by Andrew Drummond, Bangkok
Pictures: Andy Chant/Gavin Hill/Vera Productions
Royal Marines fresh from a tour of duty fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan have been involved in armed stand-off with the mafia thugs on the Thai holiday island of Phuket.
The marine 'section', on exercise in South East Asia on 'Operation Taurus', faced down a mafia gun-man as they fought the same cause of hundreds of tourists who have been swindled at the top British holiday destination.
The only reason blood was not spilled was because a Marine Police Sergeant stepped in to avoid a major international incident as the marines faced off with armed and tattooed Mafiosi who had been beating up tourists and ripping them off for thousands of pounds.
Trouble began after HMS Bulwark made a port call in Phuket two months ago with the Marines who had just completed a tour of duty in Helmand Province.
Within hours Shore Patrol policeman Matt Turner from Sheffield was reporting. 'It's mayhem. Our lads, and hundreds of westerners are being fleeced and we believe it's all by organised gangs. Jet skis, taxis, everything.
He added: 'We have to help. We will do it whether its Marines or tourists being ripped off. We do not differentiate.'
The boisterous Marines were officially warned by their officers not to hire jet skis on the beaches of the holiday island as this was the most expensive rip-off of all. Thailand has been hard hit by a tourist recession.
But confident they could handle the situation, many ignored the ruling.
Not long afterwards Marine 21-yr-old Jack Tebbott from Leicester found himself staring down the barrel of a gun after being taken to a builders and boating yard in the back of beyond, after allegedly damaging a jet-ski he had hired. The mafia were demanding 60,000 Thai baht Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£1,400 in damages and loss of earnings.
Several tourists have already been beaten up for refusing to surrender to the mafia demands.
Surrounded by the stripped to the waist thugs and held at the point of a rifle Tebbot had managed to get an sms message to his mates who arrived at the yard near Patong Beach on Phuket in 'section force'.
Bloodshed was only avoided when Marine Police Sergeant and Detatchment Commander Tim Wright arrived on the scene and told Tebbot: 'Ok lad we told you not to hire jet skis. We know it's a con but I'm afraid you're now going to have to pay some money to get out of this.'
Then after examining the jetski the no nonsense Sergeant, who had already had to deal with other cases, turned on the mafia chief called JJ and said: 'You're a crook! You're corrupt. The damage is old. The fibre glass has already turned brown. How come all your jet-skis have a problem?'
Then he turned to Marine Tebbot and said: 'Ok boy. You go now!'
JJ then ordered his thugs to block Tebbot's exit but JJ perhaps sensing he had a fight on his hands continued negotiating. The price eventually dropped by almost a half to 35,000 baht to (Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£627) but not before some other heated exchanges.
'I'm just a f...cking businessmen. F..ck. You. How are we to feed our families,' said JJ pointing to his fellow thugs lounging around and waiting for their next sucker.
: 'F..k you. You are not my father. You are not my pa.
Sgt:'Don't shout at me. You're crook. You're a worm. You're doing this day after day.
JJ:F.. ck you!
Sgt: F.ck you!'.
The standoff ended when Marine Tebbot agreed to foot the bill. 'Ok,' said Sergeant Wright,' you better toddle of to the ATM then.
The Marines conceded afterwards that it was Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£627 too much but worth it to avoid an international incident.
Said Sergeant Wright: 'They are trained to be cool. But had it come to the crunch we could have easily fought them and got all our lads out of there. But there would have been some claret spilt on both sides.'
The stand-off did however have a happy ending. After complaints from the British and other Embassies in Phuket the island's police chief has ordered a crackdown on the thugs, on the orders of Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister, admitting that some policemen had also been pocketing cash with the local mafia.
Police Commander Pigad Thantiphong , who admitted that the Royal Navy had also made a complaint through the Embassy said: 'Anyone who threatens tourists from now on will be prosecuted. Any policeman who assists the mafia will be punished, and independent experts will be brought in to adjudicate in any case.'
Amazingly the Marines standoff was captured on film by producer/director Gavin Hill which can be seen tonight(Monday) 10 pm in 'Big Trouble in Thailand' made by comedian Rory Bremner's Vera Productions for Bravo Channel and filmed with the Thai Tourist Police.
And despite the incident many marines still thought Phuket was the best place they had taken shore leave in.