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Friday 21 July 2017

Migrant bar workers sentenced to death for killing British backpackers

Undated handout file photos issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24
Undated handout file photos issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24
Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, right, and Zaw Lin, left, both 22, are escorted by officials after their guilty verdict at court in Koh Samui, Thailand, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015
A family member holds a picture of David Miller, one of the two British tourists killed on Koh Tao island, while speaking to the media after hearing the verdict at the Koh Samui provincial court in Koh Samui, Thailand, December 24, 2015

The family of David Miller said the "correct verdict" has been reached after two Burmese migrants were sentenced to death for the murders of the backpacker and Hannah Witheridge in Thailand.

The battered bodies of Miss Witheridge, 23, and Mr Miller, 24, were discovered on the idyllic holiday island of Koh Tao on September 15 last year.

Bar workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, also known as Win Zaw Htun, initially confessed to the brutal killings but later retracted their statements, claiming they had been tortured by police.

At a court on the island of Koh Samui, the men were found guilty of murder and rape and issued with the death penalty.

Mr Miller's brother Michael, flanked by parents Ian and Sue, said outside court: "We believe the result today represents justice for David and Hannah.

"David always stood up for justice and justice is what has been delivered today.

A family member holds a picture of David Miller, one of the two British tourists killed on Koh Tao island, while speaking to the media after hearing the verdict at the Koh Samui provincial court in Koh Samui, Thailand, December 24, 2015
A family member holds a picture of David Miller, one of the two British tourists killed on Koh Tao island, while speaking to the media after hearing the verdict at the Koh Samui provincial court in Koh Samui, Thailand, December 24, 2015

"We respect this court and it's decision completely.

"It is our opinion that the evidence against Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin is absolutely overwhelming.

"They raped to satisfy their selfish desires and murdered to cover up that fact. They have shown no remorse during the trial.

"We believe the correct verdict has been reached."

The mothers of the two defendants burst into tears after the verdicts and emerged from court as Mr Miller's brother finished the family's statement.

The family of Mr Miller said after hearing the evidence that the Thai police investigation was "not the so-called shambles it was made out to be".

Michael Miller said: "Like many people we initially unsure what to think when Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were detained as suspects.

"We saw images of two innocent looking men surrounded by tough policemen. It was easy to conclude they might be convenient scapegoats.

"Concern for the accused has been widespread. A petition was organised and funds were raised for their benefit. A group of activists became involved and has promoted their cause vigorously to the media.

"We believe that after a difficult start the Royal Thai police conducted a methodical and thorough investigation.

"We hope the campaigners who have relentlessly promoted this case will respect the process of law and the decision of the court."

Michael Miller paid tribute to the family of Miss Witheridge for the "horrors they are also enduring with such dignity".

He said: "Our lives have been changed forever. Nothing brings David home. No last hugs. No goodbyes.

"Whatever our anguish, the love we have for David can never be taken away.

"Our 24 years of memories and his beaming smile will always be cherished. David was intelligent, hardworking, he was caring, inclusive, enthusiastic and fun. He irreplaceable to us.

"Our hearts will always be filled with the brightness he brought to our hearts. We are so proud of him. We and his friends will miss him terribly."

Andy Hall, an international affairs adviser with the Migrant Worker Rights Network, which has represented the defendants, said they planned to appeal against the court's decision.

He said: "The defendants have said today, whatever the decision, they accept the decision but they believe very strongly that one day the truth in this case will come out.

"They're confident during the appeal process they will be acquitted."

An appeal will be lodged in the next 30 days and it could take between six months to a year before a decision is reached, Mr Hall said.

The family of Miss Witheridge did not travel to Thailand for the verdicts.

Prosecutors claimed DNA evidence collected from cigarette butts, a condom and the bodies of the victims, linked Lin and Phyo to the killings.

But lawyers representing the pair, both 22, said DNA samples from the alleged murder weapon - a garden hoe - did not match that of the two men.

The defence team said DNA evidence was mishandled by police and the defendants' confessions was a result of torture in the context of "systematic abuse" of migrants on Koh Tao.

A re-enactment of the murders in which the defendants were paraded in front of the media was also "staged under threat of violence", the lawyers added.

Thai police denied using force during their investigation.

Miss Witheridge, a University of Essex student from Hemsby, Norfolk, and Mr Miller, of Jersey, who had just completed a civil and structural engineering degree at the University of Leeds, met on Koh Tao while staying at the same hotel.

Post-mortem examinations showed that both had suffered severe head wounds. Miss Witheridge had been raped while Mr Miller died after being hit over the head before drowning in the sea.

British police officers visited Thailand to help with the investigation into the deaths following a direct appeal from Prime Minister David Cameron to Thailand's military ruler.

The intervention came after General Prayuth Chan-ocha was forced to apologise for suggesting that foreign visitors to his country's world-famous beaches might be unsafe wearing bikinis following the murders.

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