Death penalty upheld in Thai backpacker murder case

The two migrant workers who were found guilty of the murders of two British backpackers on the Thai island of Koh Tao have had their convictions upheld by the country’s supreme court.

In December 2015, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were sentenced to death after they were found guilty of the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk, and the murder of 24-year-old David Miller, from Jersey, on the island popular with tourists and backpackers.

The pair, who had met at a diving resort on the island just days earlier, had been found on a quiet beach with fatal head wounds in September 2014.

The guilty verdict had already been upheld at a lower court in 2017. However, the final appeal, at Thailand’s supreme court found that the men had been found guilty of murder and rape on the basis of evidence and forensic results.

They displayed no emotion as they listened intently to a translator while the verdict was read at a court in the province of Nonthaburi, just north of the capital, Bangkok.

The men’s legal team said it would seek a royal pardon within 60 days, as provided in Thai law.

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, who are migrant workers from Myanmar, have always maintained their innocence and there have been accusations of multiple police failings throughout the case.

Hannah Witheridge (left), 23, and David Miller, 24, were killed on the island of Koh Tao on 15 September 2015.

Hannah Witheridge (left), 23, and David Miller, 24, were killed on the island of Koh Tao on 15 September 2015. Photograph: PA

Rights groups had maintained that the pair had been used as scapegoats by the authorities, as is a common occurrence for migrant workers living in Thailand, allegedly because the police were under pressure to solve the crime which made international headlines.

The police were accused of torturing Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo to extract confessions from them, claiming the pair had committed the crime out of sexual jealousy after seeing Witheridge and Miller together on a beach. There were also allegations that the police had mishandled the DNA evidence. The police case rested heavily on DNA from sperm collected from Witheridge’s body.

While the parents of Witheridge and Miller had initially expressed doubt about the Thai investigation and the guilt of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, after a review of the evidence by the Metropolitan police, the families backed the trial and eventual conviction.

Reuters contributed to this report


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