Accused in Koh Tao murder case want to independently test forensic evidence

Accused in Koh Tao murder case want to independently test forensic evidence
Myanmar national Win Zaw Tun (front) walks out of a prison transport van as he arrives at court for the start of his trial on the Thai resort island of Koh Samui on July 8, 2015.

The double-murder trial over the deaths of two British backpackers on Koh Tao began yesterday with families of the victims issuing statements mourning the deaths of their loved ones.

Myanmar nationals Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun, pleaded not guilty in the court in Koh Samui in Surat Thani province to the murders of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the seaside island in September last year.

The gruesome killings hit national and international headlines and negatively damaged Thai tourism and Koh Tao's reputation as a haven for foreigners.

The UK embassy in Bangkok released the statement of Miller's family, saying they had travelled to Koh Samui for the start of the trial into "the horrific murder of our loving son and brother David Miller, and Hannah Witheridge.

"The act which ended David's life devastated our family and his friends. Just hours before he died, David was talking to us with his usual enthusiasm, describing the beauty of Koh Tao and the friendliness of the Thai people. Over the coming weeks we hope to gain a better understanding as to how such a wonderful young man lost his life in such idyllic surroundings in such a horrible way."

"This pain will remain a part of us for the rest of our lives. We have borne our thoughts in silence, as we have not wanted to influence any court proceedings, but simply want to see justice done fairly and openly. We ask the media to afford David and Hannah dignity in the reporting of this trial and also that we are given privacy and respect while we battle with our emotions during the difficult weeks ahead."

For Witheridge's family, the statement said they also attended the trial, which they described as "the horrific murders of our beautiful Hannah, and David Miller". We stand united in our grief with David's family and together wish to have privacy to follow the trial.

"Hannah was a beautiful person, inside and out, she brought a room alive just being there. She was fun, honest and loved life. Her bright future was brutally ended, leaving those who loved her broken with no answers."

They also asked that the media treat Hannah with dignity in their reporting of the trial. "Speculation, rumour and theory have been incredibly hurtful to our family and Hannah's friends, making an already unthinkable time harder to bear.

"Please allow the police and the court to do their jobs during the coming weeks and months. We, of course, want to see those responsible for the brutal murder of our precious girl brought to justice."

When the murders occurred, the UK government invited Thai diplomats from the Thai embassy in London to give a briefing - and UK Prime Minister David Cameron raised the issue when he met his Thai counterpart, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Summit in Italy.

Both suspects backtracked on their earlier confession, saying they were forced to confess by Thai police. They have been in custody since October and yesterday arrived at court in a prison van with their feet shackled.

When the trial opened yesterday Andy Hall, an activist for a migrants group helping to fund the pair's case, told AFP the judge would decide whether the defence could independently test the controversial forensic evidence against their clients today.

"We feel confident he will allow it," he said of tests the defence had been demanding for months in order for a "fair trial". The defence team had also complained about not being given access to the forensic evidence, despite the court initially ruling in April that they could run their own independent tests. "There's a real lack of adequate disclosure by the prosecution and that worries us about whether there will be a fair trial," Hall, from the Migrant Worker Rights Network, told AFP before the judge confirmed a decision on this would be reached today.

The forensic material from the crime scene has been used by Thai police and prosecutors to insist they had charged the right men, saying it strongly pointed to the Myanmar pair as the perpetrators.

The victims' families have also previously said they have confidence in the case after British investigators reported back to them following a visit to Thailand late last year.

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