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Thai court grants evidence review for Koh Tao murders accused


Myanmar migrant workers Ko Wai Phyo (Front) and Ko Zaw Lin Oo (Back) arrive for trial at Samui Provincial Court in Samui island, Surat Thani province, southern Thailand, 30 April 2015. Photo: Sitthipong Charoenjai/EPA

Myanmar migrant workers Ko Wai Phyo (Front) and Ko Zaw Lin Oo (Back) arrive for trial at Samui Provincial Court in Samui island, Surat Thani province, southern Thailand, 30 April 2015. Photo: Sitthipong Charoenjai/EPA

The defence team for two Myanmar migrant workers accused of murdering a pair of British holidaymakers in Thailand last year will be allowed to independently analyse the evidence against their clients, a Thai court ruled April 30.

Ko Zaw Lin Oo and Ko Win Zaw Tun have pleaded not guilty to the murder of 24-year-old David Miller and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the island of Koh Tao in September.

The accused, who have been in custody on nearby Koh Samui since October, face several charges including murder, rape and robbery. 

If found guilty at their trial - which is expected to start in early July - they could face the death penalty, in a case that tarnished Thailand's image as a tourist haven.

The pair's defence team have long voiced concerns over the quality of the Thai police investigation, claiming the crime scene was contaminated and that their clients were tortured into confessing.

"We asked the court... to let us commission independent scientists or experts to check the evidence," Nakhon Chomphuchat, head of the defence team, told AFP after the hearing, adding the request was granted.

He said the defence intended to independently examine DNA samples as well as physical evidence at the crime scene including blood stains and a shirt.

The defendants, both aged 22, confessed to the crimes after their arrest in October but later retracted the admission of guilt, alleging it had been extracted under duress.

Rights groups have accused Thai authorities of using the men as scapegoats.

"We are confident the evidence that we have collected is strong enough to prove the truth in court," Koh Samui's deputy prosecutor, Theerawut Pramhun, told AFP.

In November British detectives travelled to Thailand to review the police investigation into the murders after widespread criticism of blunders that included allowing reporters to trample over the crime scene.

The victims' families have said they have seen strong evidence against the suspects and expressed confidence in the case.

Migrant rights' activist Andy Hall, who is supporting the pair's defence team, said the decision would increase the chances of a fair trial.

"It's incredibly significant," he told AFP. 

"It's important for them to be able to get hold of the original material and get it re-examined. It wouldn't be a fair trial otherwise," he added.

Miller and Witheridge's corpses were discovered on a Koh Tao beach on September 15.  

The brutal murders further damaged Thailand's image as a tourist haven after months of political protests followed by last May's army coup.

© AFP

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