David Haigh is one of the most high-profile human rights lawyers and crisis managers focusing on the Middle East today.

He is a tireless and successful advocate for victims whose rights have been violated. His high-profile legal and human rights work has led to landmark court decisions, worldwide media coverage, millions of dollars in compensation and of course freedom for those he advises and helps.

The former Managing Director of leading English Football Club Leeds United and Chairman of Leeds United Ladies FC; he was the first openly gay managing director of a top-flight English football club. He is the lawyer and crisis manager representing HRH Sheikha Latifa Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. David helped Princess Latifa escape Dubai false imprisonment and torture at the hands of her father Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, vice President and Prime Minster of the UAE in March 2018. The appointment by HRH Princess Latifa followed David surviving a well-publicised 22-month ordeal of torture and abuse in Dubai.

David has been involved in many high-profile cases of injustice, torture and abuse in which he and his team have campaigned for the release or protection of those falsely accused and abused. He regularly appears on radio and television across the globe to talk of his experiences and those of his clients’. HIs high-profile media campaigns and legal work have influenced the release of hundreds of prisoners and victims of injustice in the UAE and wider Middle East. He has worked for, advised on many high-profile cases notably HRH Sheikha Latifa Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dr Ellie Holman, Scott Richards, Farzan Athari, Billy Barclay and Jamie Harran.

When a high-profile Middle Eastern legal case or crisis hits the airwaves, we have become accustomed to seeing David in some key role as advocate, activist or commentator. But this internationally recognised advocate has built his pioneering career on much more than running Leeds United FC, Princess Latifa and his own fight for justice against the UAE. As a tireless crusader against discrimination in all areas of our lives, Haigh’s reach has been wide and long. For the past two decades, he has played an integral role in combating injustices and winning new rights, especially for LGBT persons, women and minorities. He has helped hundreds of people in the Middle East escape injustice, jail and torture and is publicly credited with paving the way for gay football managers and players following his ground-breaking anti homophobia initiatives at Leeds United FC.

Shortlisted by his peers as one of the leading lawyers in the UK, Dubai and the Middle East three years in a row, he was described by the Lawyer magazine as “you wouldn’t want to bet against him,” In 2018 the Daily Beast credited David with running “an extraordinarily slick – and convincing – PR campaign ostensibly designed to free her [Princess Latifa] “.

David has worked at some of the world’s largest and most prominent law firms such as Akin Gump Straus Hauer and Feld LLP and international finical institutions Like Barclays and Bank of New York Mellon. He was on the youngest Deputy CEOs of one the largest Islamic investment banking groups in the Middle East and the youngest manager of an Islamic £50 million venture capital technology investments fund.  He then went on to become the first openly gay managing director and Chairman of Leeds united and Leeds United Ladies, the top intentional football clubs, at 34.

In 2014 David left Leeds United and was selected for the UK Conservative parties’ candidates list and was looking forward to a high-flying political career, after establishing Conservatives in the Middle East and leading one of the world’s largest football clubs when his world collapsed overnight.

Life for David took a dramatic turn after he was tricked to fly from his Leeds home to Dubai by his former employers over a commercial dispute. Within hours of landing David found himself thrown on the concrete floor of a Dubai jail, being ruptured. 22 months of torture, sexual abuse, rape, arbitrary detention and injustice would follow accused of breach of trust and “twitter abuse”.

David now devotes his career and indomitable determination and strength to helping those suffering injustice and other human rights abuses in the UAE and the wider Middle East and in promoting justice and equality. He is the Managing Director of NGOs Detained International and Detained Aboard which expanded out of Detained in Dubai to assist those suffering injustices around the world as well as a founder of Swiss NGO Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE. He is also the Managing director of leading Middle Eastern law specialist and crisis manager Stirling Haigh, which he confounded with Radha Stirling.

David advises corporations, governments, politicians and NGO and media on foreign policy and risk in the Middle East. David often speaks at the United Nations about human rights in the UAE and is regularly called as an expert witness in cases pertaining to human rights in the UAE, Interpol abuse and UAE extraditions requests. He has worked closely with numerous leading NGOS including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. He is often called on to speak at conferences and has spoken at parliament.

David continues his passion for football, Leeds United and the community. He was remained an investor in Leeds United until 2017 when he joined non-league Penzance FC to develop grass roots football in Cornwall. He continues to support Leeds United Ladies and recently organised a tournament with Cornwall FAs women’s team.  He was appointed to the Cornish Football Association Inclusivity Advisory Group in 2017 and elected a local government councillor in 2016.

 

DAVID & FOOTBALL

David was the Managing Director of leading English football club Leeds United, and Chairman of Leeds United Ladies Football Club. David was the first openly gay Managing Director of a major football club and hopes to help lead the way for footballers and football club staff to feel comfortable “coming out” on the world stage.

During his time at Leeds United, David introduced initiatives such as ‘Taking it to the Kids’ where primary school children in Leeds were given the chance to study football and health education courtesy of the club’s charitable trust, the Leeds United Foundation. He put the club at the forefront of the Anti-Homophobia and Anti – Discrimination in Sport and Football Campaign by partnering with Stonewall Diversity Champions and Robbie Rogers’ ‘Beyond It’. He brought the Leeds United Ladies football team back into the club and saw the ladies playing at Elland Road. Since leaving Leeds United David continued to support Leeds United Ladies as a sponsor. In 2018 he arranged for the Leeds United Ladies football team to travel to Cornwall to play local football team Mousehole AFC, continuing his longstanding support for Leeds United and women’s football.

In addition to his financial and legal expertise, David brought a wealth of business experience to the club. In his role as Managing Director he led a campaign for the club to re-engage with its fans, and his excellent relations with supporters and different supporter groups was a feature of his tenure. David’s time at the helm ensured the club broke many sporting records including achieving the highest league table position ever outside the premier league, the largest attendance record outside the premier league and the largest value player signing out side the premier league. David led a consortium to acquire in the club in 2013 and through his company Sport Capital continued to be a financier until 2017.

He has maintained his links with Leeds United Ladies and in 2017 and 2018 made it possible for the ladies to travel to Cornwall to play local Cornish teams

David is now on the board of his local team, Penzance AFC, who recognised that his love for grass roots football could help make the football club a bigger part of the community. He hopes to continue to make deep and long-lasting changes at grass roots level.

He was appointed to the Cornish FA Inclusivity advisory group in 2017 and advises the FA on matters of equality and specifically gender, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

GRASSROOTS FOOTBALL AND ANTI-DISCRIMINATION IN SPORT

Since leaving Leeds United of which he was a financier until 2017, David joined the board of his local team Penzance AFC, who recognised that his love for grass roots football could help make the football club a bigger part of the community.

During David’s leadership Leeds United became the first Stonewall Diversity Champion in English football, championing gay equality within the club and Football. At the same time former Leeds United and LA Galaxy player Robbie Rogers launched his Beyond It anti-discrimination charity at Leeds United.

In November 2017, in an interview with The Mirror newspaper, he revealed that at least 20 footballers had confided in him about being gay. David was open about being gay while in his role at Leeds United and said to The Mirror that many gay players confided in him at the time as a result.[19] In November 2017, Pink News credited Haigh along with Robbie Rogers and Thomas Hitzlsperger with paving the way for LGBT players and managers in football.[20]

In late 2017 Haigh teamed up with Diva and OutNewsGlobal publisher Linda Riley to form the ground-breaking  #ComeOut2Play. A campaign to help create an environment where gay and bisexual male players feel able to be themselves.  www.comeout2play.org

The campaign became the largest Thunderclap campaign ever with over 53 million supporters in 6 weeks. The campaign received the public backing of the English Football league, its CEO Shaun Harvey and its 72 clubs, as well as supporters from across the world of football, media and politics.  High profile supporters included, Jeremy Corbyn MP leader of the labour party, Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, Entertainer Katie Price and Broadcaster Piers Morgan.

Haigh was appointed to the Football Association Inclusivity Advisory Group in 2017 to advise on LGBT matters and diversity in Cornish football.

 

LEEDS UNITED

During his time at Leeds United, David introduced initiatives such as ‘Taking it to the Kids’ where primary school children in Leeds were given the chance to study football and health education courtesy of the club’s charitable trust, the Leeds United Foundation. He put the club at the forefront of the Anti-Homophobia and Anti – Discrimination in Sport and Football Campaign by partnering with Stonewall Diversity Champions and Robbie Rogers’ ‘Beyond It’.

He brought the Leeds United Ladies football team back into the club and saw the ladies playing at Elland Road. Since leaving Leeds United David continued to support Leeds United Ladies as a sponsor. In 2018 he arranged for the Leeds United Ladies football team to travel to Cornwall to play local football team Mousehole AFC, continuing his longstanding support for Leeds United and women’s football.

In addition to his financial and legal expertise, David brought a wealth of business experience to the club. In his role as Managing Director he led a campaign for the club to re-engage with its fans, and his excellent relations with supporters and different supporter groups was a feature of his tenure. David’s time at the helm ensured the club broke many sporting records including achieving the highest league table position ever outside the premier league, the largest attendance record outside the premier league and the largest value player signing outside the premier league. David led a consortium to acquire in the club in 2013.

 

DAVID’S DETENTION IN DUBAI

Stirling Haigh, Detained International and Detained Abroad were founded after David was himself a victim of human rights abuse, torture, unfair trials and human trafficking in Dubai and suffered his own personal horror story, which he has now turned into a positive by helping thousands of others whilst simultaneously campaigning for change.

In May 2014, David was dishonestly lured to Dubai under false pretences by his former employers and business partners – a frightening case of human trafficking for exploitation. Once he landed in Dubai he was detained, without being charged, for 22 months in appalling conditions. David was deprived of many of his basic human rights. He was prevented from accessing his money to pay for lawyers. He was denied access to translators, food and medication, even something as simple as a pen and paper were unavailable to him. At a trial, conducted in Arabic (meaning he was unable to understand what was happening) David was found guilty. During the trial he was not permitted to speak nor was he allowed to cross examine his accusers or to see any of the purported evidence against him. At times David was not even permitted to attend his own court case. David had appointed leading international accountancy firm PWC, who concluded in a report sent to the Dubai courts that there was no evidence of fraud by David and that the allegations should be withdrawn. The report was ignored by the Dubai Court.

Ten days after the conviction, David thought there was a positive turn of events. David had received a Royal pardon and was due to fly home. However, just a few days before his repatriation the same party, his former employers and their CEO, filed a (false) Twitter slander charge against David and almost 6 months later David was still detained in a squalid Dubai jail where he was again tortured, beaten, sexually abused and denied legal representation and translation support. David was finally acquitted in March 2016, he was then further acquitted on appeal in May 2016. Two years of such a hell is clearly unacceptable, and now David works tirelessly with Du Justice and other leading charities to try and ensure that no-one else suffers as horrifically as he did.

David’s case was supported by leading charity Human Rights Watch who called for David’s immediate release and the charges to be dropped in 2016 in this press release. He was also supported by Prisoners Abroad, Detained in Dubai, International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE and countless leading politicians and lawyers such as Alun Jones QC of Great James’ Street Chambers.

In 2017 after giving evidence for two days in the Scottish Courts, David’s account of what happened to him in Dubai was accepted in full by a leading Scottish judge Sheriff T Welsh.

David Haigh struck me as an honest intelligent witness who gave his evidence with calm dignity. He was obviously a man who had been significantly physically and psychologically damaged by his ordeal in the UAE . … I believed his evidence when he indicated that high ranking Emiratis have influence over and access to the police and other aspects of civil society. I have no doubt he was telling the truth about seeing a civilian lawyer  who acted for his former employers, in Bur Dubai Police Station in the company of a police officer pointing at him, before being questioned and beaten by police. The clear inference that that civilian lawyer had influence as to how he was badly treated and abused by the police, is irresistible. I fully accept he was repeatedly seriously assaulted by Dubai police officers and Tasered while detained at Bur Dubai Police Station. I accept he was interrogated and forced to sign a document in Arabic the content of which he could not understand. Thereafter, I believed the account he gave of squalid, overcrowded and insanitary detention conditions in Bur Dubai Police Station. I further believe he was sexually assaulted and raped in the car park of that Police station during his detention. I am also satisfied that the evidence he gave about poor consular access and no consular protection while in custody is true. In addition I believed him when he said the police authorities were both actively engaged in institutionalised racism against non-Muslims and non-Emiratis within the detention block and complicit in the racial abuse administered to non-Muslims by local prisoners within the detention centre. Albeit, I held Lord Rowbotham’ s document inadmissible in evidence, if I had to judge between its content based upon a single day’s observation in one detention centre/prison in Dubai and the sustained ordeal endured by David Haigh who was held in 4 different custodial settings in Dubai over almost two years, I would have had little hesitation in preferring the direct tested evidence of David Haigh over the untested and limited narrative in the Lord Rowbotham document.

 

MAKE A WISH – ARCTIC TREK – IN DAVID’S WORDS

My niece, Sienna, is living with a genetic disorder known as HCU and in April 2013 I swapped the deserts of Dubai for the frosty arctic circle for a week long challenging trek across the frozen wilderness of the Arctic Circle to raise awareness of HCU and to raise funds for the amazing charity Make a Wish, of which I was an Ambassador.

The challenge was to sledge with a team of husky dogs across 250 km from the Arctic city of Tromso in temperatures as low as -30c. If you saw any of the ITV programme 71 Degrees North you will know some of the challenges faced!

The trek was organised by Make A Wish Foundation. In case you are not aware of the excellent work they do, Make A Wish Foundation grant magical wishes to children and young people aged from 3 to 17 living with a life-threatening condition.

The trek was an incredible experience, one I would recommend to anyone looking for a rewarding but tough physical challenge.  Sienna’s godmother, Julie and I raised around £30,000 and we both want to thank everyone that sponsored and supported us – it will go a long way towards making a difference to the lives of those with HCU.

You can watch the video diary of the trek here