The heartbroken family of a Helston man found hanged in a Thai prison has warned other holidaymakers of what they describe as a “tourist scam in a dangerous country.”
It follows the death of Liam Whitaker, 24, from Grylls Parc, who was found dead only two days after arriving in Bangkok, in October last year.
Just hours earlier he had been arrested for possession of a class one drug, crystal meth, known in Thailand as “Ya Ice”.
His friend James Meredew told an inquest last Friday that Thai police officers had tried to get the pair to pay 400,000 baht, the equivalent of £8,000 at that time, either as a bribe or bail money.
James was escorted to a cash point but was only able to withdraw £100 that night, which was not accepted.
James left Liam, an engineer by trade, at the police station “in good spirits”, agreeing to return in the morning for a proper interview and possibly with more money.
Yet when he returned the next day, with another friend, Adam Pascoe, they learned Liam, a former Helston Community College student, had been found hanged in a detention area bathroom.
His mum Andrea told the Packet: “It’s quite clear to me it’s a tourist scam in Thailand and I think people should be aware that this happens.
“It’s a dangerous place and we’re heartbroken to lose Liam.”
James told the inquest that he and three other friends, including Liam, had intended to spend three weeks in Thailand, staying the first four days in Bangkok before heading off on a pre-booked jungle trip.
They arrived on October 13 and the next day had enjoyed a few drinks, before taking some Valium tablets they had bought from a late-night pharmacy.
The other two then returned to the hostel, and Liam suggested trying to buy “harder drugs.”
James said the pair got into a tuk-tuk [a three wheeled vehicle], adding: “Liam had made some sort of deal with the taxi driver.”
They set off on a two-minute drive before the driver showed Liam down an alleyway, |with James remaining in the |tuk-tuk.
A few minutes later they returned, got back in the vehicle and travelled to the Rambutri Road, where police officers appeared and searched Liam.
They found a small plastic bag containing 0.55g of clear crystals and arrested him. A search of James found nothing.
A translated statement from Police Senior Sergeant Major Vitaya Sawaddhiparp said he had seen the pair and They looked suspicious and similar to those on drugs. I suspected they might have something illegal on their bodies.”
Thai police statements said that the pair were stopped while walking; however, James had said the tuk-tuk was flagged down.
Statements made no reference to any suggestion of a handover of money and did not contain details of any conversations that took place.
However, they claimed that after James had left the police station Liam had asked to use the toilet.
Officers continued to fill in reports, but after 20 minutes they looked into the bathroom of the juvenile detention room to find Liam hanged.
His time of death was recorded as 4.30am on October 15.
When James returned to the police station he was interviewed by officers, but said they did not seem to be listening to what he had to say, concentrating only on the drugs.
“It seemed like we were talking to gangsters, not the police,” he said.
At one point he paid 1,000 baht to avoid further trouble, after being accused of losing one of the officer’s pens.
The police were holding their passports, but James and Adam pretended they needed them in order to check into a different hotel, but instead headed straight to the airport and returned to the UK.
The cause of Liam’s death was determined as asphyxia due to suspension of the neck (hanging), with coroner Dr Emma Carlyon recording an open verdict.
She said she was not satisfied there was a sufficient level of proof that Liam had killed himself.
She found a discrepancy in two toxicology reports, one made in Bangkok and the second in the UK, with the British one finding levels of sedative diazepam (the Valium), the hallucinogenic ketamine and stimulant methamphetamine that were not present in the Thai report. It was unknown where these last two drugs had come from or the affect they would have had on Liam.
Blood samples taken in Thailand were destroyed following the post-mortem there, before they could be flown to the UK.
Dr Carlyon added that there appeared to be no motive for the hanging, with Liam expecting his friends to return the next day and secure his release.