Monday, 12 October 2015

Telegraph: Accused Burmese killers allege sexual abuse and torture as British backpacker murder trial closes

In the Telegraph news: 

Testimony ends in the Thai trial of the alleged murderers of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, but their families will not hear verdicts for another two months.

Burmese migrant workers accused of the killing of the two British backpackers in a prisoner vehicle last year
The two Burmese workers have both retracted confessions that they claim were forced from them under torture Photo: EPA

Burmese migrant workers accused of the killing of the two British backpackers in a prisoner vehicle last year

One of the Burmese migrant workers accused of murdering two British backpackers on a Thai holiday island has told a court that he was sexually abused during his police interrogation as he was coerced into a confession.

The two young Burmese bar workers have both retracted confessions that they claim were forced from them under torture as Thai police investigated the killings that threatened to undermine the country’sreputation as a tourist idyll.

The accused men described the alleged torture during the closing testimony in their trial for the murders of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, whose bludgeoned bodies wereFOUND on a beach on the popular tourist haunt of Koh Tao last September.

After the final testimony, the chief judge said the defence and prosecution would be given until October 26 to submit their closing written statements. The court will then deliver its verdicts in a case that could end in the death penalty on December 24.

The families of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller released these photos as they paid tribute to the young backpackersBackpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were killed on a beach in Thailand  Photo: FOREIGN OFFICE

The families of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller released these photos as they paid tribute to the young backpackers

Backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were killed on a beach in Thailand  Photo: FOREIGN OFFICE


The barbarity of the killings, a series of missteps in the Thai investigation and a clumsily-staged police re-enactment of the murders involving the two Burmese men made headlines for several weeks.

David Cameron and the Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha even took the highly unusual step of agreeing to allow Metropolitan police officers to observe their Thai counterparts to reassure the victims’ families that the investigation was being conducted properly.

But that move also became embroiled in controversy as British lawyers representing the men sued in the High Court for the release of the report. The Metropolitan police successfully fought the request, saying its publication could endanger cooperation between the two countries.

The two men’s lawyers have made police incompetence and mishandling of evidence central to their defence.

Their supporters argue that they were tortured and framed at a time when the Thailand’s new military rulers were desperate to declare the case solved and reassure tourists that the country was safe. Thai police have denied any wrongdoing.

Wei Phyo, 22, told the three-judge panel on the neighbouring island of Koh Samui that during his interrogation, police beat him, stripped him naked in a freezing room and flicked his genitalia while he was handcuffed to make him confess.

"They also kicked me in the back, punched me and slapped me; threatened to chop off my arms and legs, and throw my body into the sea to feed the fish,” he said. “They also said they would take me into another room and electrocute me.

"Police told me that as I had no passport I had no rights, and they told me it had happened before, where Burmese migrant workers were burned in a circle of blazing tyres on Koh Tao island.”

His co-accused Zaw Lin earlier told the court that during his questioning, a plastic bag was repeatedly placed over his head while his interrogators asked him if he committed the murders.

He also said that he was told he would be killed and his body dumped at sea if he did not confess by interrogators who said that nobody would know if he just disappeared.

The two Burmese men were only arrested two weeks after the murder after Thai police had initially focused on possible suspects among the Western tourist community and local islanders.

With their confessions now retracted, the key piece of the prosecution case against the two men is that their DNA was found on the body of Ms Witheridge, who had allegedly been raped.

But the DNA analysis was conducted by the Thai police authorities as there is no independent forensic testing procedures for criminal cases, prompting further criticism.

And the court also heard the accused men’s DNA did not match either of the DNA samples found on the alleged murder weapon, a garden hoe used to sweep the beach.

The two Burmese men have acknowledged that they were on the beach the night that the two Britons were beaten to death as they walked back from a bar to their hotel.

But they said that they went home after drinking beer and wine and playing guitar with a friend and had no involvement in the murders.

Another piece of evidence in the prosecution case was the discovery of a mobile phone near the lodgings of Wei Phyo.

And in a dramatic twist on the final day, Mr Miller’s family was also brought into the proceedings as the prosecution said that his relatives had provided information that identified the phone as belonging to their son.

There had earlier been conflicting testimony about whether British officials had helped Thai investigators confirm that the retrieved  phone belonged to the dead man.

British authorities are barred from providing any assistance to investigators in a potential death penalty case overseas because of the UK opposition to capital punishment.

The information supplied by the Miller family to the Thai embassy in London and handed over to the court deals with a potential embarrassment for the British government if the two accused men are found guilty and sentenced to death.

It confirmed that the security settings of the retrieved phone were those of Mr Miller’s device.

Wei Phyo admitted that he found a discarded phone on the beach on the night of the murders and took it home. “The next day we heard about the murders and we were worried it might be related to someone involved in the murders. My friend smashed up the phone and threw it into the undergrowth behind our hut,” he said.

The trial has been a torturous process for the families of the victims, who have taken it in turns to fly back and forth to Thailand to attend 21 days of testimony spread over four months. Mr Miller’s father and brother were in court for the closing testimony.

The judges’ decision to announce the verdict on December 24 – Thailand is a Buddhist country where Christmas is not celebrated on the official calendar – will only add to their suffering by casting a heavy pall across the second holiday season without their children.

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