INQUIRY STUMBLES OVER MULTIPLE WOUNDS OF PROFESSOR WHO POLICE SAID DIED OF ‘UNDERLYING DISEASE’
The Royal Thai police force, which appears to have passed off yet another possible murder of a foreigner with their familiar finding of ‘stopped breathing, heart stopped beating’ and ‘no foul play suspected’, now have their work cut out trying to recover their position in the royal resort town of Hua Hin.
For no scenes of crime work was undertaken at the hotel in Hua Hin, where the body of James Hughes, an academic at the Webster University, Cha-am campus, was found in September.
And there is no longer a body. It was cremated in a 15-minute ceremony by the university which had threatened police action against anybody who described or showed pictures of the state in which the body was in. Most observers concluded it was the subject of a violent beating.
Today the Bangkok Post carried an extensive report covering the suspicions of family, friends and colleagues as to how James Hughes, a popular academic, died.
This followed a circular to prominent journalists by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand of a letter from a long-term friend of Hughes’ in the United States – Jerry Weinberger.
This helped to right the apple cart which had been upset earlier in the week when the Bangkok Post published a story, having spoken to case officer Police Lt. Sanpawut, saying the case had been closed. Nothing suspicious. The first report also stated that, although the Professor had injuries they were likely to have been self-inflicted while he was drunk. He must have died from an ‘underlying disease’.
|link rto the withdrawn story|
This was quite a conclusion for a low-ranking policeman to make. But then the local Hua Hin doctor had concurred giving the ‘heart stopped, breathing stopped’ judgement or, as the doctor put it, ‘failed respiration and blood circulation’.
James Hughes’ injuries were so wide ranging that it is hard to see how they came to this conclusion.
He had contusion wounds to his forehead, left and right hips, right thigh to calf, left knee, tear and avulsion wounds on his forehead and nasal bridge, contusion wounds on both his eye sockets and nasal bridge, and other contusion wounds on his shin, back and upper right arm, and abrasions and scabs on his elbows, according to an autopsy carried out in the Bangkok Police hospital.
That was rather awkward.
If such wounds occurred in his room 412 at the Poungpen Villa Hotel right in the centre of Hua Hin or as the Bangkok Post later noted a block and a half away from the savage attack on a British family during the Songkran holiday in April. That assault, captured by overhead security cameras and posted on social media, sparked outrage… then would not someone have heard?
And if the attack had been administered before he returned would not someone have seen?
“He might have been drunk and fallen down,” Pol. Lt. Sanpawut told the Post. “We did not extend the investigation further because there is no reason to suspect this is a homicide.”
But, in any case, that was not the cause of death, he said.
‘It must have been some underlying disease’. What underlying disease? There are none in the autopsy.”
At this stage from the police denial there is no reason to suspect it is NOT a homicide.
And if the Lieutenant was speculating, then a more measured attempt at speculation would be that James Hughes was a victim of a Hua Hin pack attack!
Either Mr Hughes was hit by the same assailant multiple times from different directions, or he was hit multiple times by several assailants from different directions, or his he hit himself multiple times from different directions or fell off a mountain.
At least that is what a doctor said to me when I showed him the report, but I should add he was not a forensic pathologist nor is that how a forensic pathologist would have put it.
And there you have it; another Thai police statement plucked from the air and fed to the public as if it should be given credence.
The problem is that after a series haphazard investigations of the murders of foreigners the credibility of the Thai police is very low.
It is hard to find someone on the numerous English language forums in Thailand who is not cynical at the police response.
No attempt has been made to explain the wounds other than they were self inflicted by James Hughes falling down repeatedly.
They have not learned from easily challenged statements issued during the Kirsty Jones murder enquiry in Chiang Mai, the Leo del Pinto murder in Pai, or the murders of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on Koh Tao.
All that the remains of the original Bangkok Post is a link to the heading: ‘Police close professor’s death inquiry’.
On the day of publication, a furious David Hughes, James’ brother, had been angrily emailing from New York demanding what the Post was up to.
The Bangkok Post as a rule does not give much prominence to foreign deaths in Thailand only when they are unavoidable and the story is hitting the foreign press. The newspaper sees itself as a window into Thailand. Sometimes the glass is frosted.
Luckily however the newspaper does have an excellent and feisty education correspondent in Nanchanok Wongsamuth, who recently did an investigation into corruption in Universities, and this week she took up the cudgels on behalf of the family in today’s Spectrum.
|Police Colonel Sittichai|
But, while Lt Sanpawut appears to have closed the case and the Post has taken his response as official, his boss Lt. Colonel ‘Pui’ Sittichai Srisophajaroenrat, the new Hua Hin Superintendent, assured me that the case is not dead. There remain serious concerns, and statements issued by the Lieutenant were not referred to him first.
Further since last Tuesday there have been meetings to discuss the case. The medical officer has been called in and questioned and so will others be and deadlines have been set up. These statements I should say were made two days before the Bangkok Post went to press.
This confusion may of course be because this is the annual time for the change-over of senior police officers and although he has been in Hua Hin Since September he has not yet actually moved into his office.
Lt. Col Sittichai appears to be generally concerned at the anomalies. So, we may have to wait and see. But the Colonel still has to face the facts that there is no longer a body, and no scenes of crime report.
Among the foreign community in Hua Hin there is a general feeling that police play down all cases concerning foreigners because it is as ‘royal town’ and home to ‘Far from Worries’ the summer palace of the Thai King.
But the police in the town have been accused of cover-ups before, notably in the case of Briton Paul Ayling who was attacked in November 11th driving his step-through motorbike home with his wife and sun. He was ambushed and clubbed and his two assailants left the murder weapon in the road before driving off.
Police had the murder weapons and statements implicating two Thai suspects employed by a Thai businessman with whom Ayling was in dispute. No action was taken. No scene of crime was closed off. Ayling was medically evacuated back to Britain where he died while still in a coma.
The murder weapon was kept in a corner in Hua Hin station for a while but there was no crime scene or forensic investigation – and no murder enquiry.
Similarly, it was Hua Hin police who armed former Category AA prisoner, armed robber Jason Coghlan, and brother of Britain’s ‘Teflon Don’ Aran Coghlan with an automatic hand gun, which he used to intimidated residents of Dutch businessman Dingemann ‘Dinkie’ Hendrikse into paying their dues on his ‘paradise in the sun’ property estates.
There remains no explanation as to why Webster University’s Cha-am campus tried to cover up the circumstances of James Hughes’ death, James Hughes taught media writing there and had himself written for notable publications including the ‘New Yorker’.
The University forced one member of staff to sign a ‘cease or desist’ order guaranteeing that he would not show photographs of Dr. Hughes after his death, or talk about the matter, on pain of being reported to police! That sounds very much like the organiser should be interviewed on suspicion of attempting to cover-up a crime.
But the Webster University in Thailand has a chequered reputation as a quick internet search will show. I myself have exposed one of the administration there of having phony degrees. The man in question Dr. Roy Krishnan, an Indian-Malay, was formerly a contributor to the Bangkok Post’s education pages.
As for the Unites States Embassy ‘Americans Citizens Service it appears their staff members still need to step up to the plate, according to David Hughes in New York.
If nothing else, they do however seem to be preparing the stockade.
One of their earlier messages to Jerrry Weinberger stated: “Please note the Embassy is involved in this case and that Thai newspapers are often sensationalistic, inaccurate and full of rumour.”
Keeping their heads below the parapet, perhaps?
Photos – James Hughes, Bangkok Post google search, Puang Pen Hotel, post mortem, Colonel Sittichai, Paul Ayling with wife and son from ‘Nothing under the sun’ Andrew Drummond, cease and desist letter from Webster University, Jason Coghlan.