Thai judge to announce verdict in British murder trial in December

Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin (right) and Win Zaw Htun arrive at the Koh Samui Provincial Court, in Koh Samui, Thailand, on July 22, 2015.
Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin (right) and Win Zaw Htun arrive at the Koh Samui Provincial Court, in Koh Samui, Thailand, on July 22, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - A Thai judge will announce a verdict in the trial of two Myanmar migrant workers accused of killing two British tourists at the end of the year, a defence lawyer said on Monday (Oct 12), following a trial that has been mired in controversy.

Britons Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found bludgeoned to death on the southern island of Koh Tao last year. A post-mortem examination showed Ms Witheridge had been raped.

The killings raised questions about the safety of tourists in Thailand, the competence of its police force and its treatment of migrant workers. Lawyers for the accused, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 22, have made police incompetence and mishandling of evidence central to their defence.

"The verdict will be on Dec 24," chief defence lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat told Reuters. "There is a chance we can still win," he said, adding that inconsistencies in the police investigation, including not sealing off the crime scene properly, could work in favour of the defence.

During the trial, which began in July, defence lawyers complained of a patchy police investigation marred by disputed forensics.

The trial ended this weekend with the men alleging they were tortured and sexually assaulted to make false confessions.

Rights groups have become involved in the trial and claim the men are being used as scapegoats because of their status as foreign migrant workers in Thailand.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha agreed last year to allow Britain's Metropolitan police to conduct an inquiry in an attempt to reassure the victims' families that the judicial process was being carried out in a fair and transparent way.

The Met refused to hand over a report they had compiled on the police investigation and the two accused men lost a high court challenge in August that sought access to the report.

Mr Andy Hall, a Thailand-based activist for the rights of migrant workers who is helping with the defence, said there needs to be an urgent investigation into sexual assault allegations.

The defence and prosecution have been given until Oct 26 to deliver their written closing statements.