Dubai sheikh denied historic town title amid community row
- Credit: Archant
A controversial bid to make a Dubai Sheikh, who pledged to donate £1million to a school, a freeman of Newmarket has been thrown out after a fierce row.
An extraordinary meeting for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to be made a Freeman of the Town was met with a strong backlash from Labour opposition and young people in Newmarket.
Sheikh Mohammed has donated large sums to fund schools in the town and pledged £1million to build a state-of-the-are library for Newmarket Academy.
However that sparked concerns from residents in the West Suffolk town, who were upset at the United Arab Emirates’ human rights record.
Labour member Ollie Bowen said: “Giving the title of Freeman of the Town is a medieval practice which originally granted select citizens freedom from serfdom.
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“Other medieval practices continue in the UAE, where Sheikh Mohammed is vice-president, including stoning, flogging and the detention of those who criticise authority.”
The meeting and the councillors were split over the decision, but the vote on awarding the title was withdrawn before it was voted upon.
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Councillor Michael Jeffreys said: “We had a great turnout of younger people at the meeting who felt it was morally wrong.”
The council conceded to instead vote on sending a letter of thanks to Sheikh Mohammed, which received unanimous support.
Sheikh Mohammed has ruled Dubai since 2006 and began to invest in Newmarket’s horse racing industry when his thoroughbred team, Godolphin, came to the UK.
He founded the Newmarket Academy Godolphin Beacon Project in 2016, which works to improve the education and facilities at Newmarket Academy and will be building their new library this academic year.
Mayor Rachel Hood said: “The really important thread that I saw at the meeting was the gratitude of our speakers for the investment in Newmarket.
“Newmarket Academy students have been able to perform at significantly higher levels thanks to the school’s transformation.
“We have benefited as a community and recognise that our children have benefited immensely from Sheikh Mohammed’s generosity.”
The government of Dubai has been approached for comment.