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The National Crime Agency has been forced to admit that it acted illegally in assisting Thai police investigate, arrest and convict two young Burmese men sentenced to death for the murder of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller.
The admission by the NCA in a High Court settlement, raises new doubts over whether the 2015 convictions of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo are safe and it leaves open the possibility that the real killers could still be at large while innocent men await their execution. The two men were forced to take legal action, supported by Reprieve, after the agency refused to admit its full role in their conviction.
Phone metadata provided by the NCA was presented at trial to bolster a prosecution case marred by widespread allegations of corruption, incompetence and fabricated evidence. In the UK legal proceedings, it came to light that the NCA had also secretly shared other data with the prosecution – data which pointed to other suspects and would have supported the defence case, but which was never disclosed to the defence team.
This one-sided provision of assistance in a death penalty case goes against the policy set out in the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance which requires government agencies to seek approval at the highest ministerial level in cases where assistance given to another country could result in human rights abuses or a death sentence.
Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve said:
“It is bad enough that the National Crime Agency secretly handed over evidence to help secure death sentences in a country known for unfair trials and torture. But they now admit they did this illegally, without any proper thought that their actions could contribute to a grave miscarriage of justice with two men now facing execution. UK cooperation with foreign police and security forces should be open and transparent. Government agencies shouldn’t have to be dragged through the courts for the public to know what is being done with their money.”