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Today, the 15th of September 2016, marks the two year anniversary of the brutal murders of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on Sairee Beach Koh Tao.
These two young people, with bright futures, arrived in Thailand looking for sun, sea and adventure. Tragically their lives ended on a paradise beach with unspeakable violence.
Initially police investigations pointed towards Nomsod Tuwichian and his Uncle Montriwat (Mon), both members of an influential family on the island. A quick reshuffle, replacing the lead police investigator very quickly put them in the clear and the eyes of suspicion fell on two 21 year old Burmese migrant workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo. The men, who said they had done nothing other than have a drink of beer on the beach that night while playing guitar, were arrested. Their confessions of rape and double murder in the hands of local police without legal or embassy representation were later announced.
However, once help arrived in the form of the Burmese Embassy and Migrant Workers Rights Activist Andy Hall, the two defendants quickly changed their plea to not guilty, saying they only confessed under torture by the police.
The two Burmese men quickly gained support from followers of the case, in Samui, Burma and online. The CSI LA Facebook page, which followed the story, attracted over 700,000 new members many of whom produced evidence, pictures and questions. People in every corner of the globe became outraged by what appeared to be a huge miscarriage of justice and rampant corruption.
Endless accusations were made, that the so called Koh Tao mafia had paid off police, investigators and judges in order to cover up their own crime, blaming it instead the second two hapless victims of that fateful night.
Petitions were signed and as support for the two men increased David Cameron sent over members of his own Metropolitan Police force to observe the Thai investigation. Their findings however have never been made public and none of the British Metropolitan Police officers appeared at the court case that took place during July, August and September 2015.
While many believed it was corrupt powerful families in Koh Tao who were responsible for handing down the death penalties to the then 22 year old men on Christmas Eve 2015 others looked to the defence team who lost a case that, according to information revealed online, was almost impossible to lose.
The two Burmese men maintain they had never met David Miller or Hannah Witheridge. Both men say they had no motive. Both find it strange given their small stature anybody could believe they had the strength to overcome the two Westerners and both question why, had they have committed the crimes, there has been a wall of silence on Koh Tao and dozens of people have publicly stated they are too afraid to come forward.
Scotsman Sean McAnna, who was living on Koh Tao at the time of the brutal murders, said he was forced to leave the island after being threatened by Mon Tuwichian. McAnna told reporters that Mon accused him of committing the crimes and suggested that he should hang himself, causing him to believe he was about to be used as a scapegoat himself to cover up the for the real perpetrator. An odd claim if the Burmese were in fact to blame.
Strangely Andy Hall, who raised several million baht to defend the two men never produced proper accounts for where the funds went
and only visited the men once in seven months pre-verdict. Although Mr Hall was on Koh Samui on Christmas day, the day after the boys and their devastated families tried to get their heads around the death sentence, he failed to visit the two men in jail. The rest of the defence team also failed to visit. In fact the only visitors the two men had the day after their devastating conviction were a member of the Samui Times team and another supporter.
The appeal was postponed by a month four times before the defence finally submitted it. With advice coming in from another Barrister in Australia the legal team apparently agreed to submit a letter of complaint to the Thai BLQS (Bureau of Laboratory Quality Standards). The complaint was intended to deal with the DNA that is believed to have been tested with substandard procedures in a substandard laboratory. However, the letter was never sent. Having kept a close eye on events, Australian Solicitor Ian Yarwood then stepped in and contacted Robert Holmes, a retired Australian barrister who said he was working closely on the case and had been advising the Thai legal defence team. Holmes informed Mr Yarwood that the letter had not been sent due to lack of funds required by the Thai lawyers who were, according to Mr Holmes too embarrassed to admit they needed money. On June 1st 2016 Mr Holmes asked Mr Yarwood to wire over $5,000 Aus assuring him that the sum would result in the letter being sent as a matter of priority and would take two to three weeks. The amount was transferred on June 2nd 2016 and received by Mr Holmes the following day. However, by the 24th of June, when no letter had been sent Mr Yarwood sent a letter to BLQS himself.
Having sent a letter himself, and on learning that the Thai defence team were in no hurry to send a letter and did not want his money, Mr Yarwood asked Mr Holmes to return the funds. Mr Holmes, who was about to leave Thailand Cambodia where he claimed to be setting up a business, then assured Mr Yarwood the funds would be returned to him on his return to Thailand a month later. To date the money has still not been returned. Investigations into Mr Holmes’s credentials have since revealed that far from being the distinguished and senior and respected Barrister Andy Hall described him as on his Facebook page, he had in fact spent several years in jail for committing fraud in the 1980’s of around 1 million dollars. It also appeared that Mr Holmes had only practiced as a barrister for about 18 months before fleeing Australia
This new information was brought to the public’s attention via an article in the Samui Times. After the article was published both Ian Yarwood and the Samui Times editor were then subjected to hate mail from Robert Holmes himself, a journalist called Cameron Cooper who claimed to be working closely with the defence team and Jeffery Bergman, the husband of Nad Bergman, a key member of the defence team.
The correspondence claimed that Mr Yarwood and Ms Buchanan of the Samui Times had damaged the now convicted men’s case. Since then many have questioned who the people surrounding this so called pro bono case actually are and what contribution they made to securing the death penalty for two men who to this day protest their innocence.
Far from being pro bono, Andy Hall raised a phenomenal amount of cash through his online campaign from willing members of the public, but never once showed anything other than very sketchy account. Interestingly Hall is using the same defence lawyers for his
own legal battle with Natural Fruit over his Finnwatch report. Mr Bergman, a gem dealer and husband of Nad, a key member of the Thai defence team, turns out to have his own grotty skeletons in the cupboard – allegations of plagiarism on a book he wrote as well as an online reputation as a bit of a bully (Click here for link). His wife Nad has to date refused to answer any of the questions sent to her by the Samui Times. And of course Robert Holmes, a convicted criminal who is yet to return Ian Yarwood’s money. In recent weeks information has been passed on to Mr Yarwood that Robert Holmes has suffered a heart attack, a claim that is yet to be substantiated. His current location us unknown.
What cannot be disputed, despite claims to the contrary, is that the defence team did not put together a ground breaking case, in fact they achieved the worst possible outcome for the two hapless defendants whose only dream in life was to work in Thailand to provide money for their families. It is also unclear as to whether Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo instructed any of the above mentioned to act on their behalf, however in their correspondence from prison they have made it clear that they frequently had no idea what was going in with their case.
Sadly it now appears that the western ex-pats surrounding that legal team seem to spend a great deal of time sending unsavoury emails to Mr Yarwood and Ms Buchanan defending Mr Holmes and his conviction for fraud.
As it is well known that Andy Hall has an axe to grind with the Thai justice system for his own case, one starts to wonder if he used this high profile case to raise his own profile and line his pockets to defend his own case. He certainly never missed an opportunity to face the press during the Burmese men’s trial, yet since the convictions has largely abandoned the now convicted men who have expressed concern as to why he no longer bothers with them and his visits are at best sporadic. The Samui Times has sent several requests for
details as to how the public funds were used, both to Hall himself and Nad Bergman who was reported to have being looking after the money, so far none have been produced.
While the eyes of suspicion have always been cast in the direction of Koh Tao, one wonders if it is, in fact, the defence team who where responsible for the two apparently innocent men having to face death row in one of the world’s most notorious prisons and not an influential family who actually care about the reputation of Koh Tao. Mon and his brother Worapan have always expressed their disgust at the media attempting to blame members of their family for the murders of two young, innocent Brits. They were so enraged that they sued one newspaper and Nomsod took a public DNA test in order to prove his innocence.
One can only hope that the Tuwichian family themselves will investigate the western element of the defence team and figure out why a known and convicted criminal has been given access to a case that affects the reputation of Thailand. Perhaps they should also question why a human rights activist with an axe to grind against Natural Fruit and Thailand was allowed to be the face of the campaign to prove the Burmese men were innocent, with many of his followers posting articles on social media sites announcing Nomsod and Mon as the killers.
If a mistake has been made then it needs to be rectified. The only thing scarier for travellers than being in a location where murders have taken place is being in a location where two innocent men have been convicted of those murders in order to save the skin of a psychopathic deranged murderer who is still on the loose, or perhaps the incompetence of a defence team who were advised by dubious Westerners. Should it turn out that the fault of this case lies firmly at the hands of the Western members of the defence team, with their criminal pasts and axes to grind somebody needs to get to the bottom of it.
While murders, as tragic as they are unacceptable, they happen everywhere and not just on the island of Koh Tao, it would be a great relief to the families of the victims, the men in jail and their stricken families and supporters if the influential family on Koh Tao could finally get to the bottom of what really happened, two years ago tonight, and finally draw a line under the shadow of suspicion that will always hang over Koh Tao until the true perpetrator of the crime is brought to justice. So far, two years in, other than one of the families of the victims, nobody else, including the prison guards, believe the right men are on death row in the notorious Bangkwang Central Prison A.K.A The Bangkok Hilton.
Written by – A Samui Times Correspondent