British backpacker murder trial in Thailand stalls over key DNA evidence

    A Thai court hearing the case of two Burmese men accused of murdering two British backpackers stalled on the second day of a three-month trial after a police officer failed to present what the defence says is key DNA evidence.

    Critical forensic evidence not available to court on second day of trial of suspects accused of killing tourists Hannah Witheridge and David Miller
    Oliver Holmes in Koh Samui | Thursday 9 July 2015 06.53 BST

    A Thai court hearing the case of two Burmese men accused of murdering two British backpackers stalled on the second day of a three-month trial after a police officer failed to present what the defence says is key DNA evidence.

    The head judge on a panel of three in a court on the tropical holiday-making island of Koh Samui said that he would rule on the matter on Thursday, when Police Lieutenant Colonel Somsak Nurod, who is believed to hold evidence related to the case, would appear to testify.

    But Nurod spent only a few minutes in the court, where he showed the judge of list of evidence exhibits.

    This included the alleged murder weapon, a hoe, which was used to kill Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk and David Miller, 24, from Jersey on Sairee beach on the nearby Koh Tao island on September 15.

    He left shortly after to recheck what other evidence was available. It was not immediately clear if DNA evidence, collected from sperm and cigarette found at the crime scene, would be provided to the defence.

    Nurod appeared confused in court when asked to provide forensic evidence. He said the samples may have been destroyed.

    Lead defence lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat said that the police officer will ring the defence later today to confirm what evidence he has.

    “Some of the forensic with him has already be used up. Some things he is not sure about,” he said.

    Asked if he is disappointed that it appears that key DNA evidence may be missing or unusable, Chompuchat said: “We expected this before.”

    He added that it was important that the court acknowledges these fact, which cast doubts on the fairness of the trial and the reliability of the evidence.

    Another judge had ruled in April that the DNA evidence be reexamined but later said the defence should request the order on the first day of trial.

    A verdict is expected during October for the criminal trial of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, two Burmese migrants who worked in a bar on a restaurant on Koh Toa. Witnesses, including police, doctors and people living on the island, are due to testify until September 25.

    Andy Hall, a migrants’ rights activist from Britain who is working for the defence, has told the Guardian that recent information provided by UK authorities has raised “a lot of very important inconsistencies between the Thai evidence and the the evidence from the UK.”

    He did not give details on what evidence UK authorities had provided. But Metropolitan police detectives were sent to Thailand in 2014 to look over the case and report back to officials and the families.

    “For this case to rest, it’s very important to re-examine that DNA material and find out whose DNA profile it really is,” Hall said.

    The legal team representing the 22-year-old bar workers is made up of pro-bono lawyers also criticise Thai police for improperly collecting evidence at the crime scene, intimidation and abuse of witnesses. These claims have been denied by the Thai police. Human rights groups including Amnesty International have become involved in the trial, noting that Burmese migrant workers, of whom there are about 2.5 million, have previously been wrongly accused of crimes by Thai police.

    On Wednesday, the defence cross-examined another police officer who was second on the scene in the early hours of the day of the crime. They asked him why he took so long to call a medic and seal of the area. He was also asked why he moved Miller’s body. He said he was concern the deceased would float in the current.

    Doctor Chasit Yoohat, 51, a doctor on Koh Tao, also testified. He said that he observed the crime scene on the day of the murder, and found both had been brutally attacked. On Thursday, Steve Mitchell, a bar owner who was the last person to photograph the deceased appeared at court. He told reporters outside that he photographs tourists to promote the bar on the website.

    The two defendants said last night their shackles were not removed, speaking during a break in the hearings on Thursday. “I didn’t sleep all night,” Wai Phyo said.

    The authorities had been under pressure to solve this particular murder case quickly as it threatens the country’s vital tourism industry.

    The family of Miller said in a statement on Wednesday: “The act which ended David’s life devastated our family and his friends. Just hours before he died, David was talking to us with his usual enthusiasm, describing the beauty of Koh Tao and the friendliness of the Thai people.”

    “Over the coming weeks we hope to gain a better understanding as to how such a wonderful young man lost his life in such idyllic surroundings in such a horrible way.”