October 27, 2016

Protesters demand release of men sentenced for British backpacker murders on Thai beach

UP TO 1,000 angry demonstrators gathered outside a Thai embassy yesterday to demand the release of two men convicted of murdering British backpackers David Miller and Hannah Witheridge.

They claim bar workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, were wrongly found guilty of battering the pair to death on the Thai holiday island of Koh Tao.

The placard-waving crowd assembled outside the embassy in the defendants’ home country of Burma, to press claims that police bungled DNA evidence and tortured the accused into confessing.

Yesterday’s protest came despite insistence from the victims’ families that the verdicts on Christmas Eve were correct.

Mr Miller’s father Ian, mother Sue and brother Michael insisted the defendants – who face the death penalty – are guilty after attending the court hearing in Koh Samui.

Michael said: “We believe the result today was justice for David and Hannah. David always stood up for justice and justice is what was delivered today.

“We didn’t know what to believe. It was easy to conclude they might be scapegoats. We heard the evidence and a group of activists has promoted their cause to the media. They had seven top lawyers and ultimately they obtained the best possible representation in court.

“We have attended the trial and gained respect for the court.

“We came to realise the police investigation was not the shambles it was made out to be.

“It is our opinion that the evidence against Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo is absolutely overwhelming.”

Mr Miller added: “They have shown no remorse during the trial. “Initially they confessed and then recanted in an attempt to avoid justice.

“We believe the correct verdict has been reached and we would like to thank those who have supported us over the last year.

“Hopefully campaigners who have followed this will accept the decision of the court.”

Three judges ruled that the defendants were guilty of battering Mr Miller, 24, and Miss Witheridge, 23, to death in September last year.

She was an Essex University student from Hemsby, Norfolk, while he came from Jersey and had graduated from Leeds University in civil engineering.

Post-mortem examinations showed they had suffered severe head wounds and Miss Witheridge had been raped.

Prosecutors said DNA evidence collected from cigarette butts, a condom and the bodies of the victims, linked Lin and Phyo to the killings.

But lawyers representing the pair said DNA samples from the alleged murder weapon – a garden hoe – did not match that of the two men.

They also claimed their confessions were a result of torture in the context of “systematic abuse” of migrants on Koh Tao.

British detectives travelled to Thailand to help with the investigation following a direct appeal from David Cameron to Thailand’s military ruler.

But both defendants are set to appeal against the verdicts and the legal review process could take up to a year.

As dozens of police stood guard outside the embassy in the city of Yangon, Myanmar, protesters waved banners saying: “Free Myanmar people”.

Champa Patel, Amnesty International director for South-east Asia and the Pacific, said: “The Thai police force has a long and disturbing track record of using torture and other forms of ill-treatment to extract ‘confessions’.”

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