KOH TAO – A METHODICAL INVESTIGATION OR THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
As international human rights agencies seeks clarification on a controversial Thai murder investigation, staff at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok send a team to Koh Samui
A Burmese migrant worker ngo also has sent a team to Koh Samui where the suspects are being held.
But police chief Police General Somyot Pumpunmuang denies they are scapegoats.
And the Surat Thani Governor says the arrests have restored
confidence in tourists who are reportedly returning in droves.
But what’s the truth about the brutal killings of Britons
Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on a Thai paradise
Some 24 hours after Thai Police closed the file on the killer rapists of Koh Tao the internet is still alive with questions and expressions of disbelief over whether the ‘boys in brown’ as Thai police are often referred to by foreigners in Thailand, have actually got their men.
It was an impressive show for people impressed by helicopters, link-chains of police volunteers running along the sands, directors with loud-hailers, and two diminutive Burmese in crash helmets and flak jackets bowing in supplication and asking for forgiveness.
But the foreign media, not used to the Thai justice system of ‘assumed guilt’ – these two young Burmese are guilty until found innocent – found it all a bit of a bizarre pantomime…this final denoument in the hunt for the killers of Britons Hannah Witheridge,23, and David Miller, 24.
The press conference was not so much a press conference – but an announcement. In affect police said ‘We have the DNA matches (from sperm and a discarded LM Red cigarette. We have the CCTV footage. We have Hannah’s phone which was discarded.(more of this later) We have the guitar. We have the confessions. And we know one had died his hair black from blond’. (Police say they found blond(e) hairs in Hannah’s hand)
|Suspects on a bike – blond hair?|
The motive, said police, was that the young Burmese men Win and Saw, who had been smoking on the beach and playing a guitar, saw David Hannah kissing (a previous version was making love) and were driven by uncontrollable desire. As they were new to Thailand having been in the country only two weeks they were not used to such scenes of lasciviousness. It’s reported elsewhere that they had been in Thailand for years.
This has been hard to swallow by foreigners shocked at the barbarism of the attacks in the dark on a paradise beach in Thailand. And why would two quite small young men, take on two people of considerably bigger build? These accused did not look like crackheads…it would have been hard to a find a more cherubic looking diminutive duet of killer rapists. But stranger things have happened.
Police duly produced a long handled dustpan (in place of the garden hoe) a guitar, and a Sky News reporter to play Hannah who was filmed walking along the beach arm round the waist of another foreigner and his arm reaching around hers.
At the same time out came a guitar and journalists wondered in disbelief if one of the ‘perps’ would be asked to strum along with the show… and then at police direction…..he did.
Bizarre it was. Everything was controlled by loudhailers as Win was pushed down by his head to kneel between a Thai officer, legs spread, as Saw simulated beating him with a dustpan.
Everything ended with a round of applause from the locals, all of whom must have had this ‘we wish this thing would go away feeling’, and the scene was rounded off by the setting off of Chinese fire crackers by the tour and guest house operators.
The Police Generals endorsed his satisfaction at the conclusion of the enquiry and wai-ed the foreign press perhaps wishing they were not there and would go soon. There were no questions.
But as Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-Ocha was congratulating police on a job well done a tidal wave of disbelief was flooding the internet.
In short, a simple internet post “What a load of @#&% %^%%& ! ” perhaps best encapsulated the mood as thousands of amateur sleuths turned the police investigation into what they considered a fiasco.
Posts of anger and disbelief choked foreign internet forums in Thailand, newspaper comment sections of British newspapers and the foreigners were joined by presumably off-island Thais in their thousands echoing similar sentiments, and of course Burmese, from all parts of the globe.
No sooner had the loudhailers been switched off on Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, than a group of Burmese announced that three friends of the accused had been beaten and had scalding water poured over them several days before…on September 27th when the original three accused, with whom they were playing takraw fled into the jungle.
This was at the time some media reported that Thai police claimed they were looking for members of the SUN Football Team who had been playing on the island the day before the murders.
The three footballers had been captured on CCTV following Hannah and her group, but maybe not deliberately, on the night of the murder.
By September 27th a whole array of suspects had been paraded in the press with police comments attached to their particular roles.
The initial island story was that a crazed gay foreigner – Miller’s boyfriend – had killed the couple in a frenzy of jealousy. This was the first story told to journalists by backpackers and locals alike.
Then the hunt was on for the who seemed to be the obvious or rather usual suspects in the eyes of the locals, who were the Burmese migrant labourers a couple of thousand of whom were on the island many without documentation, and who appeared also to be a regular source of income to the local police – Anybody without papers is a source of income it seems on Koh Tao according to local media reports.
Then came the Ware brothers, Christopher and James, from Jersey, who were on holiday with David Miller. It seems an all-points bulletin was put out for them and they were stopped at Suvarnabhumi airport from boarding their flight and asked to undergo DNA tests. Christopher the ‘crazed gay farang’ seemed to be totally level-headed.
It appears that police did not DNA test them earlier out of krengjai (respect)
This was followed by a Thai speed boat man, who dabbled in drugs and was found hanging out and apparently blitzed in a cave in Koh Samui.
|Mon ‘I’m not mafia – my mate’s a cop’|
No sooner was he off the hook (for the murders not drugs) then next in the frame was Mon the manager of the AC bar who had followed or chased a hapless Scottish busker Sean McAnna from the bar after he claimed Mon and another figure (who turned out to be a plain clothed policeman) accused him of being the murderer and told him they were going to ‘hang him in the hills’.
This came as Fleet Street journalists, encamped in the island’s Montra Hotel, had found the police did not have much to say to them, nor did the locals, nor the local foreigners, and so were desperate for someone to talk to.
A real live drama was going on in front of their eyes. A terrified McAnna had snatched a photo of Mon and the policeman from a position cowered behind the counter of a 7/11. ‘The Mafia are trying to kill me’ he Facebooked with the picture.
Mon was of course one of the island’s wheeler dealers and laughed off the remarks of the crazy foreigner and told stories of ‘farang sai mai dee’, bad hearted foreigners. He denied ridiculous claims that he was mafia and said his friend (interviewing McAnna) that night was a policeman.
|A CCTV recording of the incident was later produced on the Facebook site CIS LA.|
And all the while journalists were wondering how come this paradise, under-developed (in comparison to neighbours Samui and Ko Phangan only) island appears to be ‘drug central’ and why the main police activity was not so much crime prevention but collecting fees, according to the Nation newspaper.
Meanwhile the island’s DJs were busy on Facebook attacking Sean McAnna. One local moto cycle hirer and repair man tastelessly put a picture up on the net of himself holding a hoe. Not surprisingly this provoked a hostile reaction abroad.
This was not helped by the attacks on McAnna who was pictured dressed up as a woman with derisory remarks.
The author did not clarify that McAnna was on a local island organised pub crawl which stopped at the Queen’s Cabaret – a ladyboy club on Koh Tao – and all male tourists are encouraged to dress up as ‘katoeys’ and be part of the party, but only the brave at heart, or drunk, do.
But the suggestion was clear McAnna was a ‘bad foreigner’.
The delicate relationship between East and West meanwhile had taken another dent after the management of the AC bar had put up a sign playing on the words of a cocktail saying: ‘No Sex On The Beach’ totally ignoring the sensitivities of the family back in the UK.
They later said it was a warning and the picture was ‘liked’ several time on Facebook by various DJs, who are famous for carrying on partying on the beach after the bars have closed.
Again this made the international press, the inference taken that if David and Hannah had not been having sex on the beach – this would not have happened.
It is a recurring theme that this is what the young couple were doing. But police have yet to produce any evidence.
The suggestion has been made by police but the story changed to ‘kissing’. Perhaps they had been made aware of a faux pas Thai police made during the investigation into the murder of Kirsty Jones by Chiang Mai police in 2000.
(This investigation which the Nation said a British diplomat had described as ‘shambolic’ (later denied by the Embassy) was also full of controversy and one moment was when an investigating officer said that Kirsty probably agreed to sex (with her killer) but only objected when he tried to abuse her anally.)
But soon Mon’s name was linked to his nephew and the brother of the Head Man (puyai baan) a serious mover and shaker, or person of power on Koh Tao. The son had apparently fled the island to Bangkok it was claimed.
General Panya Mamen, Head of Region 8 of the Royal Thai Police, said the son and brother of the head man were under investigation. This was followed the following day by a denial and followed again by an indignant headman holding a press conference to express his hurt feelings – at which he offered one million baht (£20,000) to anyone who could prove that any of his relatives were involved.
|Indignant head man|
The foreign media looked on in boredom. They took the view that if he had complaints then he should take them up with the appropriate people. Showboating hurt when just yards away two Britons had been barbarically hacked to death was inappropriate. This was about face. Nothing more.
General Panya Mamen was ‘transferred’ or ‘promoted’, the day before the media show.
That million baht was the butt of one foreign hack’s joke. “I was told Thai police could set someone up for murder here for a lot less’.
This was all rounded off by the ‘missing’ son facing the press in Bangkok stating he had been at University all along and had CCTV footage and professors who could vouch for him.
The headman’s anger and that of Mon, his younger brother, was now directed at crazy McAnna and they suddenly remembered that McAnna had been witnessed wiping blood off his face in the Lotus bar – and sure enough as he left the island his guitar appeared to be stained with dried blood.
This story did not however have any significance to the murders and so on the story went back to the roundup of Burmese and each time a series of props which included mobile phones and a bloodstained pair of trousers (which turned out not to be bloodstained) appeared.
Last week police were predicting from Monday that with 48 hours they would have the killer. Then a local taxi driver fled to the bosom of another island leader claiming he had been beaten by police and offered 700,000 baht (about £13,000) to give false testimony against someone else.
The civic leader then issued a statement to the effect that this was a scandalous state of affairs (but put much more mildly Thai style) and that the police should not try and find scapegoats.
Some people were of course now interpreting island feeling as: ‘Leave our people alone and find a scapegoat’. The island’s Burmese were now living more in fear than ever. Police did not need their permission to take DNA.
One of the three Burmese arrested was captured at the pier in Surat Thani and the two others were caught on the island and brought in to Sairee Beach. By Thursday night two had ‘confessed’ but the third had merely admitted to playing his guitar and having a beer and smoke on the beach, said police.
However as he was not released again Thai police activity was being viewed with suspicion.
Before DNA samples had been tested the police announced they had their man. And sure enough the DNA was confirmed the following day at 8am – the day of the Big Show.
The bloodstained trousers, a prop which has appeared several times, which turned out to belong to Christopher Ware and were found in Miller’s bag, were of course not blood-stained and totally irrelevant.
A series of figures caught on CCTV including allegedly Hannah and David were irrelevant and of course not Hannah and David, nor did they ever look like Hannah and David.
CCTV of Win on the night of the murders, who was supposed to be blond at the time, showed him to be black haired at the time..Then came the controversy about Hannah’s mobile phone.
This phone, ‘Hannah’s or David’s, depending on which police statement taken into account, was allegedly thrown into the jungle near the home of the accused – as it did not work. Police then found it. But a poster on the forum ThaiVisa.com seemed to put the lie to the story that the Burmese had Hannah’s phone and threw it away nearby – because it did not work.
The Burmese could not have had Hannah’s phone, she said, because on the night in question Hannah had given it to a friend to put in her handbag. The day of the murders the Hannah’s phone was handed to police! And The CSI LA Facebook page took up the case.
|Hannah’s phone apparently being handed in to police – added to drama|
Abigail 1989 wrote last night:
|Phone near suspects house|
“I just want to clear up what I posted yesterday. I originally said that there was no way that the phone could have been at the suspects’ house because it was at the scene. I jumped to conclusions with that statement. At that point my friend had just told me that she had the phone the next day and I didn’t want to ask her too many questions and upset her.
|From Phuketwan – but they now say the phone was Miller’s|
|Phone near suspects house|
“I’ve since spoken to her properly and that’s when I found out that the phone wasn’t at the scene but was in the friend’s handbag. They gave it to the police the following morning along with the passcode.
It’s perfectly normal to know friends passcodes, especially if you’re travelling together and using phones to take pictures etc.
“You don’t need to believe me, I’m just saying what I know. I am also aware that perhaps the police are referring to the other victim’s phone, in which case my information is useless anyway.
Police did indeed find a mobile phone in the undergrowth near the Burmese’ apartment as these stills from Channel 7 show. Or at least they were filmed as they are shown to be finding a mobile phone – It would be surely inconceivable that police themselves had placed it there to be found. They now say the phone was David’s and earlier comments were misconstrued, a genuine possibility.
But wait – here’s another broken mobile phone being identified apparently by Chris Ware the day before he left the island.
But what police say at press conferences is often meaningless not only in the Thai Courts but in the general way of things. Many defendants disappear from the system afterwards. Trials are rarely reported. Caution and measured statements can give way to a little storytelling.
|And it looks like, I say cautiously, en exhibit belong to a foreign male. But I daresay could be Hannah’s without the cover|
Currently there are foreign agencies and international agencies who want to have a closer look at these two defendants if only to allay fears that a terrible injustice has taken place. Two teams have gone to Koh Samui, one from the Burmese (Myanmar) Embassy, another from the Myanmay Migrant Workers ngo.
“The Labour Ministry has been investigating the incident and conveyed a message to the embassy to provide help for the three men.
“We’re now making an investigation into the incident. We asked local residents whether the accusations are correct or not. Some said the Myanmar workers weren’t involved in the murders,” Thein Naing said.
By past experience in high profile ‘foreigner’ murder cases the Thai formula has always been to deny local involvement in every murder of a foreigner. Blame has been first attributed to a another foreigner, either Bumese or western. People remember the conduct of the cases as much for the investigation as for the horror of the murders.
And of two of the five high profile murder cases known and covered by the author – Kirsty Jones, Vanessa Arscott and Adam Lloyd, Leo del Pinto, and the Koh Tao case, three (Arscott, Lloyd and del Pinto) were murdered by Thai police officers.
UK: Johanne Masheder, from Cheshire, 23, 1996: murdered by a monk in temple grounds in Kanchanaburi. For a while she was just a missing person. During that period a claim was made that her disappearance was just and insurance fraud. Johanne was beaten to death by a novice called Yosak Suaphu – who had previously been in jail
UK: Kirsty Jones, 23, from Devon, 2000: murdered and raped in the Aree Guest house Chiang Mai. Burmese guide tortured. Several foreigners accused. Killer never found. Complete DNA profile done in UK was never matched. Guests at the Aree heard her screams but decided to do nothing as they thought it was a lover’s tiff’.
UK: Vanessa Arscott, 23, and Adam Lloyd, 24, 2004: murdered by a policeman in Kanchanaburi. First Adam was shot then Police Sergeant Somchai Wisetsingh ran over Vanessa in his car. He then got out and shot her three times as she hung onto the bases of a pylon carrying electric cables – once in the forehead, once in the face and once in her neck. He got bail until his conviction and none of the eye witnesses would testify against him though fear. Reporters were attacked with pepper spray outside the court by a police colleague. Wisetsinghs father made the false claim that Vanessa was having an affair with his son – and Adam started it it a fit or rage. Wisetsingh claimed it was not him it as an informant of his. Forsensic ruled otherwise. Heavy British Embassy involvement.
UK: Katherine Horton, from Cardiff, 23, 2006: murdered and raped on Lamai Beach, Koh Samui. Two Thai fishermen eventually charged. Stories on Koh Samui related this week now claim these men were scapegoats. May be just knew jerk reaction. The fishermen allegedly went back to their boat where police said they had been drinking and watching pron movies and told colleagues Katherine was ‘declicious’.
Canada: Leo Delpinto, 24, from Calgary: Shot dead by Thai policeman. Carly Reisig shot and injured. Local witnesses instructed to say the policeman was acting in self defence. Policeman was given bail, during which time he clubbed his 18-year-old bride to death after two weeks of marriage.
The investigation had to be taken out of the hands of Pai Police and taken over by the DSI after Andrew Drummond accompanied the Thai Human Rights Commission on a fact finding mission.
In Britain DNA testing is done at Home Office laboratories and independently from the investigating officers. In Thailand the DNA testing has been done at the Police Forensic Institute in Bangkok.
The head of the team in Bangkok last week publicly pointed out that his officers were not told the identity of the samples they were testing.
It is impossible to say of course that the police have not got the right men. Convincing people they have however is another matter in the wake of history.
The Kirsty Jones case was never solved and the feeling there is because to solve it would be more damaging to Thailand and local interests. It could be all about Face and Image.
But in this case if the DNA does match – and who is able to say otherwise – this will go down as another solved but controversial case. But of course Koh Tao is no paradise.
It would be to unthinkable that the Prime Minister had endorsed a false investigation. The current PM has a reputation for honesty and straight, sometimes too straight, talking.
For if that were so the implications involved to the extent of a cover up would be horrendous – and make Thai police little better than those who carried out these barbaric acts.