|Jack Hansen-Bartel, with mask, behind Andy Hall,
with defence lawyer at court today
It seemed a sober moment, perhaps even a warning to the media just as the controversial murder trial of the accused killers of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller was due to start on the Thai island of Koh Samui.
“The Lawyers Council of Thailand is confident that the mechanisms of the justice system including prosecution officials, defence lawyers and the court itself will be able to ensure that the United Kingdom, Myanmar and other countries across the world consider and accept the Thai justice system as adhering to standards of international justice,” read the defence statement from the lawyers of the young Burmese accused.
Then came the add: “The Lawyers Council of Thailand hopes that both domestic and international media will cooperate in reporting the truth in this case in a correct manner, in a way that respects the deceased and their families and in such a way as to ensure justice for all parties to the case in accordance with everyone’s expectations. I would like to thank the media in advance for your cooperation.”
Then up went the curtain on the trial of the two 22-year-old Burmese migrant workers accused of the brutal murder of David, 24, from Jersey, and the rape and murder of Hannah, 23, from Great Yarmouth. on the paradise island of Koh Tao.
|David and Hannah|
No sooner had the reporters filed into court than many had to file out again, handing their spaces to families, diplomatic officials;
Those that remained were forbidden to take notes. (This ensures there is no other record of the evidence apart from the one taken by the judge which is subject to precis and voiced into a tape recorder.)
|‘Say you’re sorry’|
And soon the whole world was beginning to grasp how the Thai Justice system does not even come close to international standards of justice.
In fact BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher could rightly have issued his own statement urging judges, police, prosecutors, and the local mafia to behave themselves as this court indeed was subject to international scrutiny and everyone expected the court to adhere to international standards.
|A popular view is that the young Burmese are scapegoats|
As the two young waifs, Zaw Win and Wai Phyo, sat meekly in the court listening, having smuggled out notes to the press stating essentially ‘We did not do it and we don’t know what the hell is going on’ the court was soon hearing that the court interpreters had been threatened by the local mafia.
Mafia? What mafia? Had not the Royal Thai Police already assured the world there was no mafia in the Samui archipelago? ‘If there were, we would have known about it.” But Jonathan Samuels the Sky Television correspondent was adamant:
He tweeted: “Our Thai translator at backpacker murder trial says she’s been ‘warned off’ by ‘the Mafia’. Elements here clearly fear a fair trial.”
The hunt was on for translators – even searching the cells for potential English speakers – as the trial had to be stopped.
The prosecution even offered the Burmese (Rohingya) Nutella pancake seller who gained notoriety as the person who aided police in their interrogation of suspects.
Jack Hansen-Bartel who hates the Koh Samui justice system with a vengeance after being viciously attacked on the island last year in a police controlled nightclub has been assisting in the court translating for people on the defence team. He too was approached but that appears to have been reconsidered quickly.
His mother Anne Hansen wrote on Facebook:
“He (Jack) is unable to comment to us on the facts of the case being presented. He can however make observations on the Thai justice system Samui style, a system run by people who s concern is wealth and loss of face.
“With enough money anything can happen. It is only that the lawyer team for the accused is working pro-bono that these young scapegoats will have any chance as they lack this money that buys ‘truth’ on Samui……
“Frankly, Jack reports to us that he has not been surprised by the translators that were threatened overnight and did not show up for court today, he was not surprised that the DNA was described as “finished” with by the police, he was not surprised by the poor quality of the prosecution’s evidence.”
The DNA evidence was finished?
That was the main story being pinged around the world. Police had apparently lost the DNA the vital core piece of evidence which they say proved Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo are guilty of the murders and brutal rape of Hannah.
The DNA on the cigarettes is all finished,’ the head of police on the nearby island of Koh Phangan told the defence team outside the courtroom on Koh Samui Thursday.
‘The DNA samples taken from the bodies are not my responsibility. They are in Bangkok,’ Police Lieutenant Colonel Somsak Nurod added.
The court is due to rule on whether the swabs held at Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science in Bangkok may be retested tomorrow, the defence team said.
‘If they say [the DNA] is finished, it’s finished. Maybe our [forensic] expert will discuss on the stand whether it can be used or not. I don’t know,’ Lead defence lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchart said.
Inside the court sat the families of Hannah and David flanked by Embassy officials. The Foreign Office has also apparently been contributing to the farce.
Last year the Millers put out a statement through the FCO after guidance from Scotland Yard:
“From what we have seen, the suspects have a difficult case to answer. The evidence against them appears to be powerful and convincing. They must respond to these charges, and their arguments must be considered with the same scrutiny as those of the prosecution.”
This of course flew in the face of official Foreign Office policy: ‘We cannot interfere with the justice system of another country’.
And defence lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat accused the FCO in an article in ‘The Guardian’ of ‘being complicit in ensuring the men will not receive a fair trial’. Scotland Yard had by then also refused to share evidence that had gleaned while in Thailand.
Minding the families of victims of murder abroad has been FCO policy for quite some time. They instruct families not to talk to the media. If they do the statements should be approved.
This seems fair enough and most families in that situation accept FCO advice.
However there is a massive contingent who regret having followed that course and many have joined the Facebook page ‘Death Abroad You’re Not Alone’ and SAMMA, Support After Murder and Manslaughter Abroad.
One notable member is Sue Jones, the mother of Kirsty Jones who was brutally murdered and raped in Chiang Mai almost 15 years ago. The case has never been solved. Sue was instructed not to make waves.
In that case, in attempt to bury the case quickly, police arrested a Burmese Karen hill tribe guide called Narong, tortured him and even tried to masturbate him to get sperm DNA evidence.
|Sue Jones at a press conference while Dyfed-Powys Police
control the media.
She messaged me today: “I feel so sorry for the parents. They want and need justice for their children and chances of getting it are pretty slim. Even if the two guys are found guilty no one can ever be sure it’s the right conclusion.”
And so the trial continues. What more farces will occur?
Will General Panya Mamen come to the court to explain his statement to Thai PBS announcing the culprits to be the son of a village headman and the brother of a village headman on Koh Tao – and that both had been caught on CCTV; – hence the belief these murders were indeed something to do with the mafia, who felt they could do as they pleased on their own islands: – and indeed do just that.
One of the two men accused by Panya had already given evidence. He was the person who alerted police to the murders, he told the court, after he himself had been informed by someone else.
General Panya was shortly afterwards removed from his post as regional police chief, so I guess he won’t be coming.
On the arrest of the young Burmese his statement of course was also put down very quickly by Thailand’s military leader himself o– General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who declared he was satisfied the police had got the right men and had done a good job.
What about the other arrests like that of the speedboat driver who fled Koh Tao on the morning of the murder and was found high on drugs in a cave on Koh Samui where he was discovered by monks? He was well known to the local island ‘mafia’.
One Burmese trekked to my door in Bangkok to tell me that the speedboat driver had confessed to having been involved with others and if the police covered it up a revered monk would testify to the fact.
Assured that the defence knew the allegations there was little further I could do. No revered monk came out of the woodwork.
It may or most likely just be one of the scores of red herring, and false reports, surrounding this case, most of which seems, as usual, to have emanated from police, not the press.
There are so many questions in this case. What about the Thai justice system?
Put it this way – if these sorts of things happen in cases which are in the international spotlight – you can be doubly sure that even worse things are happening in cases that are not. I have seen them happening.
The press meanwhile are being briefed by Andy Hall in his capacity with the Migrant Workers Rights Association. As a member of the defence entourage he is all too familiar with Thailand’s justice system.
He faces many years in jail and a US$100 million libel suit for saying a Thai company subjected migrant Burmese workers to human rights violations.
Its a small world.
All it needed to complete the circus would have been for Australian Alan Morison and his colleague Chutima Sidasathian who are shortly to go on trial for criminal libel for suggesting Thailands armed forces were somehow profiting from smuggling Rohingyas to turn up; and perhaps myself for having my website blocked for some bare knuckle reporting on foreign criminals in Thailand – and their links to pliable police and army officials.