Tuesday 6 December 2016

Questions over key evidence in murder trial of two men accused of killing two British tourists in Thailand

Published 11/07/2015 | 07:25

Ms Witheridge
Ms Witheridge
David Miller was found murdered alongside Hannah Witheridge on a beach on the Thai island of Koh Tao
Hannah Witheridge was found murdered alongside David Miller on a Thai beach

After three days of evidence in the murder trial of two Burmese migrants accused of killing two British tourists in Thailand, confusion remains over the disposition of key evidence.

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The pair are on trial over the deaths of backpackers David Miller, 24, of Jersey, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk on the resort island Koh Tao last September.

Accounts by Thai media and spectators at the trial said the court on the southern island of Koh Samui yesterday ordered forensic retesting of several items found at the crime scene, including a shovel that is alleged to be the murder weapon.

But the court failed to clarify what if anything should be done about DNA evidence obtained from the bodies and elsewhere that the defence has said is crucial to its case.

The trial has drawn global attention both for the gruesome murders on the quiet, scenic island of Koh Tao last September and for an investigation that raised questions about police and judicial competency in Thailand.

Initial press reports said the DNA evidence had been lost, but police have said that was a misunderstanding.

They have reportedly told defence lawyers that at least in some cases, the samples were used up by the initial testing. But no clear official explanation has been issued.

"It is not lost," national police chief General Somyot Poompanmoung told reporters in Bangkok before yesterday's session. "I repeat: Nothing is lost."

Gen Somyot called it a misunderstanding that stemmed from foreign media covering the case who might have poor Thai language skills.

He said the local police investigator, Lieutenant Colonel Somsak Nurod, was vague in his evidence and therefore was misinterpreted.

Lt Col Somsak was no longer in possession of the DNA evidence since he collected it and then sent it to the Forensics Medicine Institute in Bangkok, Gen Somyot said.

"Nothing is missing. It's a misunderstanding," the police chief said.

The bodies of Mr Miller and Ms Witheridge were found on September 15.

Post-mortem examinations showed that both had suffered severe head wounds and that Ms Witheridge had been raped.

Under intense pressure to catch the murderers, police carried out DNA tests on more than 200 people on Koh Tao before arresting the two Burmese migrants in early October.

The men - Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 22 - have retracted their initial confessions, saying they were extracted through beatings and threats, which police deny.

From the start, investigators faced a variety of criticisms, including for failing to secure the crime scene and for releasing names and pictures of suspects who turned out to be innocent.

Prosecutors say the DNA evidence, collected from cigarette butts, a condom and the bodies of the victims, links the two men to the killings, and defence lawyers have been requesting that evidence for re-examination since April.

Andy Hall, a British migrant rights activist working with the defence, said that handing over the DNA evidence was crucial to delivering justice.

"Without the samples it undermines the opportunity of the defence to get a fair trial," Mr Hall said.

"More importantly, if it is not provided, or if the forensics material is used up, it would undermine the credibility of the whole investigation."

Press Association

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