"I was sexually abused by Thai police" - Witheridge accused tells court
PUBLISHED: 13:35 11 October 2015 | UPDATED: 15:49 11 October 2015
One of the Burmese men accused of murdering Norfolk student Hannah Witheridge has told a Thai court that he "was sexually abused by Thai police".
Wei Phyo, a 22 year-old migrant worker from Myanmar, has told a panel of three judges investigating the deaths of Ms Witheridge and fellow British tourist David Miller from Jersey, that police stripped him naked in a freezing room and flicked his genitalia hard to make him confess. He explained he was handcuffed at the time and tried to protect himself from the abuse but could not.
Wei Phyo said he was also kicked, punched and slapped repeatedly and threatened with dismemberment, electrocution, and a burial at sea before he finally confessed.
“Police told me that as I had no passport I had no rights, and they told me it had happened before, where Burmese migrant workers were burned in a circle of blazing tyres on Koh Tao island,” Wei Phyo said in court.
The diminutive Burmese defendant said he was finally convinced to say he committed the crimes by a senior police officer who was wearing civilian clothes: “The man said I was young, and I could just say I did it and just go to prison for several years. If I didn’t I would certainly be killed. The interpreter told me he was in a position to help me, so I decided I should confess. After that, I signed many documents but I didn’t know what they said.“
Wei Phyo said he was then instructed by police officers and the translator in how he should say he killed Ms Witheridge and Mr Miller.
Under Thai law there is no requirement for a trial if a suspect confesses to a crime. But Wei Phyo and his co-accused Zaw Lin retracted their confessions when they were given access to lawyers in the following weeks. They had no legal representation during police interrogations.
The court also asked Wei Phyo about a mobile telephone found close to his lodgings. Wei Phyo admitted he had found the telephone on the same beach where Mr Miller was killed and took it home but couldn’t unlock it.
“The next day we heard about the murders and we were worried it might be related to someone involved in the murders. My friend smashed up the phone and threw it into the undergrowth behind our hut,” Wei Phyo told the court.
There had been confusion as to whether this telephone had been positively identified as belonging to Mr Miller. A prosecution witness said it had been confirmed by the British authorities but a defence witness rebutted this. But in the final hours of testimony the prosecution finally received official confirmation from the UK phone company that it was indeed his, via the Thai embassy in London, at the instigation of the Miller family who had sourced the number themselves.
A team of pro bono defence lawyers who have been working on this case for months, insist their clients are innocent and the victims of human rights abuses.
The prosecution has presented evidence to the court to prove that DNA from both men were found on Ms Witheridge’s body.
However the defence has summoned numerous witnesses, including the head of Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS), who have questioned the validity of that evidence and the DNA testing process, which was carried out by Thai police forensic experts.
After Thai police claimed there was no DNA evidence on the wooden handle of the alleged murder weapon, a garden hoe, CIFS retested it and found the victims’ DNA and another incomplete male DNA profile which could not be proven to come from either defendant.
Wei Phyo is the final witness in this legal process which is expected to return a verdict on Thursday December 24.