Lance Whitmore: Ex-squaddie accused of drug dealing’s hellish life behind bars in Thai jail

    The 26-year-old shares a cramped, furnace-hot cell – designed to accommodate 20 people – with 78 other lost souls.

    19:53, 14 March 2015 | By Mike Lockley

    Covered in sores, pale and pitifully thin, the toll taken by seven months banged up in Thailand’s hellish Klong Prem prison is branded on Lance Whitmore’s body.

    Crippled by tooth decay, the former squaddie shares a cramped, furnace-hot cell – designed to accommodate 20 people – with 78 other lost souls.

    The sewer stench from the hole-in-the-floor latrine is overpowering and attracts a halo of flies.

    Since the Bromsgrove 26-year-old was spirited to Klong Prem – after three harrowing days manacled in a “safe house” – he has witnessed two stabbings and an attempted rape.

    A cellmate has also had his ear bitten off in a brutal attack.

    His father Russ, originally from Northfield but now running a restaurant in Pattaya, near Bangkok, sees the steady decline in his son during twice-weekly meetings, conducted through a perspex screen.

    Fighting back tears, the 54-year-old dad told the Sunday Mercury: “He says he wants to kill himself. He wants to commit suicide.

    “He is in agony with his teeth, he has lost weight. It is a nightmare.”

    This is justice, Thai style. The high price for allegedly peddling drugs in a country that still dishes out death by lethal injection.

    And only £61,000 – the sky-high price of bail – can again unite oil worker Lance with blue sky. It’s a figure beyond Russ, who is forking out £2,000 a month simply to retain the services of a lawyer.

    Just last week, he claims, that lawyer spent three hours at the notorious nick, trying to gain access to his client before eventually being told that Lance could not be located.

    Today, Mother’s Day, there will be no card or bouquet delivered to Debbie Caswell’s neat Worcestershire home. Instead, she will gaze at photographs of her beloved son and pray he has the strength to survive his savage ordeal.

    Nervously fingering a photograph of the good-looking young man, she sighed: “I have faith. If I could change places with him, I would. If I could walk in there and take over, I would.”

    Lance’s case has divided opinion in Thailand, where the former South Bromsgrove High School student has lived, off and on, for more than five years.

    Some strongly believe the punishment borders on barbaric, while others have scant sympathy.

    His family claim evidence has been cranked up and altered to hike the sentence, obstacles have been thrown in the path of the legal process and Lance’s life behind bars -a ragged existence that would test the fortitude of a sewer rat – flies in the face of basic human rights.

    Klong Prem Prison in Bangkok, Thailand

    They also believe Lance was the victim of entrapment.

    They are adamant, too, that the sentence which looms – it could be 25 years to life – does not fit the crime.

    But one stark, simple fact cannot be denied.

    Lance and an Australian friend were caught in a Pattaya supermarket with close to 200 ecstasy tablets. A search of his pal’s flat uncovered 60 more.

    His father says he will admit the offence. He has no choice – a guilty plea halves the sentence.

    Debbie again scanned the family album picture, the smiling young man’s skin burnished with health.

    “He is my only son, the light of my life,” she whispered, fighting back tears.

    “He has done wrong, but there is a reason he got mixed up in all that, everything that was going on. I know he was not in his right mind. He was vulnerable, very vulnerable. He was in a very bad place.

    “Seventy-five blokes in one cell with one toilet where there is Aids and everything else. If dogs were kept in those conditions, there would be outrage.”

    Behind bars, Lance scours the Bible for messages of hope.

    “He is really upset, he says how sorry he is,” added Debbie. “I have always believed in God and he has turned to the Bible. His faith has kept him going.

    “Lance is a kind, caring, unselfish, loving person who always put others before himself. He would help anyone in need.

    “I have always been so proud to call him my son.

    “He is my only child, which is why I am so desperate to help him out of this mess.”

    Guilt hangs heavy on Debbie’s shoulders, its tracks are etched on her worn face. She bitterly regrets not doing more to prevent her son returning to Thailand in March, 2014, following the death of his 25-year-old fiance Jitma Tahin, known as Tree, from meningitis.

    Back in the Far East, where he had watched Tree’s final days, grief clouded her son’s judgement.

    “He was back here for quite a while, but he was not himself. He adored that girl, loved her to bits,” she explained.

    “I begged my son, I begged him to stay.”

    The 51-year-old, who was with former partner Russ for 13 years, still cannot comprehend how her fitness fanatic son is associated with drugs.

    “I have never known him take anything,” she said.

    “When he was here, he would say ‘I’m not going out with that lad because he was sniffing this or taking that’.”

    She has written to MPs and to Prime Minister David Cameron, but has received only stock responses, but Debbie has not given up hope.

    “Something inside tells me it will all be all right,” she vowed.

    Devastated dad Russ, a former sales and marketing worker who moved to Thailand eight years ago, has dubbed the whole process a set-up.

    “I’m not making excuses for his actions, he’s a young man,” he said. “But does a person deserve this?

    “Any human with any shred of humanity would say ‘no’ and help.”

    Lance, who gained employment in Thailand with Petroleum Oil Services, was snared in a store only yards from his dad’s restaurant. “He was taken to a safe house,” said Russ.

    “He was manacled and chained and kept there for three days. This was not a police station – I spoke to the local police and they didn’t know anything.

    “Lance is in a cell with 78 others, none of whom speak English. There is no room for anyone to lie down to sleep. There’s no clean water to wash with, only infectious Bangkok river water. The only toilet is a hole in the floor for all 78 to share.

    “Lance has developed an appendix problem, has skin mites and open skin infections. All I have left as a father now is pleading for help. I wish I
    didn’t have to.”