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.. KOH TAO - Editorial: BIB Legal Intimidation Sister of Victim


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No time for intimidation




16 Jan 2016 at 01:26

An attempt by the national police chief to determine if legal action can be taken against the sister of Koh Tao rape and murder victim Hannah Witheridge for her Facebook posting is counterproductive.

If taken, this will only bring more denunciation of the police force whose reputation has already taken a hit by its controversial handling of the high-profile murder case.

A proper response from the police, as well as the Court of Justice which was also implicated in Laura Witheridge's message, is to look seriously into the accusations and show the public whether they carry any truth.

Ms Witheridge brought renewed attention to the notorious Koh Tao case involving the brutal killings of two British backpackers, her sister Hannah and David Miller, in 2014.

In a long posting on her Facebook last Sunday, Ms Witheridge alleged the Thai police's investigation into the case was "bungled".

In another part of her message, which she later edited out but which was already featured by foreign news outlets, Ms Witheridge claimed court officials made crude remarks to her family.

She also claimed that her family was offered money to keep quiet about the case, an offer they were appalled by and refused. She said she had received death threats from Thais after her sister's murder.

Ms Witheridge's accusations are serious and damaging. However, instead of threatening to sue her, which will only be interpreted as an attempt to silence the victim's family, the police and court should contact Ms Witheridge and ask for her cooperation to provide them with more information about the allegations.

The police would be best served if they could display to the public that they can carry out a proper investigation by verifying her accusations and prove whether they are valid.

If there is any truth in Ms Witheridge's accusations, however, the police and court must quickly proceed with corrective action.

The Koh Tao murder case was wracked with controversies from the start of the investigation up to the court ruling late last year.

The police initially said Myanmar nationals Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun confessed to the crime. The two later recanted their confessions and claimed they were tortured during the investigation. The police also insisted that it had strong evidence against the two men whose DNA profiles matched those found in Hannah Witheridge's body.

Its handling and interpretation of the DNA evidence, however, was questioned both by a Thai forensic doctor and former chief of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, and international expert Jane Taupin.

During the trial, Khunying Porntip testified that DNA found on a suspected murder weapon, a hoe, did not match samples taken from the two Myanmar suspects. A police forensic unit initially said DNA found on the hoe matched that of the defendants.

Ms Taupin, one of the world's foremost experts on DNA profiling, raised serious concerns over the trustworthiness of the evidence which she said consisted of a table printed on a sheet of paper with handwritten notes on it and no guidance on how to interpret the data.

The recent court ruling giving the death sentence to the two defendants sparked protests in Myanmar including from its armed forces leader. It is clear that questions still linger despite the court's ruling. More will come as the case heads for an appeal.

The only way for the police and court to settle the controversies is to open up, handle each and every accusation professionally, and not to intimidate critics.


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