Two Burmese men accused of the barbaric killings of David Hannah and Hannah Witheridge on the Thai island of Koh Tao – have admitted to lawyers they did commit the crimes.

In interviews yeterday and today in Koh Samui prison the men ow identified as Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin confessed to lawyer working for the Burmese Embassy and also an ngo.

Embassy retained lawyer Aung Myo said that the men from Kyaukphyu in Arakan State confessed to the crimes but told the legal team they had been tortured.

“Lawyer Aung Myo Thant said the pair, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, from the Arakanese town of Kyaukphyu, told a Burmese embassy legal team they had murdered English tourists Hannah Witheridge and David Miller by bludgeoning them to death with a hoe on 15 September. However, he said, their stories were ‘somewhat inconsistent’ and ‘their faces portrayed fear’.(DVB)

“From what we have learned, there are inconsistencies with both the forensic report and evidence provided in the case,”  Aung Myo Thant DVB is reporting.

“The defendants kept repeating that they were very drunk that night. Based on what we have been told, it seems to us like this case is a set-up and not based on hard facts.”

Irrawadday online further quoted Aung Myo Thant as saying:

” Win Zaw Htun was assaulted and threatened after refusing to confess to the murders during a police interrogation.

“He didn’t confess when he was in the investigation center. A police officer hit the side of his face and the interpreter also hit him four times. Then police threatened to electrocute them [the suspects] and said that no worse thing would happen to them if they confessed. So, they finally confessed as they saw no hope.”

Nut Kyaw Thaung, a representative of the Myanmar Association in Thailand, who attended the interview with the defendants, said:

“They said they bashed the victims two or three times each with the blunt end of a hoe, but not with the sharp end. They said they did it because they were drunk but did not intend to murder the couple.”

Burmese Embassy officials were declined access to a third Burmese Maung Maung, who was being detained by police as a witness. Maung Maung was being kept in a hotel, said Thai police.

Irrawaddy further reported: “The mother of three Burmese migrant workers who alleged that Thai police poured hot water over them during questioning said she would not let her children speak to the media out of fear for their safety. She said that after the allegation surfaced in the media, Thai police came to warn her children that they would be in trouble if they spoke to the media again”.

But Irrawaddy does not report that the two Burmese confessed on the contrary Zaw Lin did not wish to talk at all and Win Zaw Htun appeared very guarded. Both looked very worried.

The Thai National Human Rights Commission has reported on PBS that the two Burmese said they were ‘tortuted’ and lawyers for Myanmar Migrant Workers/ Cross Cultural Federation are reporting similar claims.

But police in Bangkok have emphatically denied they tortued the two defendants and insisted that a lawyer and translator was present during the interviews – (more to come) ‘We conducted the investigation with honesty’.

Police Chief Somyot Pumpunmuang congratulated his officers. They had done, he said, ‘a perfect job’.

British Ambassador Mark Kent who was reported to have been scheduled to attend, did not do so. He has made it clear that he has not commented on the Thai police investigation.

It is customary for the Ambassador to thank the police after a successful operation involving British subjects.

 Independent Test of Koh Tao Suspects’ DNA Needed

Due to Thai police’s unprofessionalism and history of forced confessions, an impartial review of the Koh Tao murder case is needed to ensure justice.

Last week, Thai police arrested two Burmese men and accused them of murdering two British tourists on Koh Tao island on 15 September. According to police, not only did the two men confess, but their DNA samples matched DNA traces found on one of the victim’s bodies. The two men, named Saw and Win, are facing charges that could be punished with the death penalty.

Hannah Witheridge

Thai police have been under an immense amount of pressure to arrest a suspect behind the murder, with authorities and local residents concerned that the incident could damage Thailand’s already-ailing tourist industry. There has also been societal pressure for Thailand to avoid “losing face” over the barbaric murder, which has perhaps prompted police to point the finger at non-Thais from the start.

So far, the police investigation has been disturbingly unprofessional: the crime scene was not properly sealed off in the wake of the murder, police have made blunders as embarrassing as misidentifying the victims in photos distributed to the press, and a series of confusing and contradictory public statements have left many questions about basic details of the case unanswered.

There are also legitimate concerns that the alleged confessions of the two Burmese suspects were obtained under duress. 

Thai police have a history of using physical abuse to extract false confessions that are later retracted, and there was no lawyer present during Saw and Win’s interrogation. Last week, two other Burmese migrant workers on the island said they were beaten by police when they did not confess to the murder.

Sherry Ann Duncan

Given the extremely high stakes of this criminal case – Saw and Win’s lives are on the line – we believe it is necessary for Thailand to go to great lengths to confirm the guilt of these two men.

Currently, the key evidence in the case are the DNA traces found on Hannah Witheridge, who is believed to have been raped by two men prior to her death. Police have insisted that the DNA samples collected from Saw and Win matched the semen found in Witheridge’s body.

However, while it is unclear when Saw and Win’s DNA samples were taken, their “matching” results were announced less than 24 hours after their arrest. It typically takes 48-72 hours for authorities in other countries to process DNA results.

Therefore, we believe it is necessary for an independent body to investigate the forensic evidence that has allegedly implicated the two men. The investigation should be carried out by a foreign authority that has accredited technological facilities to verify the DNA results.

The independent inquiry should (1) confirm that none of the DNA samples have been tampered with, and (2) evaluate the alleged match between the two suspects and the DNA traces acquired from Witheridge’s body.

If these conditions are not met, we fear that Thai police will add to their legacy of falsely accusing innocent people. In 1986, for example, four men were falsely convicted and imprisoned for the murder of Thai-American teenage girl Sherry Ann Duncan.

Kirsty Jones

 Although the Supreme Court acquitted the defendants six years later, one defendant had already died behind bars and another died several years later from a disease he contracted in prison.

In 2000, Thai police kidnapped and physically abused an ethnic Karen in an effort to extract a confession for the rape and murder of 23-year-old British tourist Kirsty Jones.

We believe an impartial review of the forensic evidence in the Koh Tao case is needed to ensure a fair trial for Saw and Win, who have already been wrongly denied legal representation.

Allowing an independent inquiry would also provide Thai police, who have vehemently dismissed the scapegoat allegations, the opportunity to satisfy critics and prove their competence.


A police press conference today should have cleared the matter. What police were saying should have ended all speculation. They had, they said, got the two culprits ‘bang to rights’ to use an English expression. 

They had DNA evidence, (two sources) and a multitude of other things and weaved a seemingly overwhelmingly strong case against Win and Saw. 

The BBC’s Jonathan Head tweeted that Deputy Police Chief Somyot was ‘visibly frustrated’ at the social media. This had delayed the investigation and had police chasing alleged local mafia. Remember police have stated there are ‘no mafia’ on Koh Tao.

Taking attention away from the press conference were the meetings between the Burmese suspects and lawyers in Koh Samui. They come with more allegations of abuse and not very convincing confessions – or confessions which at least that suggest another person or other people were present.

A full inquest will be held on Hannah Witheridge in Norwich on January 6th.

Vanessa Arscott

But is it over?  No. Despite the confessions it seems a wide crosss section of Thai society still does not believe. Burmese – absolutely not. 

It seems now lawyers for the defendants may ask the British Embassy if they can supply their own test of DNA from post mortems carried out in the United Kingdom.  

Whether the Embassy can or will do this and whether the UK has got a clear DNA profile of the killer is not publicly known.

The Thai police may indeed have got their men. But so many incidents in the past seem to have come home to roost in a country where things are not always how they seem.

The Khao Sod refers to Kirty Jones and Sherry Ann Duncan but who can forget the murders of Vanessa Arscott and her boyfriend Adam Lloyd gunned down execution style by a policeman in Kanchanaburi – and the initial attempted cover-up.

Or indeed the shenanigans when Katherine Horton was beaten to death, allegedly by fishermen on Koh Samui.

All of these women were aged 23-24, from happy and good families, university educated and murdered in Thailand.

Thailand can attempt to save face on this – but at the end of the day these people were murdered in Thailand – not Myanmar.

‘Being able to believe the police force is an essential ingredient of a civilised society’. – John Oliver
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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