I knew it wasn’t tulips or cheese in that suitcase. But I had no choice. They were going to kill my son
- Housewife Lindsay Sandiford interviewed in Bali jail by Mail on Sunday reporter Sandra White
- Teeside mother said she agreed to carry something, but insists she didn’t know what it was
- Said she only did it to save her son, who was threatened to be killed
- Son allegedly linked to drug ring in the UK
- Says she's in solitary confinement, had gun held to head and is deprived of sleep, food and water
- Says she has no money and a lawyer will cost £35,000
- She faces the 'very real possibility' of death by firing squad
Home for Lindsay Sandiford is a mud-brick and stone house halfway up a Himalayan mountain.
Surrounded by pine forest in the Parvati Valley, it lies close to a river of striking azure blue.
The British mother of two moved to India to begin a new life with her partner, Shiva Ram, five years ago and admits that just talking about it ‘gives me goosebumps’. But with every passing day her idyll seems more like a lost dream.
For the housewife, who is originally from Redcar, Teesside, now lies in a stinking, mosquito-plagued cell in a Bali police station – and faces the very real possibility of death by firing squad.
British woman Lindsay Sandiford pictured at the Denpasar police jail where she is being charged with importing cocaine, Bali, Indonesia
Describing her treatment, Mrs Sandiford said: 'Is it OK to tie someone to a chair and put a gun to their head?'
Last month Mrs Sandiford, 55, hit the headlines when she was forced to pose for pictures sitting behind a table piled high with packets of cocaine. Customs officers on the Indonesian island claim that the haul, worth £1.6 million, was found inside the lining of her suitcase.
She admits that she agreed to carry something, but insists she didn’t know what it was.
Three other Britons – Julian Ponder, 43, and his partner Rachel Dougall, 38, who are said to be the linchpins of the alleged smuggling operation, and Paul Beales – have also been arrested.
All four, who are still being questioned by police, have protested their innocence.
Wearing an orange prison-issue shirt last month, bespectacled Mrs Sandiford looked terrified when she faced the cameras and tried to shield her face.
No less scared today, she breaks down every few minutes and cries with frustration as she relates for the first time how her life was turned upside-down by an extraordinary sequence of events. If, that is, her account is to be believed.
‘I could get the death penalty,’ she whispers, grabbing my arm. ‘I am so frightened. I could die here.’
So far, she says, she has already been tied to a chair for two days and had a pistol held to her head.
Held in solitary confinement in a windowless cell, she sleeps on a reed mat. ‘It’s stifling – like being in a steam room 24/7.’
Her interview with The Mail on Sunday took place in an office at the police station’s jail. As she walked down a corridor to meet us, she looked fixedly at the ground, her arms folded.
Fidgety and clearly traumatised, she was also exhausted. This, she says, is because the guards had kept her awake by turning on the lights in her cell every 30 minutes.
Mrs Sandiford said she agreed to take the suitcase to Bali because her youngest son, Elliot, 21, was being threatened by a drugs gang.
‘I knew what they were asking me to do was something dodgy,’ she says. ‘They weren’t asking me to bring in tulips or balls of cheese but I didn’t know if it was money, gold, jewellery, guns, marijuana or heroin. I had no idea.
Mrs Sandiford, who worked for a legal firm and who has lived in Dubai and the United States, says she went to great lengths to provide a better life for her sons
Her ordeal began when police found a ‘drugs factory’ near the flat where Elliot was living in England.
‘For some reason, I do not know why, the drugs factory people suspected my son of being a police informant,’ she says.
‘I had rented the flat in my name and suddenly I got a call from an old acquaintance. I vaguely knew this man 20 years ago when I lived in London.
‘He was a friend of friends. I just used to see him around occasionally. But then he was ringing me up and inviting me for a coffee. We met in a McDonald’s. We just talked family talk. He told me he had a little girl and I said my sons were grown up and that I lived in India.
‘I had just returned to the UK to help Elliot move flats and also to collect my eldest son Louis from prison. Louis got in with a gang and ended up being sentenced to six years eight months for robbery. I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen to me, but how wrong I was.
‘I went back to India and returned to the UK in March to renew my passport. Then Elliot told me he was on the run because he had had death threats. He said, “Mum you’ve got to help me.”
'I got a call from someone – I don’t know who – telling me my boy was a snitch and they would kill him if I didn’t put things right.’
She says that the old acquaintance then asked to meet her.
‘He is very clever with words – he talks a lot in rhyming slang, but you get the gist of it,’ she adds.
On show: ¿The narcotics police promised that they would protect me. Instead they put an orange suit on me and marched me out in front of the press telling everyone I had sung like a bird.'
‘When someone is telling you your child is going to die, you get the gist of it.
‘He said, “You’ve got to make it right and to make it right there’s a job for you to do.” He told me he wanted me to go to Australia and to start checking out the flights.
‘Two weeks later he called to say that it might be a while before they needed me so I said I had to go back to India.
‘I make my money by selling silver jewellery and real pashminas – beautiful real cashmere, the ones that sell in Harvey Nicks and Harrods for £800 – so I needed to get back to organise a consignment.’
The man then called Mrs Sandiford in India in early April, telling her she had to go to Bali to do a job for him.
‘When I got to Bali I had loads of meetings in different cafes and bars. It was always very cloak-and-dagger. The man would say, “I’ll be at the third table on the left. Take the battery out of your phone.” I thought it was nonsense,’ she says.
‘Eventually he told me to go to Bangkok and stay at the Amari Atrium Hotel for seven days. He told me that a great deal of money was involved and that he owned a quarter of it.
‘I could get the death penalty,’ she whispers, grabbing my arm. ‘I am so frightened. I could die here.’‘I went to Bangkok on the Saturday and on the Tuesday the man’s girlfriend turned up. I went shopping with her the next day.
'I wanted to buy a rug for our house which is nearly finished and she was looking at animal skins for shoes and handbags.
‘On May 16 she told me someone would be coming to my hotel the next day. She called him Chubby or something. He texted me to say that he would be there at 9am.
‘When Chubby turned up he came into the bedroom to get my suitcase and took it into the living room, then he came back into the bedroom and said, “There’s your bag. See you in Bali.” ’
It was at this point that Mrs Sandiford says she decided not to look in the suitcase’s secret compartment but instead pile her belongings on top of it.
There was no question that what she was doing was clearly wrong. And to underline that fact, she was instructed to throw away her mobile phone SIM card on arrival in Bali, buy another, ensure that she was not followed by police and lie low for two days.
‘I flew back into Bali on May 19 and immediately got stopped. They knew,’ Mrs Sandiford says.
Customs officials have since said the drugs were detected by sniffer dogs before her bag made it to the luggage carousel.
‘When the customs men opened my suitcase that was the first time I saw what was in there,’ she adds. ‘Even then I didn’t know what it was because it was all wrapped up. They told me it was cocaine.
Jailed: Julian Ponder is one of three others who were arrested by police in Bali after the sting operation involving Sandiford
‘The minute I got caught I just thought, “My son’s dead. I’ve failed, they will kill my son.” ’
Mrs Sandiford stayed silent for two days despite, she says, being tied to a chair. ‘Every time I fell asleep they would scream and shout to wake me up.
‘I gave them false names and phone numbers to try to protect the others but then they came and put a gun to my head so I told them the truth.’ Indonesian police then persuaded Mrs Sandiford to take part in a sting operation to trap those she had implicated.
She went to the Puri Nusantara Hotel in Kuta where she shared a room with two narcotics officers, and texted her contact.
‘I was in such a mess because of my nerves that it looked as if I had a fever,’ she says.
Mrs Sandiford was instructed to take out what was in the case and wrap it up to look like a pinata – a papier-mache container filled with toys for a child’s birthday.
In the event it was the two officers who did the wrapping but ‘made it too small’.
Mrs Sandiford says: ‘I asked them to make it bigger and heavier because it was just like a box of tissues. I said, “This is not going to work. This man is not an idiot, he’ll take one look at that and drive off.” ’ The handover was then arranged. ‘Police promised me they would intercept me before I got in the car,’ she says.
‘I thought if something goes wrong they will kill me or the police will get out their guns and shoot us. I was shaking like a leaf.’
The contact then pulled up and Mrs Sandiford put the parcel on the front seat.
‘He said put it on the back seat, then he told me to get in,’ she says. ‘The police did nothing. They let me get in the car. Someone was on a motorbike further down the road.
‘I was told to open the parcel and put the contents into a drinks chiller bag on the back seat.
‘I was terrified because I didn’t know what the police had put inside. If he saw that it wasn’t what he was expecting, he would kill me. I was shaking so much I couldn’t tear the paper. Then the police stopped us, made him move over to the passenger seat and drove us further up the road. They put us in separate cars.
‘I was told, “Keep your mouth shut or you’re dead. Remember your boys.”
‘I know what I did was wrong but what choice do you make? I wish I had never done it but my boys’ lives were threatened.
‘The narcotics police promised that they would protect me. Instead they put an orange suit on me and marched me out in front of the press telling everyone I had sung like a bird.
‘I thought, “What have I done?” I did it to save my son and now I have put all our lives in danger because we all face the death penalty. I have cried so much I haven’t got any tears left.’
Former neighbours in Cheltenham, where the family once lived, last month described them as ‘neighbours from hell’.
Paul Beales, left, and Rachel Dougall, right, are also in jail in Bali after being arrested with Mrs Sandiford
‘Elliot needed to be in a special school but they didn’t have a place for him for two years. He was at home between the ages of 12 and 14. I’ve got one chronically dyslexic child and one who won’t behave himself, fighting like crazy.
‘We were the neighbours from hell but it wasn’t like they were smashing anybody else’s stuff up. I had two really naughty boys.’
Despite their bad behaviour, the boys managed to excel at rugby. ‘They both played at county level and had England scouts interested in them,’ said Mrs Sandiford.
During our interview she switches from despair to anger. Describing her treatment, she says: ‘They have breached my human rights. Don’t I have any human rights in Bali? Is it OK to tie someone to a chair and put a gun to their head?
‘Is it OK to wake me up every half an hour so that I would be tired when they interrogated me?’
She has spoken to several lawyers, including one who said her fate would depend on how much money she could raise to bribe the police and judges.
‘But I don’t have any money. My lawyer says my defence will cost around £32,000. Where am I going to get that sort of money from?
‘I’ve got one change of clothes. I’m not allowed to wear trousers – it has to be shorts – but I don’t have any because in India I wear trousers.
‘I know what I did was wrong but what choice do you make? I wish I had never done it but my boys’ lives were threatened.'‘I am in solitary confinement because another prisoner who spoke good English heard about a threat to slit my throat.
'There is a horrible toilet covered in mosquitoes. They keep forgetting to feed me or bring me water. The others are having pizzas and decent food sent in.
‘I live on nothing in India. My partner’s mother brings me milk, his sister brings me vegetables. I buy rice and a gas bottle every six months.
‘My only real expenditure is cigarettes. I only spend about £7.50 a week. I don’t drink or do drugs.
'Look at me. I’m not a gangster.’
While we are talking her lawyer manages to get through on the telephone to her partner, Shiva Ram, in India.
It is the first time Mrs Sandiford, who has been married twice, has spoken to him since she was detained in the cells.
‘I’ve been arrested,’ she tells him.
Afterwards she speaks of how the couple built their house together using mud-bricks and stone because they didn’t want concrete.
She smiles at the irony: ‘Look at me. I’m probably going to spend the rest of my life in concrete. How have I come from the middle of nowhere to this?’.