CHIANGRAI TIMES – The family of Stephen Ashton, who was shot dead at a New Year’s Eve party in Thailand, have said they are “completely devastated by the loss of Stephen from our lives”.
He was an innocent bystander simply enjoying New Year celebrations, they said. Mr Ashton, 22, from Purley, south London, was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight between rival gangs. He is said to have been killed by a stray bullet as he danced with friends at a beach bar on the paradise island of Koh Phangan.
Police Colonel Kittakarn Kramomthong, chief of police at the island’s station, said officers had arrested a 26-year-old Thai man and confiscated a gun. The man is expected to be charged with manslaughter, he said.
It was reported that Mr Ashton’s family had travelled to Thailand and were on the way to Koh Phangan to identify his body formally and make arrangements for his repatriation. British ambassador to Thailand, Mark Kent, is expected to visit the scene on Thursday.
Thai police said Mr Ashton was with a group of friends and 300 other tourists celebrating the countdown to 2013 at a pub and restaurant called the Zoom Bar when he was shot by a home-made gun at Haad Rin beach shortly after 4am yesterday.
In a statement issued by the Foreign Office, the family said: “As a family we are completely devastated by the loss of Stephen from our lives. He has been taken away from us in such cruel and tragic circumstances in which he was an innocent bystander simply enjoying New Year celebrations.
“We are comforted in the thought that he was having a fantastic time with friends after such a difficult period following the loss of his much loved dad who passed away from a brain tumour in 2011 and the loss of his granddad a few months earlier.
“We were all so proud of him; he was a much loved son, brother, grandson and nephew. He will be truly missed by his family but also by the many friends he made during his life. We cannot comprehend how someone can carry out such a reckless act, giving such little value to human life.”
Neighbour Dawn Mason, 48, described Mr Ashton as a “very normal, likeable young man”. His family moved to Purley about three years ago, she said.
“They’ve always been very nice neighbors. If Stephen or his sister Emily had parties, they’d always be at the house with their parents so they knew where they were. I went to the house and the family just seem in complete shock.”
Jonathan Head BBC News, Bangkok say’s – Even the official Koh Phangan tourist website says “violence is frequent” on the island, and warns foreigners to walk away from any potential conflict with local people.
The Thai police say Stephen Ashton was simply very unlucky to be caught by a bullet fired during a fight between two Thai gangs.
He was dancing on the beach at the time, at the tail end of the massive new year party on Haad Rin beach, which had attracted tens of thousands of mostly young foreign tourists.
Probably the greatest danger to tourists on Koh Phangan is posed by the vast amounts of alcohol and other stimulants during the monthly full-moon parties on Haad Rin, which have become one of the biggest attractions on the so-called ‘backpacker trail’ through South East Asia.
Sometimes this leads to drownings in the fierce sea currents, or other accidents.
Koh Phangan also attracts local criminal gangs that prey on the vulnerable party-goers.
There are violent disputes between these gangs which very occasionally drag in tourists; in 2007 an Israeli was knifed to death during a full-moon party brawl.