British tourism officials irked as UAE adopts hoax

How a Turkish journalist debunked a UAE urban legend, a hoax which British tourism officials are irritated at.

Ali Murat Guven, a Turkish journalist and filmmaker, stands before the monster that caused all the trouble.
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ABU DHABI // A photograph of a purported monster, said to be lurking in the mountains of Ras al Khaimah and snapped by an unfortunate hiker seconds before it killed him, has irritated English tourism officials since it appeared in the mid-1990s. The supposed killer, now a part of internet folklore, is actually a plaster goblin hanging in a tourism grotto at the ancient Cheddar Caves and Gorge in Somerset, England.

"This whole thing has been hijacked from us," said Bob Smart, the marketing manager at the caves. "One thing that irritates us is when people photograph our goblins and then pretend they're from somewhere else." Mr Smart, who has worked at the Somerset attraction for 18 years, said the plaster goblin was hanging in the site's Crystal Quest grotto, and was sculpted by a Bristol magician named Richard Pavey.

Mr Smart said the photo appeared in an e-mail that described how UAE police found a dead hiker's camera and developed the film. "It started out as a thoroughly British hoax and then somehow it became an Arab hoax," Mr Smart said. "Somebody took the photograph and sent it as a joke to a friend. At some point, it seems somebody thought it would be good to shift the whole thing to the Emirates and the Arabian Desert."

News outlets in England and Turkey were even publishing the account as fact, said Ali Murat Guven, a Turkish journalist. "This picture is a legend that millions believed in the virtual world," said Mr Guven, also known in his homeland as the "Mystery Hunter" for debunking hoaxes. "In the Islamic world, they said it was a 'jinn'. In England, they call it a 'demon' or a 'cave monster' from the UAE. In some other places it was a 'chupacabra'."

Jahir Hussein, a research analyst for RAK Tourism who is familiar with the e-mail, said: "Four or five years ago there were these stories because there was nothing here. "But now there's a lot of development and business people are coming and all the old areas are being occupied, so there is no talk of this mountain story." Mr Smart said that at least two or three times a year, he received enquiries from around the world asking if a "jinn" haunted the UAE, or whether it is his Crystal Quest goblin.

"Some refuse to believe the truth when I explain it," he said. "I accept that people like to be hoaxed and like to believe the hoax rather than the truth."