When two young British girls Karyn Smith, 17, and Patricia Cahill, 18, were arrested in Bangkok shortly after the release of a film called ‘The Bangkok Hilton’ the British press were driven to a frenzy. The innocent subject of the film ‘Bangkok Hilton’ was duped by her boyfriend into carry drugs. Cahill and Smith were not, but the British press were having nothing of it. Andrew Drummond was the only journalist who consistenly reported the facts. He was vindicated after the girls were released on a Royal Pardon and received the following accolade in the U.K.Press Gazette after the girls tried to sell their story to Hollywood.
‘How strange then that is has been some newspapers led by Andrew Drummond of the London Evening Standard which have refused to swallow the relentlesss suggestions that the girls were somehow framed and have put the story in its true perspective. And that well be the last time any treatment of this story will bear a close resemblance to the truth’
Bangkok Post April 5 1992
ANDREW DRUMMOND reports on two British girls jailed in Bangkok for drugs trafficking ‘ and an anti-Thai campaign which may only be serving the interests of Hollywood movie moguls
Thai Police Major General Bamroong Kheo-Urai was aroused from a deep sleep in his London hotel by the telephone ringing.
When he picked it up it was the Chief Investigations officer of British Customs and Excise Drugs Division.
‘We’ve arrested three men at London (Heathrow) airport off a Pakistan International flight from Karachi. They’ve got 64 kilos of heroin,’ said the Customs man, ‘and one of them’s yours.
‘He’s got a Thai diplomatic passport. Can you waive diplomatic immunity?’
General Bamroong paused for a moment before asking for clarification. Then he said:’ OK. Let’s see what I can do.’That night, Saturday August 24 last year, Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun cancelled the immunity of Piseth Pamarapa, a National Intelligence Agency officer serving as a Counsellor at the Royal Thai Embassy in London, and steps were immediately taken to put the former diplomat on trial in a British court.
Today in Bangkok General Bamroong-looks back on that event with a sense of achievement.
‘We showed the world that we are serious about narcotics ‘ that nobody is safe,’ he says, but he now adds with a tinge of irony.
‘It’s a pity people still look on us as an undeveloped country that we live in the trees.
‘I’m afraid it’s going to take some time to overcome people’s prejudices.
‘But I think I have to defend my department against false allegations made against us.’
General Bamroong, Assistant Commissioner of the Bangkok Narcotics Suppression Bureau, and head of the Nana Drugs Investigation Unit, has it seems, with his department, become a victim of the ‘Hollywood Syndrome’.
He was the man who ordered the surveillance on British teenagers Karyn Smith and Patricia Cahill in July 1990 when they were found carrying a staggering 25 kilos of heroin in their cases at Bangkok’s Don Muang airport. The request had come from British Customs and Excise.
But in Britain General Bamroong’s unit has been accused of being corrupt and incompetent in a growing press campaign led by the respected Guardian newspaper to free Karyn Smith.
The Nana squad has been accused of setting up the girls’ arrest for cash . At the same time film agents are accepting bids to make the film of the ‘Karyn Smith story’.
A lawyer ran the London Marathon starting a charity called ‘The Karyn Smith Appeal Fund.’ (Yet no appeal was ever made for Karyn Smith ‘ who pleaded guilty to heroin trafficking).
One of Britain’s leading promotional consultancies has bought the film and book rights and agents are already talking about royalties.The Free Karyn Smith campaign is in full swing.The first chapters of the ‘Karyn Smith’ book have already been written. The author just needs to ‘tie up the Thai end’.
The newspaper and film industries of the United States, Europe and Australia know the capital to be made out of the arrests of European narcotics couriers in what they still consider the Third World. And it’s not the first time.
The Hollywood blockbuster Midnight Express was based on the experiences of an American jailed in Turkey for attempting to smuggle heroin out of Istanbul airport. The Turks were depicted as barbaric sadists. And the film, which is considered by those who know to be a somewhat colourful portrayal of actual events, damaged relations between Turkey and the United States.
The ‘Hollywood Syndrome’ hit Southeast Asia in the mid-80’s when Australians Kevin Barlow and Geoffrey Chambers were caught, later to be executed in Kuala Lumpur, trafficking drugs through Penang airport.
No sooner had they been executed than actress Julie Christie, best known for her more glamourous Hollywood roles, was cast, in an Australian made film, as the campaigning mother of Kevin Barlow.
The film depicted Kevin Barlow as a dupe, whose main interest in life was soccer and who was brutally manhandled by Malaysian guards in Penang Prison while awaiting his trial.
Next came Briton Derrick Gregory, aged 36, arrested also in Penang with just over a kilo of heroin. Several newspapers put in bids to the family before the Daily Mirror flew them out to Penang for his appeal.
Not a sympathetic character and with a’ ‘history of mental illness ‘ his story did not rate Hollywood star rating. The newspaper settled for buying Gregory his last meal. (But then after taking a picture of the feast the journalists ate half of it themselves).
In 1990 the Australian made film Bangkok Hilton was televised throughout Britain, Australia and the United States.
This was the story of how a British girl was tricked by her boyfriend into carrying heroin from Thailand, her arrest at Don Muang airport, and subsequent incarceration and escape from Klong Prem Prison ‘ which was nicknamed ‘The Bangkok Hilton’. The film showed scenes of a European woman being executed by machine gun tied to a pole in a prison yard.
It was broadcast in the United Kingdom just before Karyn Smith and Patricia Cahill were caught at Don Muang airport ‘ their suitcases stuffed with heroin in shampoo, milky drink, and cheese curl containers.
Once convicted, drugs traffickers would be of little interest to newspapers or television without three basic ingredients.
The story subjects must be sympathetic, the captors must possess at least a degree of barbarity. There must be a sense of injustice.
The fact that Cahill, then 17, and Smith, 18, were apparently unemployed fun-loving teenagers was a godsend to newspapers.
Their arrest on July 19,1990 was frontpaged in most British newspapers. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq was later to get relegated in most tabloids.
Families of the girls were flown in to Bangkok by newspapers and TV stations.
The girls were described by the London Daily Express as ‘pawns in the hands of big time crooks’, which actually was quite accurate.
Today newspaper described Klong Prem Prison as ‘stinking and squalor infested with AIDS and tropical diseases and added ‘Time will become meaningless in these girls’ fight to stay alive’.
But by the end of August the British newspapers were turning nasty.
The People had printed a story under the headlines: ‘We’ll spring the drug girls for Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£150,000. Amazing plot by corrupt Thai officials’.
The newspaper claimed its reporter had been asked for the money by two influential Thais and that they had also been guaranteed an exit route through Malaysia.
When Patricia Cahill was convicted The People printed a story under the banner headline ‘LIAR! We expose police chief in drug girl death sentence.’
The ‘World Exclusive’ referred to a captain in the Nana Drug Unit and was allegedly based on a report of the trial of Miss Cahill. The trial was in fact closed to the press and the allegations were gleaned from ‘ Miss Cahill’s father.Then Karyn Smith, presumably instructed by he lawyers, turned on her cell-mate Patricia Cahill. It was Cahill, who tricked her into making the drugs trip, she said.
In any event Patrica Cahill now 19, was sentenced to 18 years nine months. Karyn Smith, now 20, was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in jail. No appeals were lodged by either against conviction or sentence. Both are now appealing to His Majesty the King for a Royal Pardon.
Even without a pardon they can expect to be returned to England within three years under a Prisoner Exchange placing them at considerable advantage of other inmates.
Under these circumstances one might have thought those supporting Miss Smith might have laid low to await diplomacy playing its hand.
The Foreign Office in London does after all want the girls back in the United Kingdom.
But in the middle of last year, not long after their sentencing, newspapers in London began printing speculative stories predicting the imminent release of both girls.
A London lawyer, Stephen Jakobi, the man who had acquired film and book rights for the Karyn Smith story and ran in the London Marathon wearing a ‘Karyn Smith is Innocent’ T-shirt, started a fund predicting the girls would be released last August.
When August passed he predicted a Christmas release. It is now being predicted for the Queen’s Birthday in August.
He claimed King’s Pardon had been guaranteed bv officials at the Royal Thai Embassy in London, a fact which remains a ‘mystery’ to the Thai Embassy to this day.
Then in October last year a more insidious campaign began, this time not in the People newspaper but in the much respected Guardian.
Under the banner headline ‘An Innocent Abroad – Teenager locked up because of drug squad graft and Government indifference’ the newspaper claimed Karyn Smith was betrayed by ‘Thai law officers who were weakened by corruption and incompetence’.
The newspaper claimed that the Thai drugs squad arrested the girls for the reward of Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£1 million (45 million Thai baht). The Thais, said Jakobi, had grossly inflated the size of the haul. ‘A second criminal business has grown up in – in drugs enforcement.’ it claimed referring to General Bamrong’s squad.
While there are corrupt and incompetent officers in the Thai police, the newspaper presented no evidence to support any of its allegations.
What the newspaper failed to mention, and did not appear to know, was the fact that the Drugs Squad were working together with British Customs and who initiated the enquiry and were present when the girls arrested and when the heroin was examined.
The newspaper went on to describe Jakobi ‘ the man making the allegations ‘ as a ‘leading light in London legal circles’ and the the two girls as ‘innocent limp-limbed waifs.’
In February the newspaper publish again ‘ under the headline ‘Silent Lies’ ‘ ‘A conspiracy of deceit and hidden agenda Foreign Office’.
In this further article the newspaper again repeated that ‘Karyn was charged so members of the Drug Squad could obtain the reward’.
The writer Nick Davies went on claim there was a cover up the British Customs and the British Foreign Office so as not to upset diplomatic relations with Thailand. It charged the British Customs with lying, Thai Embassy officials of lying, and Thai police of corruption
British Customs, the newspaper concluded, should never have told the Thais that they suspected the girls ‘ who were, according to the author of the article, so innocent that the most that could be said of the guilt of one of them was she ‘knew she was going to take back a little something friend’.
‘This is a story about in which two daft teenagers were robbed of their youth in a foreign jail, a story of intrigue and manoeuvre in which the simple truth of the injustice is lost in a blizzard of lies,’ claimed the newspaper.
This all came as a surpise to General Bamroong in his office office Sukhumvit Soi 15.
Today British Customs and Excise describe the investigation as one of the most significant steps forward since Britain set up a regional Regional Narcotics Office in Bangkok.
‘We know these men personally and what dedication they have. If we had the slightest doubt we would not have passed the tip on to them in the first place,’ said a British drugs official.
‘We only suspected the girls were carrying drugs initially because of their routing. They had tickets from London to Amsterdam, to Bangkok, to Amsterdamn, to Conakry, Guinea, West Africa and onto Banjul, Gambia.
These girls had only acquited their first British passports a few days before. One would expect for their first holiday they would travel to somewhere a bit closer like Spain!
‘It’s that simple. We asked the Nana Drugs Squard to check them out before they left Thailand. They did and it seemed we had guessed right.
‘There was no intrigue. No long surveillances. Just a good hunch.
‘We also saw the drugs the girls were carrying and the containers they were in ‘ We have no reason to doubt the quantity.’
General Bamroong is somewhat aghast at the allegations. He does not pretend there is no corruption in the Thai police force but he knows his men.
He said: ‘I thought this business was all over ‘ after all the girls have been tried and found guilty. It is unfortunate that we are considered by some elements to be barbarians, even when they are presented with cold facts.
‘We have to stop the narcotics trade, even if the couriers are teenage English girls, and our officers are dedicated to doing that.
‘Should we be upset by all this? Well we are all human too and these allegations are not very pleasant.
‘As for the reward, there was one. It was 93,920 Thai baht (just over Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£2000) shared between 10 officers ‘ all receiving equal amounts.
‘This money is issued from the Prime Minister’s Office and there are strict guidelines laid down as to how and when it is given and everything has to be recorded.
If anybody had asked me before I could have told them. But nobody bothered to ask.’
‘There is one view that foreign suspects and prisoners are treated much better in Thai jails than our own people. Thais, for instance have been executed, and we have a young university student, a girl, who is serving 25 years for less than one kilo of heroin.’
Meanwhile the police in Chiang Mai have arrested the contact who provided the girls with their heroin and looked after them while they were visiting the province.
But ‘Adrian’ the British man who was named at their trials as the man who sent them on their errrand, is still at liberty much to the embarrassment of British drugs officials, who admit the Thais are ahead of the game in the Cahill-Smith saga.
The reason is that the two British girls have refused to testify against him and have, according to British Customs, failed to give a truly honest account of what they were doing.The London based International Management Group has signed a contract for film rights for the Karyn Smith story.
But if the truth were to be told, many incidents during the girl’s two week stay in Thailand would have to hit the cutting room floor to make this yarn a Hollywood blockbuster.
Meanwhile the British Foreign Office is keeping a low profile. ‘These allegations are for the lawyers.’
Footnote: On their return to Britain, the British press turned against the girls. Plans for a Hollywood film had to be shelved when the truth came out. Both girls knew what they were doing all along. As one can see from these clippings they admitted as such to the King of Thailand and threw themselves at his mercy.
In fact far from being a British Government, Customs and Thai Police conspiracy, this was an occasion in which diplomatic maenoeuvering behind the scenes was what earned the girls their freedom.