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Two Burmese workers on trial in Thailand for the murder of two British tourists should not be given access to a confidential British police report about the case, a British judge ruled on Tuesday.
Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin, both 22, risk the death penalty if found guilty of murdering Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, in September last year on a beach on Koh Tao, an island popular with backpackers and divers.
Post-mortem examinations showed both suffered severe head wounds and Witheridge was raped.
The case is sensitive because of Thailand’s reliance on tourism, which makes up nearly 10 percent of the economy, and because of questions that have emerged over police tactics.
The two suspects initially confessed in police interviews and were taken to the crime scene where they re-enacted the murders in front of the world’s media. They later retracted the confessions, alleging they had been tortured by Thai police.
The allegations caused disquiet in Britain. In a ruling handed down in London on Tuesday, High Court Judge Nicholas Green said the misgivings were such that Prime Minister David Cameron had discussed the case with his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The two leaders agreed that Britain’s Metropolitan Police would send a team to Thailand to conduct an independent inquiry. However, as it is British policy not to assist foreign police forces in death penalty cases, the scope of the mission was to observe and record the Thai police investigation.
Thai police cooperated fully under the pre-agreed condition that the British team’s final report would be shared only with the Witheridge and Miller families.
But the two murder suspects, who have been on trial since early July, applied to the court to hand over the report, arguing that it might be of use to their defence case.
The Metropolitan Police opposed their application, arguing that disclosure would impede the force’s ability to enter into cooperation agreements with foreign authorities in future.
Having seen the full report, the judge ruled that the interests of the police outweighed those of the suspects.
“In short I have concluded that there is nothing in the police report which is exculpatory, i.e. would be of material assistance to the claimants in the trial,” he said in a summary of his ruling.