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There is a meeting Monday in Bangkok that will do much to affect the reputation of the Royal Thai Police. The mother of Belgian tourist Elise Dallemagne will meet investigators to discuss the death of her daughter nearly three months ago. Police say their “thorough investigation” has established that Dallemagne hanged herself. The mother, Michele van Egten, doesn’t believe that, or in fact, anything else police have said.
Police and government have already acted extremely unwisely over this case. It once again turned the spotlight on Koh Tao. Authorities seem either unaware or uncaring about the record they already have earned in investigations on the resort island. While showing no compassion over seven still-mysterious deaths of foreigners in three years, they have been absolutely pugnacious in claiming perfection in their actions.
Like all respect, the reputation of the police force is earned, not awarded. And it cannot be granted by the force itself. Last Friday’s “news briefing” by top officers of Police Region 8 at the Surat Thani headquarters took the wrong approach in the wrong venue. Surat Thani police commander Apichart Bunsriroj may have been trying to convince the media, Thai people and foreign visitors that his police investigators are competent. But the briefing came across defensive.
One must hope that the officers assigned to talk to Ms van Egten on Monday take a different track. Officials of the Belgian embassy will be present at the meeting at Sathorn Tower.
Police may be honestly or just professionally upset at public scepticism about their investigation of the Dallemagne case. But they are dealing with a bereaved mother. They must do better than simply attempt to defend their actions.
And it must be stated that those actions are questionable. Or one thing, police claimed last week that Ms van Egten and others in the dead woman’s family had accepted their conclusions. Far from it, as it turned out. Police continue to claim Dallemagne hanged herself in the Koh Tao woods. Her mother doubts that, and cites many reasons.
The few voices defending the Koh Tao and Surat Thanii police in this case cliam inerrancy in the investigation. But they are wrong. There are a dozen major loose ends in Dallemagne’s death that police have not, cannot or simply will not be bothered to explain. Some of the obvious ones are who or what burned the dead woman’s hotel room just before her death. Who changed her name on the hotel register, and why? And Ms van Egten has even said the body shape of the dead woman it eh crime scene photos do not match her daughter.
Authorities are correct about one thing. The army, police and even Surat Thani governor Auaychai Inthanak himself all have spoken about the image of police and the country. Thais and potential foreign visitors alike deserve top-notch protection from the Royal Thai Police. And they deserve to know, with 100% confidence, that police will investigate all crimes and questionable incidents competently and completely.
Authorities believe the attention focused on Koh Tao is unfair as the name “Death Island” now seen so often. On the contrary, it is up to police and the government to stop complaining and to redouble efforts to regain public and, indeed, world confidence.
Police have made their own job more difficult, not least with their farcical lawsuit against the Samui Times over the “Death Island” tag
They must concentrate on their only job, which is to solve the death of the Belgian visitor Dallemagne, and perform professionally in every other case.