Buzzfeed News reporting has found that the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) provided supposedly ‘critical’ evidence to the Thai police in a murder investigation without seeking written assurances that it not be used to sentence the suspects to death.
Mobile phone evidence was provided by the NCA and used as a part of the prosecution of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, the Burmese migrant workers who were sentenced to death at the end of last year for the murders of British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge on the island of Koh Tao.
The NCA apparently verbally provided the Royal Thai Police with the serial number of David Miller’s iPhone which was supposedly found, broken, in a property linked to the two murder suspects.
British police are not allowed, except with ministerial permission, to supply evidence to their foreign counterparts in countries that utilise the death penalty without having written assurance that the suspect will not be sentenced to death. This is an important part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
One exception to this rule is if the evidence will be used “to safeguard the integrity of evidence or protect British lives”, decided after consultation with various branches of the UK government.
Fearing for other British tourists on Koh Tao with the murderers still at large, the NCA acted on this exception, according to Buzzfeed, with the caveat that it be used for intelligence only and not in court. Unfortunately no written assurances on this basis were secured and said evidence consequently became a cornerstone of the prosecution against Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo.
The British Foreign Office and Home Office refused to answer whether ministers had provided the NCA with confirmation that they could assist the Thai police.
The case again Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo and their subsequent death sentences handed down on Christmas Eve 2015 has been mired in controversy from the start, with allegations of torture and mishandling of evidence. The two are currently applying to the Court of Appeal in a bid to overturn their sentence.
While the NCA refused to comment specifically on the case in hand, they said in a statement, “In fast-moving investigations, potentially involving threats to life, it is not uncommon for intelligence to be shared verbally, with a record of the information shared being retained by the NCA.
“The NCA monitors human rights concerns closely, having regard to the FCO’s Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance when sharing intelligence. We expect investigations and trials to be conducted in a fair and transparent way, in line with international standards.
“Neither the NCA nor the British Government can interfere in another state’s criminal or judicial processes, just as other governments are unable to interfere in our own processes,” they concluded.