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Britons jailed for four years on drug charges in Dubai

Three Britons were sentenced to four years in jail on drugs charges in Dubai on Monday, a day after the British prime minister expressed concern about allegations that they had been tortured. Grant Cameron, Karl Williams and Suneet Jeerh were arrested in July 2012 during a holiday in the United Arab Emirates. Police said they had found a form of synthetic cannabis in their hire car. All three had pleaded not guilty to charges of possessing and intending to sell illegal drugs and said police had subjected them to beatings and threatened them with guns - allegations the police deny. UAE Judge Ali Attiyah Saad sentenced the Britons to four years in jail each at Dubai Criminal Court.

One of the defence lawyers, Issa bin-Haider, said the sentences indicated the court had dropped the charge of intent to sell illegal drugs as that would have carried a more severe punishment.

Abdel-Hamid Mahdi, who represents Grant Cameron, said he planned to appeal the sentence, asking for mercy. It is common for convicts to be pardoned during national and religious holidays in the UAE, particularly first-time offenders.

British Prime Minister David Cameron commented on the case on Sunday, before a visit by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan who is scheduled to arrive in Britain on Tuesday.

In a letter to Reprieve, a London-based legal charity which campaigns for prisoner rights, he said Britain had repeatedly raised concerns about the torture allegations with the UAE, saying the authorities' failure to organise a full medical examination of the men was worrisome.

"We continue to press for evidence of a full, impartial and independent investigation," Cameron wrote.

At a hearing in the case in March, police officer Osman Ali Abdulla, who took part in the Britons' arrests, denied any of the men were abused or beaten and said they were treated well.

There is zero tolerance for drug-related offences in the UAE, a regional business hub and tourist destination where millions of expatriates live and work. There are severe penalties for drug trafficking and possession.

Reprieve investigator Kate Higham urged Cameron on Monday to push for their release during his talks with the UAE leader.

"The central fact of this case remains that these men were tortured by police, but there has been no proper investigation into their abuse," she said in a statement.

During his two-day visit to Britain, the UAE leader will be hosted by Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, hold a meeting with Cameron, and have tea with the Prince of Wales. He will be accompanied by a high-level government delegation.

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