October 25, 2016

Thai court to give verdict in British backpackers murder trial

Pictures of killed British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge and a message of support to their friends and families are displayed during special prayers at Koh Tao island September 18, 2014. (Reuters)


A Thai court will deliver a long-awaited verdict this week in the high-profile case of two Myanmar migrant workers accused of the brutal murder of two British backpackers on the holiday island of Koh Tao.

The battered bodies of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found in September 2014 on a beach on the idyllic island in the Gulf of Thailand that is popular with divers.

The brutality of the murders dented Thailand’s image as a happy-go-lucky holiday paradise and raised serious questions about its treatment of migrant workers. A court on Samui island is due to give its verdict on Thursday, court officials said.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, migrant workers from neighbouring Myanmar who were working on the island, were arrested after weeks of pressure on authorities to solve the crime.

Police said the pair had confessed to the killings but both men later retracted their statements, which they said had been made under duress. They face the death penalty if found guilty.

Migrant workers often face discrimination in Thailand and have been used as scapegoats for crimes in the past. Police have denied using force during their interrogation.

Allegations by defence lawyers of police incompetence and evidence mishandling have dominated the trial, which began in July and ended in October after 21 days of witness hearings.

Thai police were widely accused of bungling the investigation, including failing to close off the island quickly and allowing potential suspects to escape.

Police said Witheridge was found bludgeoned to death and had been raped. Miller also suffered blows to his head.

A debate over DNA samples that police say link the two suspects to Witheridge’s body has been at the heart of the trial.

Defence lawyers had asked to retest crucial DNA samples taken from the victims’ bodies but authorities issued conflicting statements on DNA evidence and, at one point, said that it had been used up.

No independent re-testing of DNA evidence has been done in the case.

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