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UAE envoy vows cycling charm offensive to rebuild ties after imprisonment of Matthew Hedges 

The United Arab Emirates’ new ambassador to London has vowed to cycle the length of the UK as part of a charm offensive by the Gulf state as it tries to repair relations dented by the imprisonment of British academic Matthew Hedges.

Mansoor Abulhoul takes up his posting this week pledging to cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats as part of a public diplomacy drive.

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His appointment comes after Britain’s traditionally strong ties with the country have been shaken by Mr Hedges’ conviction. The 31-year-old was accused of being an MI6 spy in the UAE and spent months in solitary confinement. Mr Hedges’ life sentence was pardoned in November, but his conviction remains.

The sentencing of Mr Hedges, a researcher at Durham University, was at the time described as unacceptable by the Foreign Secretary, who threatened the UAE with “serious diplomatic consequences”. Theresa May said she was "deeply disappointed and concerned" by the case.

Emirate officials hope the appointment of the Gordonstoun-educated envoy, who is a keen sportsman and has a British mother, will herald the start of an improvement in relations with the UK.

Mansoor Abulhoul has said he will cycle the length of the country in stages during his ambassadorship

Mr Abulhoul said: "I want to get out and meet the British people. Over the course of my ambassadorship, I aim to bike from John O’Groats to Land’s End, stopping off in as many places along the way as possible."

He said he would hold public meetings along the way and wanted to deepen the UAE’s ties with the UK outside London.

The 44-year-old new ambassador’s father was a former Dubai police chief. Mr Abulhoul’s parents met while his father was studying at an English language course in Cambridge and his mother moved out to Dubai in 1968.

The new envoy attended Gordonstoun, the Moray school known for educating the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and his brothers.

Mr Hedges says he was drugged during his captivity. He and his wife have submitted a formal complaint to the Foreign Office over its handing of his case, with the couple alleging officials did not do enough to free him sooner, or prevent his mistreatment.

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