Colonel Mercer was the commanding officer of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment when Andrew was serving as a private soldier. Since then, Mercer has gone on to serve as the MP for Newark, rising to the heights of Shadow Homeland Security Spokesman for the Conservative party before controversial comments about army life led to him leaving politics and starting a new career as a highly successful author. Colonel Mercer has since published some 15 well-reviewed books, mainly fiction but also several highly regarded military histories.
After hearing the details of Andrew Neal’s wrongful incarceration, Colonel Mercer realised he had no choice but to speak out in defence of the former army dog trainer. Mr Neal, a PTSD sufferer due to stressful tours to Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan, has been held in horrendous conditions, without trial or evidence against him for five months with no end in sight.
‘It is completely unacceptable for the UK government to allow this kind of treatment of a British citizen,’ Colonel Mercer said yesterday. ‘The details of this case are crystal clear. There was no evidence found against Mr Neal. None at all. His house was searched, as was his bank account, his phone and even his blood were tested and not a shred of evidence was found to implicate Andrew Neal.
‘The prosecution’s case rested on a statement, that a witness was allegedly forced to sign in Arabic, a language the witness cannot read or understand. Even this statement was retracted by the witness as soon as he learned what it said.
‘Andrew Neal has served his country with distinction for 24 years. A combat zone dog handler operates in extremely dangerous conditions, putting his own life constantly at risk for the safety of his comrades. For our government to abandon Andrew Neal after this service would be completely unacceptable.
‘I remember Andrew Neal very well despite knowing him more than two decades ago and him being junior to myself. He was a private soldier serving in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters when I commanded that regiment. I remember Andy from postings at Tidworth and Bosnia, and I know him to be a brave, professional soldier and thoroughly moral, family man. Andrew desperately wants to be back with his wife and two children. He also suffers from severe PTSD from his time on operations and is in danger of collapsing under the pressure of being unjustly held in the Dubai jail.
‘I am not just saying this in defence of a soldier who once served under me, although given my personal experience and knowledge of Andrew Neal, I would not hesitate to do so. This issue is larger even than Andrew’s freedom and the tearing apart of a blameless family. This is about a UK government who seem to be placing their strategic goals above the safety and security of its own British citizens.
‘Mrs May’s government might be occupied with other matters right now, but Andrew Neal must not be forgotten. Diplomatic channels must be explored and all necessary efforts put in to bring this innocent British family man and accomplished former soldier back to his wife and children.’
Patrick Mercer resigned from the Conservative party after what he admits were ill-judged comments about racism and bullying in army life but has remained a staunch and popular supporter of military causes. The men who served with and under him have universally stood by the Colonel since he resigned from politics. Mercer joins a growing movement of people demanding the release of Andrew Neal.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, the London-based human rights organisation representing Andrew Neal released the following statement:
‘Andrew Neal is one of the most clear-cut cases I have seen in the 11 years I have been defending victims of the UAE legal system. No matter who we speak to, the message is constant. Andy is a devoted, moral, family man who loves his kids more than himself. He has never had anything to do with drugs of any type, let alone been involved in any kind of narcotics ring.
‘The fact that Colonel Mercer, his former regimental commanding officer personally remembers Andy as a private soldier from over 25 years ago speaks volumes about Andy’s character. But Colonel Mercer is not alone. Every ex-colleague of Andy’s paints the same picture. A fun, loving, family man determined to make a good, safe and happy life for Angela and the kids.
‘Andy is just not set up to deal with being in a brutal Middle Eastern jail among hardcore criminals because he is not a criminal himself. There is no evidence against him. Even the prosecutor admits this to be the case. The trouble appears to be that the police have let the actual criminals go, allegedly a Filipino woman and associate who have left the country. Now it seems that the prosecutor is determined to punish somebody, even if it is not the real criminals. The flaws in the UAE justice system mean that Andy is in real danger of serving years in a Dubai jail for a crime that everyone involved is aware he did not commit.
‘The British government’s shameful inertia on this matter should be a warning to all British citizens to avoid Dubai. Recently the UK signed what many see as a sinister and cynical “PR tie-up” with the UAE, and this seems to be being prioritised above the rights and safety of British subjects who fall victim to Dubai’s legal dangers.’