Index > Authors> ChinaWire> British Backpacker Murder Trial in Thailand: New DNA Evidence

British Backpacker Murder Trial in Thailand: New DNA Evidence

The garden hoe allegedly used to bludgeon to death two young British backpackers on a Thai holiday island did not carry the DNA of the Burmese men on trial for their murders, a key defence witness has testified.

Zaw Lin (right) and Win Zaw Tun arrive at Koh Samui courthouse

Forensic evidence is crucial to the prosecution case against the two migrant workers as they have both retracted confessions that they later claimed were given under torture by Thai police.

Pornthip Rojanasunand, the head of Thailand's forensics institute, told the Koh Samui court that DNA found on the alleged murder weapon does not match that ofthe two accused Burmese men.

Win, one of the suspects during the re-enactment of the alleged murder of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge

The bodies of Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and David Miller, 24, were found on the neighbouring island of Koh Tao a year ago with terrible head injuries.

Prosecution witnesses have said that Miss Witheridge had been raped and DNA from Zaw Lin and Wei Phyo, both 22, was found in her body. The defence is also expected to seek to challenge the reliability of that evidence.

A final picture of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller taken just hours before they were brutally murdered on Koh Tao. Hannah Witheridge (left) and David Miller (second right)

But during its case, the prosecution did not submit any forensic evidence about the alleged murder weapon – a hoe used to sweep the beach that was recovered nearby the next morning.

DNA samples were taken from the Burmese men, who worked in restaurants on the popular tourist island, when they were arrested two weeks after the murders.

But police witnesses said they did not test the hoe for DNA. They testified that they examined the item for fingerprints but found none.

Hannah Witheridge (left) with sister Laura

Dr Pornthip said that her team of forensic experts later tested the hoe at the request of defence lawyers. They found two DNA samples on the hoe, but neither matched the DNA profiles of the accused, she said.

"My experts were able to identify one full DNA profile and one partial DNA profile from the handle of the hoe,” she said. “However when I placed these two profiles against those provided by the Royal Thai police, said to be from the two Burmese defendants, they did not match.”

Dr Pornthip, Thailand’s most famous forensic scientist, told the court that DNA would have been left on the hoe by anyone who handled it for more than 15 seconds.

She detailed other lapses in the police investigation. The pools of blood in the sand at the murder scene shown in police photographs were not tested for DNA and one of the bodies was before rigor mortis set in, potentially destroying crucial evidence, she said.

She also said that as the bodies were not forensically examined for several hours, it was impossible to assess the prosecution theory that the two murdered Britons had been having sex on the beach.

The prosecution has argued that the two accused men killed Mr Miller and then raped and murdered Miss Witheridge after seeing them having sex as they walked home late at night from a seafront bar.

The dead Britons were not a couple and had just bumped into each other on Koh Tao, but were both staying in the same beachside bungalow complex with friends.

The brutal murders caused headlines around the world and undermined Thailand’s reputation as a tourist haven, putting the Thai police under intense pressure to find the killers.

Relatives of Hannah Witheridge comfort each other at the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok

The relatives of the murdered Britons have attended earlier stages of the trial but none were in court for Friday’s hearing.

The trial is scheduled to finish in late September. The three-judge panel could impose the death penalty if the accused men are found guilty.

PROFILE

Hannah Witheridge


Hannah Witheridge

  • Age:

  • 23

  • From:

  • Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

  • About:

  • Graduated from the University of East Anglia in 2012 with a BA in education. After working in Norwich helping to organise wedding shows, she left in 2013 to begin a master’s in speech and language therapy at the University of Essex


Tribute

“Hannah was a beautiful, intelligent, loving young woman who poured joy into the lives of all who knew her. “She was selfless and caring and made each and every day that little bit more wonderful"

  • - Statement from the Witheridge family



PROFILE

David Miller


David Miller

  • Age:

    24

  • From:

    Jersey

  • About:

  • Studied civil and structural engineering at Leeds University. Completed a six-week work placement at a mining company in Australia during summer 2014 before embarking on his trip through South East Asia. He had been due back later in the autumn to finish a master’s degree


Tribute

“David was an artist by temperament, so talented. He had a creative eye that he carried with him through life and in his degree. He was hard-working, bright and conscientious, with everything to look forward to"

  • -Statement from the Miller family