Why The Trial Of Two Young Burmese For Murder Desperately Needs Monitoring

Flying Sporran’s Weekend Diary

Yesterday in the UK the Guardian published a very good article about the plight of the two young Burmese charged with the murder of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on the Thai island of Kho Tao.

The article carried criticism of Scotland Yard and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in particular. Both had prejudiced the trial by advising and then assisting the family to issue a statement which was then seen to support the Thai Police investigation.

The tone of the Guardian article was level. Not hysterical of course. But you do not expect that from the Guardian. But one could summarise the article by saying that 21-year-olds Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo have been officially ‘fucked’.

The Scotland Yard officers involved, who came to observe could in no way get a full grasp of the intricacies of how Thai police operate, or even how Thai society works. But if ever there was a trial which needs monitoring it’s this one. If ever a trial needs a verbatim report – it’s this one.

Yesterday I spent a day in court in Bangkok. It was not an unpleasant affair but my evidence was conducted through an interpreter whose English in parts I could not understand at all.

Having given evidence, the judges politely read my evidence back to me through the interpreter. At one point it was stated: ‘The witness did not answer the question?’

“What question was that?” I asked. “There isn’t a question I have not answered”.

Clearly leaving that as a record on court file might suggest that I was in some way at a loss for words when presented by a difficult legal point or even obstructive to the court, or worse hiding something.

“That is what we have recorded here and we cannot change it,” said the Judge. I let it go. What I wanted to say was: ‘Well, why are you reading my evidence back to me?’  But that might sound critical of a Thai judge –and if you are critical of a Thai judge you are critical of the highest institution in the land. Judges in Thailand take things personally. My case would have immediately gone south so to speak.

Then moments later I was quoted as saying Google hid people’s identities on Google websites. Again that was not what I said, I contested. What I said was that one could pay a service like ‘Mark Monitor’ to act as the owner of a Google website and mask the real owner. Thus owners of many Google sites were hidden.

‘But that is what we have recorded here, “ said the judge again. It’s not a world shattering point, but in a murder trial translating from Burmese to Thai it could be absolutely crucial.

Moreover, as usual, large chunks of my evidence were not read back.   That’s not because the judges necessarily wanted to hide something – it’s because the judge just note down what evidence they think is suitable or relevant.  It’s a minefield out there.

At the end of each day’s hearing all those attending the court are expected to put their signature to the evidence as recorded by the judges. That says you have agreed and thus you cannot later complain.

I duly signed. Why? I do not mind rocking the boat in Thailand but rocking the boat in court I fear could have worse implications. And that I am afraid happens in pretty much every case.

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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