microphone.

A Pegasus operator linked to the UAE was among those thought potentially responsible, Citizen Lab said.

Last year, a British judge found Sheikh Mohammed ordered Pegasus to be used to hack the phones of his ex-wife, Princess Haya, and her British legal team, during their bitter divorce. The sheikh, who is also the ruler of Dubai, has always denied the hacking allegations.

Hurford’s legal bundle says that while a close protection officer until 2018 he “overheard conversations in meetings and saw correspondence” that gave him “a number of concerns regarding the conduct of the UAE”.

Alistair Burt was among the Conservative politicians named as alleged targets of the Gulf state in legal papers seen by the Telegraph  (CREDIT: Chris McAndrew)

The documents claim: “The UAE government was seeking to influence British politicians including Ben Wallace, Leo Docherty, Gavin Williamson and Alistair Burt (among others) in a way which the defendant feared might result in the British public being misled about important international issues.

“A company … was being paid to monitor the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Crobyn.”

They further allege the UAE was trying to “undermine the Free Princess Latifa Campaign” and that he had been “instructed to monitor” protests by the group outside the embassy.

Hurford also claims he overheard how there were “efforts to discredit the work of Al Jazeera”, as well as attempts to “suppress” news relating to a West London mosque the UAE had funded.

While the defence bundle does not outline what proof, if any, Hurford, 49, had about how the UAE may have wanted to influence British ministers or what issues they may have hoped to raise, he planned to tell the court what he had heard and read if called to the witness stand.

Mr Hurford last night could not be contacted for comment. The UAE declined to comment.

Hurford is due to be sentenced for the theft at the embassy in June at Southwark Crown Court.

UAE tried to ‘influence’ Tory ministers to ‘mislead’ the public, sacked embassy guard says in court papers

While Hurford, a former Royal Marine, admitted stealing confidential documents and money from the embassy in 2018, he denied plotting to blackmail the ambassador. The blackmail trial was dropped and the charge ordered to lie on file at a court hearing this month.