KOH SAMI – The court in Koh Samui Thailand has ordered that DNA and other physical evidence allegedly linking Burmese migrant workers to the murder of two British tourists should be independently checked, a move the suspects’ lawyers said could help ensure a fair trial.
The Koh Samui Judge has ruled that Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science, attached to the justice ministry, should be allowed to retest DNA samples that prosecutors say show the suspects murdered Hannah Witheridge and David Miller in September, on the holiday island of Koh Tao. They will also examine physical evidence, including a shirt worn by one of the suspects.
Several human rights groups have expressed concern that the arrested men, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 21, could face a miscarriage of justice in a trial centred around much-criticised DNA evidence. Numerous people trampled over the murder scene – a beach – before police sealed it off, many claim.
Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, who heads the forensic science institute, asked at the time why police did not use qualified experts to collect the samples.
Other worries about the case include concerns that the suspects initially confessed but swiftly retracted their statements, saying these had been extracted under torture. Also, rights groups have pointed to previous cases where Burmese migrant workers have been wrongly blamed for high-profile crimes in Thailand.
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Nakhon Chomphuchat, who heads the defence team, said the ruling was welcome and unexpected. “It is very good news. Having the DNA evidence verified should make a miscarriage of justice less likely.”
Andy Hall, a British rights activists who works closely with migrant workers in Thailand, said the defence would also be allowed to request new DNA tests of the suspects. “We have argued throughout that we can’t say for sure they are innocent. But the ruling today means there is a greater chance of a fair trial.”
Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk was raped and beaten to death, while Miller, 24, from Jersey, was struck on the head and left to drown in shallow surf. During a frantic two-week investigation, Thailand’s prime minister, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, said he believed migrant workers were the culprits. Soon afterwards, two young Burmese men were arrested.
After the arrested men said they had been beaten and scalded to get confessions, Amnesty International and the British government were among those raising concerns. A Metropolitan police team was sent to Thailand to observe the case and prepare a report.
The Met police findings have not been shared with the defence team. However, officers briefed the victims’ families, who later expressed confidence in the Thai investigation.
The trial is due to begin on 8 July, lasting almost three weeks. The family of Witheridge have publicly raised almost £15,000 in donations so they can travel to attend some of the hearing.
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