A young British man was found hanged in a police cell in Thailand after being arrested for possession of a class A drug, police reported in a statement today.
Liam Whitaker, 24, was one day in to a three-week holiday with friends in Thailand when he was found hanging in a police cell in Bangkok at 4.30 early morning on October 15.
Cornwall Coroners Court in Truro today heard conflicting evidence from Mr Whitaker’s friend James Meredew and officers in the Thai police regarding the events leading up to his death, rising suspicion about the circumstances surrounding his death.
According to witnesses and friends, Mr Whitaker arrived in Thailand on October 14 and had undertaken a day of sightseeing before going to a bar with his three friends. Two of the men went back to their room.
Mr Whitaker had dinner with a friend, Mr Meredew, continued drinking and consumed diazepam which they had previously bought at a pharmacy, a strong and long-lasting benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety disorders that can be fatal when mixed with alcohol.
The pair flagged down a tuk-tuk motorcycle and Mr Whitaker spoke to the driver about buying harder drugs. Mr Meredew said: “Liam made some sort of deal with the driver and walked down an alley out of my sight.”
A police officer pulled the pair over and found a bag of powder in Mr Whitaker’s pocket which he later said was 0.55 grams of “Ya ice” or crystal meth. Both friends were taken to Chana Songkram police station on Khao San Rd where Mr Whitaker was put in a police cell. Mr Meredew told the court he was led out and asked to take money out of a cash machine.
“All I could make out was that they wanted 400,000 baht which, around $11,200 USD,” Mr Meredew remembered. “I went out with an official looking man to a cash machine. I took out nearly 5000 baht but couldn’t take out any more.”
After returning to the police station, the officers said they would not release Mr Whitaker. Mr Meredew went back to the hostel where he was staying to tell his friends what had happened with intending returning in the morning.
“I left him with the feeling that the situation would be much the same as in the UK. I left thinking it would all be sorted in the morning when Liam had sobered up,” Mr Meredew said. “I left him in good spirits – he was happy drunk.”
But when he returned at noon the following day with his other two friends, a British consular told the group that Mr Whitaker had hung himself in a police cell during the night. There were no witnesses to his death.
Mr Meredew said: “I was shocked and in complete disbelief.” He gave a statement and told the court he paid 1,000 baht for losing a police officer’s pen. He added: “It seemed like we were talking to gangsters and the Thai police seemed to be corrupt. It didn’t seem safe.”
Mr Meredew persuaded the police to let him leave the station for a break and the three friends went to the airport and escaped to England.
In the documents submitted to the court, the request by the Royal Thai Police to pay money was missing. There is also a dispute over where the pair was arrested. Mr Meredew said they were flagged down in the tuk-tuk while Thai police claim they were walking along Rambutri Rd near Tanao Rd.
Pol Sen Sgt Maj Vittaya Siewaddhiparp, the officer who arrested Mr Whitaker and the first person to find his body, said: “Not long after his friend left the police station, we took the accused to the second floor of the station.”
“The accused then asked to go to the bathroom and we took him to the juvenile detention room. We shut the door but didn’t lock it,” he added. “We continued to record the details of the arrest and waited for the accused.”
Pol Sen Sgt Maj Vittaya Siewaddhiparp said he became concerned after Mr Whitaker stayed in the bathroom far too long. “When I opened the door, I was very shocked. I found that the accused had used his own trouser belt to commit suicide.”
Detective Inspector David Shelton from Devon and Cornwall police said that there was no evidence of a third-party involved in his death as there were not marks on Mr Whitaker’s body to suggest there was a struggle and that it was entirely possible he had hung himself.
He added: “We do have a gap in evidence between what was said between Mr Meredew leaving and Mr Whitaker being found.” The inspector said that Thailand had two police forces and the country was known for corruption. He added that he was surprised not to have seen a statement from the tuk-tuk driver.
Toxicology reports carried out in the UK found that Mr Whitaker had traces of methamphetamine, ketamine, diazepam and alcohol in his urine. Blood samples taken from Mr Whitaker’s body were destroyed in Thailand before they could be tested in the UK.
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- October 31, 2013: "Investigation launched after Helston man found dead in Thailand" (falmouthpacket.co.uk)