PATONG, PHUKET: Kathu Police Superintendent Grissak Songmoonnark has defended the actions of his men in detaining Aussie holidaymaker Annice Smoel for stealing a branded bar towel from the Aussie Bar in Patong earlier this month.
Col Grissak told the Gazette today that the matter was a clear case of theft and that his officers had sufficient evidence to prove her guilt.
Ms Smoel has been widely quoted in the Australian press as saying she was the victim of a practical joke played on her by friends, who secretly placed one of the bar’s trademark bar towels into her handbag as they were preparing to leave.
As far as Col Grissak is concerned the case in no laughing matter, however.
“The officers checked Annice’s handbag and found the towel inside. The towel is a symbol of this bar. It cannot be bought anywhere else,” he said.
“The police brought her to Kathu Police Station for questioning, but she refused to admit her guilt and continued to insist that she was joking with her friends,” said Col Grissak, who has extensive experience in the ways of foreigners from his work as head of the Tourist Police in Bangkok.
“This is not a joke. The police do not make allegations without facts to back them up,” he said.
The owner of the Aussie Bar insisted [at the time of the arrest] that the police press charges and bring the case to court, he said.
“The police must uphold the law. We kept her in custody for 48 hours before releasing her on bail,” Col Grissak said.
However, it has been widely reported that Ms Smoel actually spent four nights behind bars.
Ms Smoel’s case isn’t the first time the Aussie sense of humor has backfired on the streets of Patong, he revealed.
“We once had a case of an Australian man who stole a shirt from a deaf-mute [street vendor]. He ran away, but was later caught. After he was apprehended, he said he was just playing a joke on the vendor. This is not a joke. If we don’t catch this bad guy, the deaf guy loses his shirt,” he said.
Due to a lack of English language skills among the general population of Thailand, deaf-mute people are commonly employed as retail salespeople on the streets of popular tourist destinations in Thailand – possibly because they are good at using hand gestures.
Col Grissak admitted that the Australian Embassy in Bangkok was concerned with Annice’s case and had asked for details and updates.
“I replied with the facts, saying that we were only enforcing the law,” he said.
Ms Smoel was well looked after during her stay at the Kathu Police Station, where male and female suspects are kept in separate cells and given two meals a day, he continued.
Her case has already been forwarded to the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, he said.
“I do not know when her court hearing will be,” he added.
Locally, some people have joked that Ms Smoel is now facing an extended “Burrowes vacation” and will now be at the mercy of the slow-moving Thai legal system before she will be able to return down under to see her four children. Her passport has been confiscated by the police.
Aussie Bar owner Steve Wood said Ms Smoel’s problems were largely of her own making and that it was his understanding that all she had to do was file a police report and she would have been fined and released.
The Gazette tried to contact Ms Smoel at the Graceland Hotel in Patong but was told by her husband Darren that she was unwilling to say anything unless her solicitor was present.
The Gazette was then told to contact her solicitor, Bernard Murphy of Morris Blackburn, in Melbourne.
Why she would choose to be represented by a solicitor in Australia for a fairly straightforward case in Thailand remains open to conjecture.
Mr Wood, who has made it clear that he now has no interest in pressing charges, has his own explanation.
“I think they are holding out for some money from the media in Australia. Everyone tells me that all she had to do was file a report at the police station, and I can’t think why else she hasn’t already done so,” he said.
Once the case does go to court it is likely Ms Smoel will escape with a small fine.
— Kamol Pirat & James Goyder
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