The trial of two migrant workers from Myanmar, accused of the grisly murder of two young British holidaymakers on the southern Thai island of Koh Tao last year, has started in Thailand.
The bodies of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found on a beach on Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, on 15 September 2014. They were reported to have been hacked to death with a garden hoe.
While post-mortem examinations by Thailand’s forensics department revealed the cause of death (Witheridge was raped and died from severe head wounds and Miller died from drowning and blows to the head) police investigations seemed to be getting no closer to finding the murderer or murderers. Initial leads turned out to be red herrings and no charges were laid. See our report at the time: Hunt for murderer of tourists grips Thai full-moon island
Then, after much pressure to find the murderers, Myanmar men Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were produced, and said to have confessed to the dreadful crime. Later, however, the two withdrew their confessions, which they now say were extracted under torture.
The accused duo, who deny charges of murder, rape and robbery, could face the death penalty if found guilty.
Defence lawyers allege discrepancies between DNA evidence held by Thai police and DNA samples tested by British police.
The trial is controversial, with rights groups saying the pair may not get a fair trial because they are poor migrant labourers.
The victims’ families have travelled to Koh Samui to help understand how and why their loved ones died so brutally and tragically.
Relatives issued a statement, that was carried in The Guardian.
Miller’s family said: “The act which ended David’s life devastated our family and his friends. Just hours before he died, David was talking to us with his usual enthusiasm, describing the beauty of Koh Tao and the friendliness of the Thai people.
“Over the coming weeks we hope to gain a better understanding as to how such a wonderful young man lost his life in such idyllic surroundings in such a horrible way.
“This pain will remain a part of us for the rest of our lives. We have borne our thoughts in silence as we have not wanted to influence any court proceedings, but simply want to see justice done fairly and openly.”
Witheridge’s family said: “Hannah was a beautiful person, inside and out, she brought a room alive just being there. She was fun, honest and loved life.
“Her bright future was brutally ended leaving those who loved her broken with no answers. Speculation, rumour and theory have been incredibly hurtful to our family and Hannah’s friends, making an already unthinkable time harder to bear.
“We of course want to see those responsible for the brutal murder of our precious girl brought to justice.”
A verdict is expected in October.
Written by Peter Needham