A COURT in Thailand has charged two men in connection with the murders of two British tourists on a holiday island.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21-year-old bar workers from Burma, were accused of killing Hannah Witheridge and Leeds University student David Miller in September.
Mr Miller, 24, from Jersey, and 23-year-old Ms Witheridge, from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, were found dead on a beach on the island of Ko Tao.
The two men were charged with conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to rape and robbery by a public prosecutor at the Provincial Court on the island of Ko Samui, according to deputy police chief spokesman Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen.
Neither man appeared in court to hear the charges, and they will have an opportunity to enter a plea at the next hearing, Mr Kissana said.
Local police claim the men have confessed to the killings, but there has been international concern about the way the case has been handled by the Thai authorities.
The two men were paraded in front of cameras after apparently making confessions, but it was reported that a Burmese embassy official later formally retracted their confessions amid allegations the pair were tortured.
Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the allegations. The UK-based charity cited a lawyer from the Burmese embassy legal team who said he had been told that police had beaten one suspect and “threatened him with electrocution”.
British detectives have flown to the country to assist the Royal Thai Police with the case.
Mr Kissana said: “They have been charged, both by the police and by the public prosecutor.
“They were charged by the public prosecutor this morning. The case is with the public attorney at the moment, and the public attorney has issued the prosecution order against the two offenders already, so now it is up to the court of law to decide.
“The public prosecutor has issued the order in order to forward the case to the criminal court.”
Mr Kissana said the two men will be held in custody and are entitled to request bail at any time.
The indictment was unexpectedly brought forward by three hours, the BBC said, meaning there was not enough time to bring the suspects from prison to hear the charges in court.
But Mr Kissana said in Thailand defendants do not have to appear in court to hear the initial charges, and they will have an opportunity to enter a plea at the next hearing.
He said: “Here in Thailand we are able to submit paperwork to the court without the appearance of the offenders, while they are held in custody. A judge will look at the documentation and decide when they will have the court hearing.”
The case has been repeatedly sent back by the public prosecutor to the police, asking for better evidence to allow the men to be charged.
Mr Kissana said police evidence is handed to prosecutors, “and then it is the prosecutor’s duty to have a look at all the documentation and the case and see if they need more. They will then request the police to re-submit or admit additional documentation to the prosecutor”.
He added: “I cannot confirm how many times documents were sent back to police, but it is normal for the prosecutor to request the police to submit more documents or evidence to make the case complete.”
Concerns have been raised that the two suspects are innocent “scapegoats”, and in October a petition signed by more than 100,000 people was handed in at 10 Downing Street demanding a new, independent investigation into the deaths.
UK police are understood to have been concerned about the verification of DNA samples of the suspects and allegations of their mistreatment.
Ms Witheridge, a student at the University of Essex, was described by her family as “a beautiful, intelligent, loving young woman who poured joy into the lives of all who knew her”.
Mr Miller finished studying civil and structural engineering at Leeds University in June, where he was on course to achieve a first-class degree. His family said he was a “hard-working, bright and conscientious” young man who would be “sorely, sorely missed”.