October 12, 2015 / 5:28 AM / in 2 years

Thai judge to announce verdict in British murder trial in December

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai judge will announce a verdict in the trial of two Myanmar migrant workers accused of killing two British tourists at the end of the year, a defense lawyer said on Monday, following a trial that has been mired in controversy.

Two workers from Myanmar (wearing helmets and handcuffs), suspected of killing two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last month, stand near Thai police officers during a re-enactment of the alleged crime, where the bodies of the tourists were found on the island October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Britons Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found bludgeoned to death on the southern island of Koh Tao last year. A post-mortem examination showed Witheridge had been raped.

The killings raised questions about the safety of tourists in Thailand, the competence of its police force and its treatment of migrant workers. Lawyers for the accused, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 22, have made police incompetence and mishandling of evidence central to their defense.

“The verdict will be on December 24,” chief defense lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat told Reuters. “There is a chance we can still win,” he said, adding that inconsistencies in the police investigation, including not sealing off the crime scene properly, could work in favor of the defense.

During the trial, which began in July, defense lawyers complained of a patchy police investigation marred by disputed forensics.

The trial ended this weekend with the men alleging they were tortured and sexually assaulted to make false confessions.

Rights groups have become involved in the trial and claim the men are being used as scapegoats because of their status as foreign migrant workers in Thailand.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha agreed last year to allow Britain’s Metropolitan police to conduct an inquiry in an attempt to reassure the victims’ families that the judicial process was being carried out in a fair and transparent way.

The Met refused to hand over a report they had compiled on the police investigation and the two accused men lost a high court challenge in August that sought access to the report.

Andy Hall, a Thailand-based activist for the rights of migrant workers who is helping with the defense, said there needs to be an urgent investigation into sexual assault allegations.

The defense and prosecution have been given until Oct. 26 to deliver their written closing statements.

Editing by Nick Macfie

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