Twin murders: Suspects framed, say lawyers

KOH SAMUI (Thailand) • Lawyers defending two Myanmar migrant workers on trial for the murders of two British backpackers sought yesterday to expose holes in a police investigation they maintain was botched and intended to frame the suspects.

The conduct of Thailand's police, and treatment of its huge Myanmar labour force, has been central to the trial of the young men accused of killing Ms Hannah Witheridge and Mr David Miller a year ago, on the southern island of Koh Tao.

Post-mortem examinations showed the victims suffered severe head wounds and that Ms Witheridge was raped, but lawyers and activists say the two accused, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, have been made scapegoats for the killings.

The case has attracted extensive media attention in Britain, and raised questions about Thailand's ability to protect its tourists. The bodies of Mr Miller, 24, and Ms Witheridge, 23, were found on a beach on the small island popular with backpackers and divers.

The hearings are taking place on nearby Koh Samui, where the defence would present a statement from a British expert who has analysed surveillance camera footage being used as evidence.

The expert was contacted by Briton Andy Hall, a Thailand-based activist who specialises in protecting the rights of Myanmar labourers, and exposing abuses.

"We saw instances of police abuse and torture, and a concern for us is that the police were just focusing on ways to nail the two defendants," Mr Hall said.

"We believe that they (the police) blocked out so much of other evidence... simply to focus on the two accused," he said.

Police have stood by their investigation, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said "nobody would dare" go after the wrong suspects because the case was so high-profile.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'Twin murders: Suspects framed, say lawyers'. Print Edition | Subscribe