What makes me qualified to give this advice?

I am uniquely qualified and experienced to give this advice for two reasons. Firstly, I am a retired British diplomat. I served in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)/Diplomatic Service for over 30 years, serving in over a dozen different countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Colombia, USA, Germany, Ukraine, China and New Zealand. 

My family and I were evacuated five times from three different postings, all to do with the Gulf Wars and 9/11. We have been bombed, shot at and demonstrated against. I have witnessed much history. I guess I could be described as a veteran consular officer. I have visited prisons and prisoners around the world. I have been given awards and commendations for my consular work. I taught the subject. There are no ‘expert’ consular officers – just officers like myself who have worked for years all over the globe. I was personally decorated by HM The Queen with Membership of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) on board the Royal Yacht Britannia in Trinidad in 1985. In 2010 I was awarded the Iraq Reconstruction Service Medal in Baghdad. I am a qualified Foreign Office Mandarin speaker. 

We are a cynical bunch but, underneath it all, enjoy helping people. It’s ironic, then, that, secondly, a close family member of ours was arrested in the Far East in 2011 on charges related to cannabis. For confidentiality’s sake, I shall call him Paul. He was 19. He was on a gap year. Had the offence occurred in the UK, it is likely it would not have resulted in a custodial sentence. 

As a result, over the course of the following seven years, we fought through every level of their judicial system, bringing Paul’s sentence down. He was eventually transferred to the UK. My employer (the Foreign Office) and my diplomatic colleagues in the embassy at the time refused to help us and came out with the excuses that they give to the rest of the population when it comes to intervention and fair trials that fail to meet international standards. As a result, we as a family have been through great difficulty and have had to learn much and fight often. 

Among the many topics I discuss in this guidance are:

  • the media
  • whether to go public or not
  • how to protect your privacy
  • how to reduce your digital footprint

Many people at the time said to me, “If this is how the FCO treat someone like you – one of their own – what chance do the rest of us have?” You may understand, then, how I am uniquely qualified and experienced to advise others. 

Paul is a dual UK/US national, and so I touch briefly on the US State Department’s involvement too. Paul and his case will be a thread running throughout this guidance as I share with you what happened in our case in order to provide real-life examples of what you may face.