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Bangkok squad called in to catch Phuket “bag snatch killer’

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PHUKET: More than 50 police officers, including a team from the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, have been dedicated to catching the two men who attacked Australian tourist Michelle Smith, 60, who was stabbed to death in Kata last night.

Ms Smith died after being stabbed in the chest, puncturing her heart and a lung, when a bag snatch attempt went tragically wrong.

Her friend, Tammee Lee Lynn, suffered a slash to her right arm in the same attack.

“We have already provided all the details we have to all police stations in Phuket, and officers from Phuket City Police and Phuket Provincial Police are assisting in the investigation,” Chalong Police Superintendent Col Sirisak Warasiri told the Phuket Gazette this afternoon.

“A team of Crime Suppression Police officers from Bangkok have been dispatched to Phuket. They are in Phuket already,” he added.

At a press conference at Katathani Phuket Beach Resort, where Ms Smith was staying with other travel agents on a familiarization trip to Phuket, Col Sirisak was brief in the details he gave to the media.

“Hotel CCTV footage shows the two men riding a blue Honda Dream motorbike. The driver wore a white shirt and dark pants and the passenger wore a denim shirt and jeans.

“We did not get the license plates, but we have expert police artists creating sketches of the culprits from the images recorded on CCTV cameras,” he explained.

“We have more details about the suspects but are unwilling to share that information at this stage as it may jeopardize the investigation,” Col Sirisak added.

Police were on patrol in the Kata area as usual last night. “But we didn’t patrol the area where the attack occurred as we never thought it would be a dangerous area,” he said.

Col Sirisak admitted that police were under considerable pressure to catch the killer. “We will try to arrest these two men as soon as possible since the incident directly affects Phuket’s tourism,” he said.

Katathani resort Managing Director Sombat Atiset expressed his condolences to the family and friends of Ms Smith.

“I offer my deepest sympathies to Ms Smith’s family and friends. We try our best to take care of our guests and their belongings, but what happened last night was beyond our expectations,” he said.

The resort has 110 CCTV cameras in different locations throughout the premises and eight more cameras monitoring the road for 800 meters, from Kata Hill to in front of the resort. “We also have 23 security guards on our staff to patrol the hotel 24 hours a day,” Mr Sombat explained.

In light of the attack, the resort will now boost its security measures. “We have asked Chalong Police to set up more checkpoints around hotel areas and have volunteers patrol the area at night. We will also increase the number of hotel security guards and CCTV cameras in the hotel,” he added.

Geoff Smith, Michelle’s husband of 35 years, was “absolutely devastated” by the incident.

“She loved life, she loved traveling,” he told Australia’s Channel 9 news.

“She was a very experienced travel agent. She’d worked in travel for 40 years. It was her passion, it was her life and she’s been to many exotic places around the world.

“There were no boundaries to her horizons. For the places she’s been on her own and with escorted tours, I can’t believe it,” he said.

Mr Smith said that the couple’s three children were still coming to grips with the news.

“They are all devastated,”‘ he said. “She was a wonderful mum and we have wonderful children.”

Meanwhile, attack survivor Ms Lynn and the delegation of other travel agents she and Ms Smith were traveling with flew back to Australia today. The 10 delegates were on a familiarization trip, so that they could accurately assess how to recommend Phuket as a travel destination to potential tourists looking to book a holiday.

Arrangements are being made for the body of Ms Smith to be repatriated to Australia.

— Orawin Narabal

 

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