Foreign Office calls in Thai diplomat over murder inquiry concerns

Summons follows allegations that two Burmese men were beaten by Thai police into confessing they killed British tourists

Josh Halliday
The Guardian, Monday 13 October 2014 18.45 BST

A senior Thai diplomat has been summoned by the Foreign Office over serious concerns about the investigation into the murders of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller.

Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire said there was a real concern about the inquiry amid allegations that two Burmese men were beaten by Thai police into confessing to killing the pair.

The summons of the Thai chargé d’affaires to the UK, Nadhavathna Krishnamra, reveals that the police investigation has placed a considerable strain on relations between the UK and Thailand following the murders on 15 September.

It comes 48 hours after Thai police insisted they had concrete evidence linking two Burmese migrant workers with the brutal killings, following reports the suspects had withdrawn their confessions.

The men, named in reports as bar workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, face a possible death sentence after being accused of murdering Witheridge, 23, and Miller, 24, on the island of Koh Tao.

However, last week the suspects reportedly withdrew their confessions and alleged they were beaten during interrogations by Thai police. Other witnesses have also said they faced police brutality, such as scalding with boiling water.

Swire, the Foreign Office minister and Tory MP for East Devon, raised his concerns with Thailand’s deputy prime minster, Tanasak Patimapragorn, shortly after the allegations of police brutality first surfaced.

Summoning Krishnamra over the claims, Swire “stressed that there was a real concern in the UK about how the investigation has been handled by the Thai authorities”, the Foreign Office said.

A spokeswoman added: “Mr Swire said that it was crucial for the investigation to be conducted in a fair and transparent way.

“Mr Swire emphasised how important it was that the UK and Hannah and David’s families received regular updates on the investigation’s progress. He also noted his concern about the way that the police had engaged with the media on the case and reiterated that the UK police stood ready to assist with the investigation and subsequent legal process.”

Human rights groups including Amnesty International have called for an investigation into the allegations of police torture.

A spokesman for the Royal Thai police, however, said the claims were false. “We had them checked by a doctor before and after the inquiry because we thought the accused may claim they were tortured,” said deputy police chief spokesman Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen.

“The accused persons can say anything they want. They can withdraw their confessions if they like. We have concrete evidence, including DNA evidence from Hannah’s body which matched the two suspects.”

Thai police have vigorously defended their investigation into the killings, despite coming under repeated scrutiny over the long delay in tracking down suspects and for staging a bizarre reconstruction of the murders in which TV reporters played the two British victims.

The authorities have also denied claims that the two Burmese suspects have been made scapegoats for possibly higher-profile culprits. Police said investigators relied on witness testimony, CCTV evidence and DNA tests – particularly evidence taken from cigarettes found at the crime scene – to come to their conclusions and that their investigation was by the book.

The accused are to appear in court in Koh Samui on Wednesday.

Postmortem examinations found Miller, from Jersey, died from drowning and a blow to the head, while Witheridge, from Great Yarmouth, died from head wounds.