Backpacker jailed for topless pic says sorry for ‘foolish’ strip
The Southampton grad admits that her behavior was ‘foolish’
The hapless tourist jailed for topless photos taken on a sacred Malaysian mountain has said she’s sorry.
Eleanor Hawkins, who was fined £860 and spent three days in jail, has returned to the UK telling the Daily Mail she feels “relieved and happy” to finally be home.
Eleanor, from Derby, has a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Southampton. She was arrested as she tried to board a flight from Sabah to Kuala Lumpar.
The 24-year-old was charged with “an obscene act in a public place to the annoyance of others”.
Since arriving at Heathrow yesterday Eleanor has reflected on her actions. She said: “I just want to say how relieved and happy I am to finally be home. I know my behavior was foolish and I know how much offence we all caused to the local people of Sabah.
“For that, I am truly sorry. I will not be answering any questions or making further statements.”
She was one of the 10 tourists who stripped before posing for photos at the peak of Mount Kinabalu, a UNESCO world heritage site on the island of Borneo.
The court heard the group had also been noisy and one had even weed in a pond — offending the tribal elders on Mount Kinabalu. But the judge said this was not true, and ruled they had ignored their guides.
The snaps of the group showed the four men fully naked and six girls topless on the sacred mountain in the state of Sabah. An earthquake registering 6.0 on the Richter scale killed 18 climbers just six days after the pics were taken, leading to public outcry blaming the tourists for the fatal disaster.
Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan, blamed the foreigners for showing “disrespect to the sacred mountain” and angering the mountain gods which caused the earthquake.
He said a special ritual will be conducted to “appease the mountain spirit.”
Local tribal chiefs are not satisfied with the sentences received by the group and wanted to have their own prosecution where the backpackers could have been fined, jailed or made to buy 10 buffalo, called a sogit, which would have cost £2,500.
However, Tim Hawkins, Ellie’s father says the sentence was “appropriate and fair for the offence committed”.
Prosecutor Jamil Ariffin said the sentence would be a “deterrent” to others and public feeling should be taken into account.
He added: “Many Malaysians will have seen the photos and their actions have caused annoyance. We expect them to obey the law and respect our culture.
“Just because we extend our hospitality to them it doesn’t give them the right to behave like this.”
Eleanor’s defense lawyer Ronny Cham said the group had merely been “ignorant of the culture, traditions, and beliefs of the indigenous people”.
“They belong to a generation defined by their own peculiarities in the country from where they come from – more freedom and liberty to express their thoughts and ideas and openly express what they really felt and thought.”
The former head girl, who achieved four As in her A-levels at £11,700-a-year Ockbrook School in Derbyshire, was said to be very upset in the build-up to the trial.
Eleanor’s mum Ruth Hawkins has described this as a traumatic time for her daughter who knows “what she did was wrong and disrespectful and is deeply sorry”.
Mrs Hawkins has said her daughter now needs time to recover and get on with her life.