BANGKOK — Thai authorities say they are ready to cooperate with the British police who have been authorized to observe the controversial investigation into the murder of two British backpackers in southern Thailand last month.
The United Kingdom decided to dispatch their own police to Thailand after a number of UK and Burmese officials expressed concern over Thai police’s inquiry into the murder of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, whose bodies were found on a beach on Koh Tao island on 15 September.
Thai police have accused two Burmese workers of killing the Britons, though many human rights organisations believe the men are "scapegoats" who police have forced – through physical abuse – to confess. Thai police have adamantly denied the allegation.
The arrival of UK authorities will not affect the credibility of the Thai police in any way, a spokesperson of the Royal Thai Police said in a press conference yesterday.
"We are not embarrassed," Pol.Lt. Prawut Thawornsiri said. "Both the UK and Burma are our friends. If they have any doubts about the incident, they can request for information from the Royal Thai Police, and we are willing to cooperate with them."
The UK government says its delegates will focus on two issues: whether forensic tests implicate the Burmese suspects as claimed by the Thai police, and whether the suspects have been mistreated while in police custody.
The Thai authorities previously stalled in responding to the UK's request to observe the murder inquiry, but junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is said to have acquiesced after UK Prime Minister David Cameron personally pressed him about the matter during an international summit in Italy last week.
According to Pol.Lt. Prawut, the police spokesperson, the principle of Thai sovereignty will not allow UK police to directly investigate the case on their own, but Thai police will happily provide them with any information they request.
Moreover, Thai police are no longer involved in the investigation because they have already finished the case file and sent it to the public prosecutor, Pol.Lt. Prawut said.
"This case is now beyond the police’s duty. We cannot violate the power of the Office of Attorney-General. We have to respect and honour their authority," the spokesperson told reporters. "When the Attorney takes up the case, police officers will serve as witnesses in the court … and the court will deliberate whether the suspects are guilty as charged."
Nevertheless, Pol.Lt. Prawut added that Thai police will conduct any additional investigations per request from the British officers to "clarify any issues they don't understand."
Pol.Lt. Prawut did not say when the British delegates will arrive in Thailand.
Pol.Col. Prachum Ruengthong, commander of the local police force that oversees Koh Tao, said he had no objection to the visit by UK police to observe the inquiry.
"If they contact Koh Pha Ngan Police, we will assist them in the fullest way," Pol.Col. Prachum said.
Case file still incomplete
According to Tawatchai Siangjaew, director of 8 Region Attorney Office, the public prosecutor's work in the case will not be affected by the UK delegates because much of the case is already completed.
However, he said that police still have not fully completed the file, despite a statement by police last week to the contrary.
"They only sent part of what we asked for," Tawatchai said. "There are still parts that are not completed."
The public prosecutor will not be able to formally take up the case in the case until these issues are addressed, Tawatchai said.
Thai police have come under intense scrutiny both at home and abroad for their perceived mishandling of the murder case. Police failed to secure the crime scene in the wake of the murder, and have also provided a series of unsubstantiated and contradicting statements to the press.
A number of rights organisations, including the National Human Rights Commission and the US-based Amnesty International, have also raised concerns that the two Burmese suspects, named Win Saw Htun and Saw Lin, were tortured in police custody.
The police have firmly denied the allegation, insisting that the suspects confessed voluntarily after they were implicated by DNA traces found on Witheridge's body.