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Saturday 24 March 2018

Migrants' appeals over British backpacker murders rejected

Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were murdered in Thailand (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/PA)
Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were murdered in Thailand (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/PA)

A Thai court has rejected the appeal of two Burmese migrants sentenced to death for the murders of two British backpackers, their defence team said.

Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were brutally murdered on a beach on the island of Koh Tao in September 2014.

Miss Witheridge, from Hemsby in Norfolk, had been raped before she was killed, while Mr Miller, from Jersey, had been hit over the head before drowning in the sea.

Their deaths threatened to tarnish Thailand's tourism industry, putting intense pressure on investigators to solve the case.

The investigation was mired in controversy from the beginning.

Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both in their early twenties, were arrested some two weeks later after other suspects were shown to be innocent.

They confessed under interrogation, but retracted those statements, testifying that they were tortured, beaten and threatened with death if they did not confess to the killings.

The case hinged on DNA evidence that Thailand's top forensics scientist called seriously flawed.

But police insisted the evidence was solid, and the two migrants were convicted in 2015.

"I'm incredibly disappointed that this verdict was upheld," said Andy Hall, an international affairs adviser to lawyers defending the men.

"We were confident that the appeals court would dismiss the case, because there's so many irregularities."

The appeal verdict was dated February 23 but defence lawyers were not informed or present at the hearing.

They only found out on Wednesday morning from television, Mr Hall said.

"We're very shocked at this and it raises a lot of questions about the rule of law because we weren't informed," Mr Hall said.

"We were expecting a decision at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year."

The court immediately drew criticism for both its decision and for the way it was delivered.

"It's astonishing that this verdict was rendered days ago in secret without the defence team present, and shameful that Thailand has sentenced them to death," said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch.

The defence plans to file an appeal to Thailand's Supreme Court, where a final decision will be made.


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