British police made a surprise visit to Koh Tao on Saturday to inspect locations related to the murders of two backpackers, a source said.
They arrived on the island by helicopter from Bangkok, accompanied by Jarumporn Suramanee, an adviser to the Thai national police chief, and Suwat Jaengyodsuk, acting deputy commander of Thailand’s Metropolitan Police Bureau.
Pol Maj Gen Suwat is the chief investigator in the case, having been assigned earlier by national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang to take over from local officers. Pol Gen Jarumporn is a forensic expert who went to the crime scene days after the murder occurred.
The trip was kept secret, with no police officers in Surat Thani province or Provincial Police Region 8 informed. Police based on Koh Tao and neighbouring Koh Phangan were not allowed to join the meeting or take pictures of the visitors.
Only one rescue volunteer on Koh Tao was brought in to provide information about the events of Sept 15, when Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were killed, according to the source.
The British team went to Sairee beach were the two were murdered, and inspected the nearby location where the two suspects stayed and were seen playing guitar. They also went to the AC Bar where the two victims had been seen before their deaths, and stopped at a place near the clock tower where police claimed they had found Miller’s mobile phone.
They took pictures and asked for information before holding closed-door talks in the meeting room of the Koh Tao municipality before returning to Bangkok.
Three Scotland Yard police were believed to be on the trip from Bangkok, joining two others who had come to the island on Friday, according to the source.
At least one British officer is a homicide detective and another one is an experienced crime scene expert, another source said. They arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday.
Koh Tao mayor Chaiyant Turasakul said he was not aware of the visit and was only ordered to arrange local officials to facilitate their visit.
The visit of the British officers is a response to widespread concern about the Thai police investigation into the killings.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha agreed to a request by British Premier David Cameron to allow British police to observe the work of Thai police when the two met at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan on Oct 17.
Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, two workers from Rakhine state in Burma, have been in custody since 2 October on murder and rape charges. Police said the pair had confessed to the crimes.
However, the suspects this week recanted their confessions, claiming they were tortured and their lives were threatened by Thai investigators. Lawyers acting for them have asked the Office of the Attorney-General to re-investigate all the evidence instead of relying only on the information supplied by police.
Prosecutors also have asked the police for more information to support an indictment, saying the initial 300-page investigative report was not complete.
The National Human Rights Commission is investigating the torture claims and the Lawyers Council of Thailand has stepped in to offer the two men legal assistance and fight the case.
This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on 26 October 2014.