DNA samples were collected from a speedboat driver and fishermen on Koh Tao yesterday as the search for the killers of two British tourists seemed to have stalled.
The 23-year-old speedboat operator, a Thai national, shuttled passengers between Koh Tao and Koh Samui and was arrested for an unspecified drug offence, according to Kiattipong Khawsamang of Surat Thani provincial police.
“We are waiting for the (result) of his DNA test … It is not clear if he is a suspect yet” in the murder case, Kiattipong told AFP.
Police yesterday also collected DNA samples from 30 fishermen on Koh Tao and released them.
Two more suspects, one Thai and foreign worker, were also questioned yesterday by the police. One of the two men is believed to be the “Asian-looking man” caught on the CCTV near the spot David and Hannah were murdered.
A Thai PBS report said a man hiding inside a chedi on Koh Samui was detained by police, who collected DNA samples from him as well.
Police said the suspects are currently held at a safe house on Koh Tao. If their DNA matched that taken from the victims’ bodies, an announcement would soon follow, according to police Maj.Gen. Kiattipong Kaosamang, Surat Thani provincial Police Commander.
Meanwhile the reward for information which leads to apprehension of the killer or killers increased to THB713,000 after an airline executive has added THB500,000.
Police Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, Deputy Interior Governor, said forensic evidence suggests the killer is Asian, but authorities are not confident that he is still on Koh Tao as there were more than 10 fishing boats sheltering on the island the night the victims were murdered because of the storm. The police are trying their best to solve the case and narrow down the suspects, according to Thairath.
The investigation into the grisly double murder has so far drawn a blank, with police under increasing pressure to find the assailants.
The battered bodies of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found on a beach on Koh Tao island one week ago.
Police are also searching for two friends of the boat operator, Kiattipong said, without giving further details.
Deputy National Police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told AFP the man was being questioned but had not been arrested or charged over the murders.
Earlier, Somyot said the DNA of two Asian men was found at the crime scene and had been sent to Singapore for advanced analysis.
Forensic experts in Bangkok discovered traces of semen at the scene but could not find a DNA match with the 12 people they have questioned so far over the case. Those questioned included two of Miller’s British friends and several migrant workers from Myanmar.
The murders rocked the normally laid-back holiday island, which is popular with divers, and delivered a fresh blow to Thailand’s image as a tourist haven after months of political protests that ended in May’s army coup.
Thailand’s most senior police officers have descended on Koh Tao amid accusations – led by the British media – of a bungled investigation.
Critics have said police chased the wrong leads, failed to lock down the island and poorly secured the crime scene in the hours after the badly beaten bodies were found early last Monday.
Witheridge’s family, who travelled to Bangkok to retrieve their daughter’s body, issued a statement on Sunday requesting privacy.
“We have now returned to the UK with our beautiful Hannah,” said the statement, which was released on their behalf by the British Foreign Office.
“Our family is broken and require time to grieve in private – as do Hannah’s many friends,” the family said, adding they will help with the investigation “to bring those responsible to justice.”
Thailand’s military ruler Prayuth Chan-ocha – who is also the prime minister – made a rare public apology on Thursday after he suggested tourists in bikinis could be more vulnerable to attack.
His comments were widely pilloried as sexist and insensitive following the brutal double murder and he has since sent letters of condolence to the British prime minister as well as the victims’ families.
Story: AFP, Coconuts Bangkok
Photo: Morning News