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Chiang Mai Deaths – Britain Will Conduct Its Own Investigation

From ANDREW DRUMMOND, BANGKOK
May 13 2010
NEWS & COMMENT

A coroner in England will investigate the deaths of British couple who died in a Chiang Mai hotel where a series of tourists have been taken ill and died in what Thai authorities claim is ‘coincidental’ or alternatively a run of ‘bad luck’.
After press conference given by the Governor of Chiang Mai which  was described  by a local Embassy source as ‘not  very enlightening’, the FCO announced today that the matter would now be dealt with by a Coroner’s Court in the U.K.
‘We are in touch with the Thai authorities and hope the results of the investigation will be made available,’ a spokesman said. “We have not received any new information from the Thai authorities”.
George and Eileen Everitt, aged 78 and 74 from Boston, Lincolnshire, died at the same time of heart failure in the Downtown Inn in Chang Mai on February 19th  – a matter which was first revealed here exclusively.
Despite their ages the couple were described by their son Stephen, 48, a builder as ‘extremely fit’.
Earlier on February 3, 23-yr-old New Zealander Sarah Carter who was staying in Room 516 of the hotel was taken seriously ill. 
On the same day the body of a Thai tourist guide Waraporn Pungmahisiranon, 47, was taken from Room 518 – the room next door – down the hotel’s fire escape to escape the gaze of residents. Again this was first revealed here exclusively.
Sarah Carter subsequently died in hospital and her father Richard has been demanding answers.
Then it was revealed here exclusively yet again  that on January 27th Canadian Bill Mah from Edmonton, Alberta, took a seizure and died after using the Downtown Inn’s swimming pool.  His death was put down to natural causes.
There have been other deaths in Chiang Mai, notably that of Soraya Pandola, 33, an American from Berkeley, California, who died on January 11th of suspected food poisoning and a French woman, but there was no link in these cases to the Downtown Inn.
In an attempt to downplay a growing controversy, and after the New Zealand ’60 Minutes’ documentary programme – which claimed to have found traces of the chemical chlorpyrifos, a potentially lethal toxin used to kill bedbugs –  Chiang Mai Governor  Pannada Disakul called a second press conference.
In his first press conference and on ’60 Minutes’ last week he insisted the deaths were all a coincidence. His stance remained the same.
The press conference served only to discredit ’60 Minutes’  and other ‘foreign press’ reports.  Most significantly no evidence was provided as to what was sprayed in the hotel’s rooms. 
The question had already been put by ’60 Minutes’ to the Chief Medical Officer of Chiang Mai, who answered unhelpfully and with some discomfort that he knew, but would not say.
The Governor of Chiang Mai also denied alleged reports that he was a relative of the owner of the hotel in question.  To my knowledge that allegation has not been made.
What has been said is that the owner of the Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai, Boonlert Buranupakorn, is a former Mayor of the city.
Apart from the Down Town Inn, Empress, Park. and Sofitel Riverside in Chiang Mai city he owns, according to the ‘Nation’ newspaper, a shopping centre, coffee shops, and furniture and umbrella factories in the northern capital.
He also owns hotels in Bangkok and Southern Thailand, a chain of restaurants in Germany called ‘Rainbow’, and once planned to start an airline.
Local Thai journalists in Chiang Mai have told ‘andrew.local’  that writing critically of the ownership of the hotel is a ‘no go area’. That became clear in the ’60 Minutes’ programme when no official would actually say who owned the hotel either.
The viewer was essentially being told that ‘business and tourism’ came first.
At the press conference Dr Surasing Visaruthrat, of the Chiang Mai public health office, said public health officials were stepping up efforts but they had been hampered because they ‘wanted to perform autopsies on the bodies of the victims, but their relatives denied the request and took back the bodies’.
This may be the true in the case of Sarah Carter (right) but in any case the Health Department did have enough evidence from samples taken to say that she had died of myocardia, a heart condition, and had not been a victim of food poisoning.
But it certainly was not true in the case of the Everitts.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said unequivocally: ‘ The bodies of George and Eileen Everitt have been sent back to the United Kingdom.  But they were not sent back until the Thai authorities had completed their examination.”
The Thai authorities have said they are awaiting the result of investigations being carried out in Japan and the United States.  They may not publish their own findings until that happens.
This does not give much confidence to Stephen Everitt the son of Eileen and James. He told andrew.local: ‘Thanks you for your efforts, but I am a very private person and do not want to go on television and speak publicly about this.  What I can however say is this.
‘ With these other deaths one has to be very suspicious.  They were active and healthy for their age with no history of any heart problem and it has come as a total shock.
‘My father was an electrician by trade and taken a few shocks in his time.  He took a massive shock before his retirement and when he saw doctors they were dumbfounded that he had survived. They told him that he had a very strong heart and constituency.
‘And now they want me to believe they both had heart attacks at the same time. It doesn’t make sense. How can it be coincidence?  There is something being covered up.  They both loved Thailand and went several times to escape our cold winters.”
Inquests are held into deaths in the U.K, if the Coroner decides a death requires futher investigation. They normally occur in the following circumstances:
•after an accident or injury
•following an industrial disease
•during a surgical operation
•before recovery from an anaesthetic
•if the cause of death is unknown
•if the death was violent or unnatural – for example, suicide, accident or drug or alcohol overdose
•if the death was sudden and unexplained – for instance, a sudden infant death (cot death

 
 
COMMENT:  The attempts by the Chiang Mai officials at ‘damage limitation’ over the deaths at the Downtown Inn and elsewhere seem to be now reaching comical proportions. The press conference or rather discussion with ‘envoys’ (convoys if you read the ‘Nation’) lasted two and a half hours and nothing came out of it. Is this a guessing game? ’60 Minutes’ took an enlightened guess that Sarah Carter’s death may have been caused by chlorpyrifos which had been sprayed in Sarah Carter’s room   The ’60 Minutes’ crew had stumbled upon a massive clean-up operation going on on the hotel’s fifth floor.
‘Wrong! Guess again!’ the Chiang Mai authorities seemed to be saying.
There’s a cultural thing here. If for instance there was an outbreak of poisoning at the Savoy the British press would be all over it like, flies,  like ants in my sugarbowl whether the hotel was at fault or otherwise. Not in Thailand where ‘krengjai’ and perhaps downright fear means you do not say something which might upset somebody else’s business, least of all that of an exceedingly rich hua yai.
And when a medical officer answers with a Thai smile, and I love the Thai smile, saying he will not reveal what chemicals were used in the hotel, then some foreigners might take that the wrong way.  What is the hotel doing? Are they breeding botulism cultures. Developing a new strain of anthrax? Was a mad scientist from Porton Down Biological Warfare Establishment hanging out in room 514?
The problem is now that when or if the authorities come out with a full and comprehensive report, who will believe them?

 
 

About the Author

Andrew Drummond

Andrew Drummond is a British independent journalist and occasional television documentary maker. He is a former Fleet Street, London, journalist having worked at the Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, News of the World, Observer and The Times.

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