South Shields grandad returns home in time for Christmas after a 14 month nightmare in the Ukraine
Earlier this year Robert Urwin, 67, spoke to the Gazette from Odessa, where he was being held over an Interpol Red Notice over a bounced cheque for £30,000 which was written in 2005, months after he had left the UAE, he says.
He was desperate to be home in time for Christmas.
The shipping company manager for ASP Ship Management, was arrested at an airport in the Ukraine in October 2018 and spent 45 days in a detention centre.
He was kept in squalid conditions and forced to share a cell with violent offenders, who subjected him to threats and extortion on a daily basis.
Despite winning his appeal and being released from prison on December 6, 2018 it took nine months for Interpol to remove the Red Notice, meaning he risked being arrested again if he tried to leave the country.
For the last 12 months the grandfather-of-three has been stuck in Odessa, only able to contact his family through WhatsApp, while they worked tirelessly to bring him home.
“I used to go to the office in Odessa most days for a bit of respite, but apart from that I would just stay in the apartment and watch Netflix just to keep my mind occupied,” said Robert back at his home on Bents Park Road.
“My colleagues warned me not to go out at night, not to speak to anybody or answer the door. People looked at me strangely and no one spoke English. I was tense all the time. It was no life.
“I still don’t sleep properly, I wake up at 4am and my mind starts racing.”
He continued: “It was always in the back of your mind, how long is it going to be?
“The worst thing was when I would speak to my wife and the grandchildren because they would ask when I was coming home.”
His wife Val, 66, said: “It was horrendous. I couldn’t talk to him in prison, it was too upsetting, but I’ll never forget when my daughter rang me and said ‘it’s serious now’.”
“We tried everything me and my daughters, every day we tried.
“It was absolutely hell. It's like something you see on the telly.”
In October, after campaigning on Robert’s behalf by the human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, the Red Notice was lifted.
On Saturday, December 7, Robert landed in Newcastle Airport, where Val was waiting to meet him.
She described the moment they saw each other for the first time.
“It was amazing. We still can't believe it, it’s like a miracle,” she said.
Robert commented: “The best part was when I got on a plane and we actually took off. It was just total relief.
“I surprised the grandchildren on Saturday and they just ran up and hugged me, it was incredible.”
The couple are now planning a quiet Christmas just the two of them before Robert goes back to work at the Wallsend office in the new year.
“As Christmas was approaching and nothing was happening, it was really tough, I would log onto Facebook and see old pictures of South Shields with all the decorations up,” he added.
“If I wasn’t home for Christmas it would have been very traumatic.”
Robert thanked South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck who raised his case in Parliament earlier this year, but it was his family and sheer hope that have kept him going over the last 14 months.
Val added: “It makes you realise not to take anything for granted.
“The family all stuck together, we gave each other strength and we survived it.”