Family of Hannah Witheridge praised for ‘phenomenal courage’ during her murder and the trial

Hannah Witheridge and David Miller. Photo: PA/PA Wire

Hannah Witheridge and David Miller. Photo: PA/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The family of a Norfolk woman brutally murdered in Thailand have been praised for showing 'phenomenal strength of character' as two men were found guilty of killing her and a fellow backpacker.

A protestor displays a picture featuring Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, and Zaw Lin close to Thai Em

A protestor displays a picture featuring Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, and Zaw Lin close to Thai Embassy in Yangon during a demonstration against a Thai court's verdict sentencing them to death, in, Yangon, Myanmar, Friday, Dec. 25 2015. - Credit: AP

The family of a Norfolk woman brutally murdered in Thailand have been praised for showing 'phenomenal strength of character' as two men were found guilty of killing her and a fellow backpacker.

Myanmar men Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo (also known as Win Zaw Htun) were sentenced to death in the early hours of Christmas Eve after being found guilty by three judges of murdering Hemsby woman Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, of Jersey, on the tiny island of Koh Tao in September last year.

Despite the verdict, it appears unlikely the case will be closed for some time yet after the 22-year-old team of lawyers and human rights campaigners said they would be launching an immediate appeal.

The Thai police investigation and subsequent trial have come under intense scrutiny amid a raft of allegations including torture of the accused to extract a confession, later retracted, shoddy practices and missing pieces of evidence.

British human rights activist Andy Hall

British human rights activist Andy Hall - Credit: AP

Prosecutors, however, said DNA evidence collected from the scene and the bodies of the victims linked Lin and Phyo to the deaths.

Judges ruled the pair beat them to death with a garden hoe on a beach on the island and left their bodies for dead. They were also found guilty of rape of Miss Witheridge.

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Miss Witheridge's parents were not present for the verdict, but released a statement shortly after describing their 'whirlwind of emotions'. Mr Miller's family said the evidence against the pair was 'absolutely overwhelming'.

The Witheridge family statement, which revealed the University of Essex, which she attended, has introduced an award for outstanding excellence in clinical placements in her memory, said: 'Our family, once again, find ourselves in the path of a whirlwind of emotions and difficulties. In these challenging times, we try to concentrate our efforts on remembering our beautiful Hannah for the fun, vibrant and incredible young woman that she was.

Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, right, and Zaw Lin, left, both 22, are escorted by officials after th

Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, right, and Zaw Lin, left, both 22, are escorted by officials after their guilty verdict at court in Koh Samui, Thailand, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015. A Thai court on Thursday sentenced the two Myanmar migrants to death for killing British backpackers David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the resort island of Koh Tao last year, a crime that focused global attention on tourist safety and police conduct in the country. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn) - Credit: AP

'She would have gone on to make a significant difference to the lives of many. As a family, we are touched by this beautiful tribute to Hannah as the hard working, dedicated young woman that she was.'

Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, who has got to know the Witheridge family, paid tribute to their courage. He said: 'The verdict will have brought back lots of painful memories and my thoughts are with them, especially at this time of the year.

'It is just such a terrible loss and so unnecessary. I must praise the family who have shown such dignity throughout this ordeal. It really has been phenomenal. I was struck by just how together and focused they were, showing strength of character all the way through. Your heart truly does go out to them.'

Yesterday, Amnesty International called for a full investigation into claims the migrants were tortured.

Remembering Hannah as a gifted, pretty young woman - By Liz Coates

Looking confidently into the camera in a pretty summer dress no-one could have imagined the horror that was to come. The now-familiar photograph of Hannah Witheridge was the image chosen by her heartbroken family for the order of service at her flower-filled funeral in her home village of Hemsby more than a year ago - sealing the way she will be remembered by many. The 23-year-old had travelled to Thailand in search of adventure and new experiences. Instead the trip ended in horror and tragedy.

Tributes poured in for the bright, gifted student who completed a BA in education studies at the University of East Anglia. A talented horse rider, she was by all accounts a model young woman who had done everything possible to make a success of her life, forging friendships wherever she went.

In Hemsby where the large Witheridge family are well known for their involvement in the holiday industry, hearts were broken and the mood was sombre for months.

Hannah, a former pupil at Langley School in Norwich, who had been studying for an MA in speech therapy at the University of Essex in Colchester prior to her departure, was described by her tutors as a 'funny, witty and hard-working young woman' and held in high affected by colleagues at Archant having also worked with the events team for around a year.

Speaking this week, Yarmouth borough councillor Shirley Weymouth, whose council ward includes Hemsby where she also lives, said Hannah was thought of every day. There were always fresh flowers on her grave which was lit up with solar lights - the parish council having made an exception over the usually banned decorations given the horrific circumstances.

James Bensley, 37, who owns a cafe in Hemsby, described Hannah as one of the happiest people you could ever meet.

'She was full of life. She took it all on the chin and was just so happy,' he said.

Hannah's former riding teacher Heather Cook, of Croft Farm in Filby, who taught her from the age of four said: 'It must be so incredibly hard for the family. I cannot see how they can ever move on since there is absolutely no sense to be made of it. We remember her as being really happy, really bubbly and just a lovely person. She had a lovely way with horses and was very quiet and calm.'

From the Thai court

Dramatic scenes were played out as the verdict was announced in the Koh Samui courtroom.

The occupants of the court room had been asked to stand for the decision. The mother of Wai Phyo, one of the men convicted, cried out as her legs collapsed from under her. Both men turned to hug their sobbing mothers until they were separated by prison guards. Even the translators were crying.

The Witheridge family were not present for the final moments of the trial, but speaking outside court David Miller's family insisted the facts were irrefutable. As Michael Miller, David's brother, told journalists outside the court that 'justice had been served' the wails from the condemned mens' mothers threatened to drown out his words. Mr Miller, flanked by parents Ian and Sue, said: 'David was hacked down from behind, dragged into the sea, and left to die. That will live with us forever.' He said that, after hearing the evidence during the trial, the Thai police investigation was 'not the so-called shambles it was made out to be'. He added: 'We hope the campaigners who have relentlessly promoted this case will respect the process of law and the decision of the court.'

The war of words online across Thailand has already begun, with a storm of protest on social media, labelling it a 'miscarriage of justice'. Around 1,000 people staged a protest outside the Royal Thai Embassy, in Myanmar, after the verdict.

Appeals likely to mean case will carry on

The defence team, made up of lawyers and human rights campaigners, have already said they plan to appeal the verdict. British born human rights campaigner Andy Hall said the case would drag on for some time yet. He added: 'There will be a lengthy appeals process. That is very much what happens in cases like this, they just go on for years.' The Thai courts have two stages of appeal, the Court of Appeal and The Supreme Court, where cases can sometimes take years to be completed. Mr Hall, originally from Spalding, in Lincolnshre, added: 'The law says guilt should be proven beyond reasonable doubt and we believe that was not the case.' See Monday's paper for a full interview with Mr Hall.