Men accused of murdering Norfolk student Hannah Witheridge claim they were threatened with a grisly death if they didn't confess
PUBLISHED: 11:49 10 October 2015 | UPDATED: 09:55 12 October 2015
The two Burmese men accused of killing Norfolk student Hannah Witheridge have both described in detail to a Thai court how they were threatened with a grisly death if they didn't confess, and also physically assaulted by police, and even a translator.
22 year-olds Zaw Lin and Wei Phyo took turns in the dock at the court in Koh Samui as the trial reached its final stages and continued past midnight. Both stand accused killing 23 year old Ms Witheridge from Hemsby and David Miller, 24, from Jersey, but both insist they didn’t do it, and that they were tortured to say they did it.
Zaw Lin claimed he was struck in the chest by someone, while blindfolded, causing serious injury which he says was acknowledged by the police officers present, and he said he was also punched by the translator engaged to help him understand police questioning.
The translator was a Rohinga Muslim from a persecuted minority in Myanmar ethnically opposed to the accused.
“He asked me if I had been involved in the persecution and I said I hadn’t. I was already working in Thailand when it started. Then he punched me,” said Zaw Lin.
The migrant worker claimed the translator told him if he didn’t do everything the police said he would be killed. In previous testimony Zaw Lin described how police put plastic bags over his head until he feared he would suffocate and he subsequently collapsed.
His friend, Wei Phyo said he had also been punched, repeatedly, by police officers when he refused to acknowledge that he was the person recorded running away from the murder scene on CCTV.
“The police asked if that was me in the picture and I said no. I was wearing a black top and long trousers that night, as seen in earlier CCTV footage, and the person they were pointing wasn’t me and was wearing white shorts,” said Wei Phyo. “But when I denied it they punched me. They asked me again and again and I repeated again and again that it was not me on the CCTV but they punched me every time until I had to confess to stop it.”
A report by a British forensic expert was submitted to the court by the pro-bono defence lawyers, which emphatically stated that the man in the picture was not Wei Phyo, based on the person’s gait and body measurements.
While both the accused admit having been on the same beach as the victims on the evening of September 14, 2014, hours before the bodies of Ms Witheridge and Mr Miller were found, they insist they went home to bed after a swim and did not see the pair.
But they said that police told them if they confessed to the killings they would only go to jail for five years, but if they didn’t their bodies would be dismembered, burned and thrown into the sea.
The prosecution maintains that both the accused are guilty and that their DNA was discovered on Hannah’s body. However retesting by Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science of clothing at the scene and the murder weapon, and re-examination of the bodies by the Norfolk coroner, has contradicted some of the prosecution’s findings.
Also, no DNA from either suspect has been found on the alleged murder weapon, a garden hoe, although the victims’ DNA has.
The defence says it has proven that the DNA evidence is unsound due to many unsigned and undated documents, and omissions in the collation of the DNA material.
The clothing Ms Witheridge was wearing when her body was found was not presented at the trial, and was allegedly not tested for DNA.
Wei Phyo will continue to give evidence on Sunday before the trial ends. A verdict is expected in the next two to three months.
The family of David Miller was in court to hear the defendants’ testimony, but the Witheridge family did not return to court this time.