Thursday, December 24, 2015

Koh Tao murders: "A flawed and muddled investigation"

This morning, 24th December, sentence of death was passed on two Myanmar workers,  Zaw Lin and Win Saw, for the murder last year of two young Britons, David Miller and Hannah Witheridge. The headline of the related news item on the BBC website, is a trenchant appraisal of the whole affair, “A flawed and muddled investigation”. The investigation was certainly flawed, the police proved incapable of protecting the site of the murder by using the usual cordoning, allowing crowds to trample the site and disturb who knows what relevant evidence. It became muddled by the early accusations, with little or no evidence, by the police of suspects who quickly proved their innocence. In brief, the two young Burmese admitted guilt, but later claimed their confessions were coerced under torture. Certainly, their rights to legal advice and qualified translators were denied in the time leading up to their confession. The evidence which led to the sentence was DNA samples found on the body of the raped victim, but not on the alleged murder weapon.

The evidence and the sequence of events is detailed and complex. The full BBC account may be read on the website, But this we can say at this stage, there are serious difficulties and questions to be asked, and must be presented to the Court of Appeal for a more reasoned treatment. Meanwhile doubt is justified and the judgement is hardly “beyond reasonable doubt”, the criterion of a valid judgement that involves the death penalty.

Finally, the trial leads to a reflection on the death penalty itself. The trial has raised immense interest and strong feelings regarding guilt or innocence. In such cases the truth often outs only long after the event. Many who have been imprisoned for long years are released. But for those who have been executed there is little impetus to continue the search for truth; a posthumous declaration is cold justice indeed. The death penalty serves no purpose in our judicial system and may cause great injustice.  

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