South Shields grandad wrongly held in the Ukraine over '£30,000 bounced cheque' in Dubai in 2005

A South Shields grandfather has spoken of his ‘horrific’ experience after being thrown in prison in the Ukraine and held in the country for almost 12 months.

Thursday, 10th October 2019, 4:24 pm
Updated Friday, 11th October 2019, 7:04 pm
The prison in the Ukraine where Robert was retained for 45 days

Robert Urwin, 67, was arrested at an airport in the Ukraine in October 2018 after being wrongly placed on an Interpol arrest warrent over a bounced cheque for £30,000 in Dubai thirteen years ago, which he says he didn’t write.

The shipping company manager, who was travelling for a conference, spent 45 days in a detention centre in the Ukraine, sharing a cell with violent offenders and falling victim to extortion.

At one point, the grandfather-of-three was forced to survive on just one bottle of water for three days.

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Robert Urwin with his grandson before he was arrested in the Ukraine last year.

“I was taken from border control in the back of a truck in what was essentially a metal dog cage,” said Robert, speaking to the Gazette from Odessa, Ukraine.

“I had to give the guards $50 for one bottle of water and was locked in a decrepit cell.

“They did offer me food but it was soldiers’ rations and it was basically inedible. I couldn’t eat it, so I survived for three days on one bottle of water.”

Robert continued: “It was a horrific place, my daughters visited me there and they were in shock. The conditions were terrible, I didn’t have a towel or soap and only had a bit of linen for a blanket.

The cell in the Ukraine where Robert was held for 45 days

“It was horrendous, there were piles of rubbish outside the window, and it was the middle of winter so it was minus five degrees in the cell.”

Robert was subjected to threats of violence and extortion from inmates and guards on a daily basis.

“The prison guards told me I could go into a cell with normal people or one with murderers, rapists and drug addicts - but there would be a cost of $1000.

“I was in a cell with three prisoners who were all accused of violent offences - one guy had killed three people.

Weapons at the prison where Robert was detained.

“Each prison cell has a ‘Mafia boss’ who deals with the bribes. I had to make various payments just to have some kind of civilised life.”

Robert - who believes he has been the victim of identity theft - was detained after HSBC filed a criminal complaint in the United Arab Emirates over the cheque which was written in 2005, after he had left the country and was living in Greece.

Despite winning his appeal in court and being released on December 6, 2018, Interpol have still not removed the Red Notice, meaning Robert will be arrested if he tries to leave the country.

“It’s terrible, because I’m just stuck here in limbo,” said Robert, who has been working from the ASP Ship Management office in Odessa.

Robert Urwin in his cell where he was detained for 45 days

“The only contact I have with my family is by WhatsApp. They are doing everything they can and luckily my company have been really supportive, otherwise I would be on the streets.”

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck raised the issue in parliament on Tuesday, October 8 and has written to the Foreign Office to urge them to put pressure on Interpol to remove the Red Notice.

She commented: “There are numerous examples of our consular service not supporting British people when they are in trouble abroad.

“This man is going through hell and his family are unbelievably distressed. He has done nothing wrong and I won’t rest until we can bring him home to South Shields.”

Rhada Stirling, CEO of campaign group Detained in Dubai which is working to bring Robert home said: “Robert is being detained after having suffered months of incarceration, and an extradition hearing he already won.

“We have submitted a request to Interpol to remove the notice, but Interpol works very slowly; so unless HSBC withdraws the Notice request from Interpol, Robert could remain wrongfully detained for several more months or more.”

Piles of rubbish outside the cell window where Robert was detained for 45 days

HSBC have declined comment.

Robert Urwin, 67, has been held in the Ukraine for almost 12 months.
The cell in the Ukraine where Robert was detained for 45 days