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A Helston man was found hanged in a police cell in Thailand after being arrested for possession of a class A drug.
Liam Whitaker, 24, was one day in to a three week holiday with friends in Thailand when he was found hanging in a police cell in Bangkok at 4.30am on October 15 last year.
Coroner for Cornwall, Emma Carlyon recorded an open verdict and she was not satisfied there was a legal level of proof that he killed himself. Cornwall Coroners Court in Truro today heard conflicting evidence from Mr Whitaker’s friend James Meredew and officers in the Thai police regarding the events leading up to his death.
Mr Whitaker arrived in Thailand on October 14 and had undertaken a day of sightseeing before going to a bar with his three friends. Two of the men went back to their room while Mr Whitaker and Mr Meredew had dinner, continued drinking and took diazepam, also known as valium, which they had purchased at a late night chemist. The pair flagged down a Tuk-tuk motorcycle and Mr Whitaker spoke to the driver about buying harder drugs.
Mr Meredew said: “Liam made some sort of deal with the driver and walked down an alley out of my sight.” A police officer pulled the pair over and found a bag of powder in Mr Whitaker’s pocket, which he later said was 0.55 grams of “Ya ice” or crystal meth.
The men were taken to Chanasongkram police station where Mr Whitaker was put in a police cell and Mr Meredew told the court he was led out and asked to take money out of a cash machine. He said: “All I could make out was that they wanted £400,000 baht [Thai currency] which is £8,000. “I went out with an official looking man to a cash machine. I took out £100 but couldn’t take out any more.
“I don’t believe that Liam had knowingly bought that kind of drug.” After returning to the police station the officers said they would not release Mr Whitaker. Mr Meredew went back to the hostel where he was staying to tell his friends what had happened with the intention of returning in the morning. He added: “I left him [Mr Whitaker] with the feeling that the situation would be much the same as in the UK. I left thinking it would all be sorted in the morning when Liam had sobered up. “I left him in good spirits – he was happy drunk.”
When Mr Meredew returned around 12pm the following day with his other two friends a British consular told the group that Mr Whitaker had hung himself in a police cell during the night.
There were no witnesses to his death. Mr Meredew said: “I was shocked and in complete disbelief.” He gave a statement and told the court he paid 1,000 baht for losing a police officer’s pen. He added: “It seemed like we were talking to gangsters and the Thai police seemed to be corrupt. “It didn’t seem safe.” Mr Meredew persuaded the police to let him leave the station for a break and the three friends went to the airport and flew back to England.
In the documents submitted to the court the Thai police did not record asking Mr Meredew for money. There is also a dispute over where the pair were arrested by the police, Mr Meredew said they were flagged down in the Tuk-tuk, while the Thai police claim they were walking along Ramburi Road near Tanao Road.
Police Senior Sergeant Major Vittaya Siewaddhiparp, the officer who arrested Mr Whitaker and the first person to find his body, said: “Not long after his friend [Mr Meredew] left the police station we took the accused [Mr Whitaker] to the second floor of the station.
“The accused then asked to go to the bathroom and we took him to the juvenile detention room. We shut the door but didn’t lock it. “We continued to record the details of the arrest and waited for the accused. I was an extremely long time.
“[When I opened the door] I was very shocked. I found that the accused had used his own trouser belt to commit suicide.”
Detective Inspector David Shelton from Devon and Cornwall police said that there was no evidence of a third party involved in his death as there were not marks on Mr Whitaker’s body to suggest there was a struggle and that it was entirely possible he had hung himself.
He added: “We do have a gap in evidence between what was said between James leaving and Liam being found.” The inspector said that Thailand had two police forces and the country was known for corruption. He added that he was surprised not to have seen a statement from the Tuk-tuk driver. Toxicology reports carried out in the UK by Dr Simon Elliott found that Mr Whitaker had traces of methamphetamine, ketamine, diazepam and alcohol in his urine.
Blood samples taken from Mr Whitaker’s body were destroyed in Thailand before they could be tested in the UK. His father, Jonathon Whitaker, known as Sam, thanked the police for all of their help in the investigation. Andrea Whitaker, Liam’s mother, said: “We are heartbroken and we want to warn other parents and travellers that Thailand is a dangerous place and people do get scammed.”
Dr Carlyon said that no one could be sure how the drugs he had taken affected his mental state. Pathologist Dr Amanda Jeffery gave cause of death as 1a, in keeping with suspension and ligature around the neck.