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Kirsty Jones

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 21 June 2007

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Watts.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank you and Mr. Speaker for granting me the opportunity to hold this important debate. It is not a debate that I would wish to have; in fact, I would be very pleased if we did not need to have it. The fact remains, however, that the murderer or murderers of Kirsty Jones still remain at large. They have not been identified, charged or convicted. I called for this debate on the basis of the determination of Kirsty’s parents, Sue and Glynn Jones, to ensure that the perpetrator of the crime is identified, and also because of the good, substantial work that has been carried out by Dyfed-Powys police.

Kirsty Jones lived in Tredomen, near Brecon, and was 23 when, in the summer of 2000, she left home on a three-month backpacking holiday around the world. In August 2000, Kirsty attended a three-day trek in the mountain region of Chiang Mai province. Hill treks are a popular tourist attraction. The guides are mainly from the Karen hill tribes of northern Thailand. This was the case on the trek attended by Kirsty, and one of the guides was known as Narong.

On the evening of 9 August 2000, Kirsty was drinking in Chiang Mai with some friends she had met. At about 11 pm, she visited the night market to buy presents for her family. She was alone. Fifteen minutes after midnight on 10 August 2000, screams could be heard coming from her room in the Aree guesthouse, where she was staying. She was heard to say, “Get out, get out. Help me, help me.” A number of guests gathered outside the room, but tragically, did not enter. Later the next morning, the body of Kirsty Jones was found in her room. She had been raped and strangled.

The Thai press attacked the local police and accused them of incompetence in dealing with the scene and the investigation. Very quickly, the police publicly announced that Andrew Gill, the guesthouse owner, was responsible for the murder and that DNA evidence taken from the scene would confirm this. However, examination of this forensic evidence quickly established that the crime scene DNA was of south-east Asian origin and eliminated Gill as the donor. This was a significant event for the Thai police, as there was no evidence to link Gill to the murder.

Two witnesses then gave statements implicating Gill. These were Surin Champranet, the guesthouse co-owner, and his girlfriend. Both stated that they had seen Gill in Kirsty’s room at the time of the murder, and later leaving her room. Gill was charged with conspiracy to murder. This was the first time that a murder conspiracy charge had been made in Thai law. Gill was then held in prison in Bangkok.

On 30 November 2000, the acting district attorney, Mr. Umnaj Chotichai of the Attorney-General’s office, announced that the charges against Gill were to be dropped. He stated that the witness testimony of Surin and his girlfriend was unbelievable and contradicted their original testimony. There was also no forensic evidence to implicate Gill. This was later confirmed by the Thai Attorney-General in a meeting with Dyfed-Powys police. All these facts have been reported in both the Thai and British press and are a matter of public record.

Kirsty’s parents, Susan and Glynn, were understandably disappointed by this development. My predecessor, Richard Livsey, contacted Baroness Scotland, then the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Baroness Scotland supported the involvement of the UK police and, following contact with Scotland Yard, it was agreed that Dyfed-Powys police would be best placed to provide support to the family and contact with the Thai authorities. It was agreed that the most practical and realistic support we could offer was through family liaison and access to the Forensic Science Service.

The Welsh force has visited Thailand on four occasions, on the last with members of the family. On the initial visit, it was established that the case had been closed in Thai law. Following a considerable amount of negotiation and persuasion by Dyfed-Powys police and Kirsty’s parents Susan and Glynn, the Thai Attorney-General had to be persuaded that the case should be reopened.

The Attorney-General agreed to reopen the case on the basis of the arguments of the Welsh police officers. As a result, a number of exhibits were brought to the United Kingdom by the Thai police for examination at the Forensic Science Service laboratory. It was clear at that time that the origin of the DNA was south-east Asian. Examination of the exhibits and samples provided a full DNA profile, and the most interesting line of inquiry.

Dyfed-Powys police and the Forensic Science Service suggested parameters in which a mass screening could be carried out in the locality of the murder. That has not been pursued to its natural conclusion, and there appears to be a lack of understanding on the part of the Thai police of its value to the investigation.

Dyfed-Powys police have never been given access to original statements made by witnesses in the case. There is a suggestion from the Thai police that the forensic evidence was planted on the scene following the murder. The Welsh police cannot and will not comment on that. What they can say, on the basis of a mature assessment of the forensic evidence, is that the key to the investigation is the identification of the donor of the DNA evidence. It is that person who will provide the answer to how it got there. In any event, it is essential to adopt a structured approach to locating the donor.

The Thai Department of Special Investigation has yet to trace and interview key witnesses who made statements implicating the only person who has been charged with links to Kirsty’s murder. There are other key witnesses, yet to be interviewed by the DSI, who have previously indicated that they have knowledge of attempts to contaminate the scene by a Thai national linked to the guesthouse. Dyfed-Powys police have had constantly to suggest lines of inquiry to the DSI. When told that one of the key witnesses had been found dead, they insisted that DNA and fingerprints be taken from the body, which later confirmed that they were not those of the man whom they wanted to question.

That is just one instance of the DSI taking its cue from the Welsh police. In fact, it would appear that when the DSI is not pursuing lines of inquiry fed to it by Dyfed-Powys police, it is failing to establish direct contact with them. For example, on a number of occasions the Thais have agreed to forward an official letter of request with supporting documents to enable key witnesses to be interviewed again in the United Kingdom. That has still not materialised. The Welsh police are reluctant to proceed without that letter of authority, as the Thais retain primacy in the investigation and it needs to be clear on what grounds interviews are to take place.

In the past 12 months, the family and the Welsh police have continually pressed the Thai investigators to make progress with the investigation. The process has been slow and at times painful, and it is a constant struggle to obtain accurate information from the Thai authorities. It appears that action takes place only after pressure is placed on the Thai authorities by the United Kingdom police, the family, or the Foreign Office, which has provided valuable assistance.

Kirsty’s parents have waited nearly seven years for justice for their daughter, whose murderer is still at large. Both her parents and Dyfed-Powys police want to ensure continued support from the Foreign Office in securing a thorough investigation from the Thai authorities. I have come here today to ask the Minister if he will continue to lobby the Thai authorities to put maximum effort into bringing the perpetrators of the crime to justice, and in doing so bring closure to the family and make Thailand a safer place for young people and tourists to visit. That can be done in a number of ways.

Once Dyfed-Powys police had gained access to forensic evidence from the crime scene, they were able to ascertain that the donor was of south Asian origin. The next step must be to hold a mass DNA screening in the Chiang Mai area, within structured parameters. That has been requested by the Welsh police, but has never materialised. Will the Minister use his influence to bring this about? The answers to what happened on that fateful night in August 2000 are in Chiang Mai, and this is a vital step in finding Kirsty’s murderer.

Key witnesses in the case must be re-interviewed, including all those who were staying in the guest house at the time of the murder, the co-proprietor of the guest house where Kirsty was staying, his girlfriend, and witnesses who suggested that the scene had been contaminated by Surin Champranet. A further issue is the lack of initiative by the Thai authorities in developing new lines of inquiry. Taking their cue from the Welsh police will help in finding Kirsty’s murderer, but we also need to know that they are proactively pursuing the perpetrators of this crime, and not simply waiting for suggestions from overseas.

Kirsty’s parents are unable to attend the debate, but have asked me to express their deep frustration at the slow progress made by the Department of Special Investigations. What started as a botched investigation of Kirsty’s murder, with widespread contamination of the crime scene, has led to charges being laid and later withdrawn. The family and Dyfed-Powys police do not have unrealistic expectations of the Thai authorities; all they ask is for a methodical and professional investigation of what is a very detectable crime. They have received many promises of action from the Thai authorities, many of which have yet to materialise. There is a sustained lack of progress in the Thai investigation; further to that, the Thai authorities seem to act only once pressure has been placed on them by the UK police or the Foreign Office.

I ask the Minister to use all the facilities at the disposal of the Foreign Office to encourage the Thai authorities not to give up on this case, for the sake of the family and the safety of young people travelling in Thailand.

I thank the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) for requesting this debate on behalf of his constituents. It follows a meeting in March 2006, requested by the hon. Gentleman, which was attended by my predecessor, the current Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Mrs. Jones and Dyfed-Powys police, but which, sadly, the hon. Gentleman could not attend.

I am grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to express my sincere condolences to the Jones family following the tragic murder of their daughter, Kirsty, in an horrific incident in Thailand on 10 August 2000 and to assure the Joneses of our continued support. I have arranged to meet the Thai ambassador following the debate to discuss Kirsty’s case and the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

Kirsty was enjoying a backpacking holiday through Asia when, at the age of 23, her life was brutally cut short. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has already offered his condolences to the Jones family on Kirsty’s senseless death. I would like to add to my condolences those of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Few people can understand the grief that a parent feels when they lose a child, regardless of how old that child might have been. I experienced the devastating loss of my beloved only son eight years ago, and I know that I shall never fully come to terms with his death. Perhaps more than most, therefore, I am able to empathise with Mr. and Mrs. Jones. That said, I would never have the presumption to suggest that I understand what the family has gone through since Kirsty’s tragic death. In particular, I am aware of the family’s concerns regarding the progress made in the investigation into Kirsty’s murder, which have been so eloquently set out by the hon. Gentleman.

I propose to set out the help we have given, and what we are doing. It is without reservation that I say to Mr. and Mrs. Jones, through the hon. Gentleman, that I give an assurance of our continued assistance. We will, in short, continue to do all that we properly can to ensure that the investigation continues.

To Mr. and Mrs. Jones there is, of course, only one case of concern. I have no desire to suggest any comparisons with other cases, but I think that it is appropriate to introduce some context into a case such as Kirsty’s, particularly as the hon. Gentleman raised the wider issue of the safety of young people.

Thailand is an increasingly popular destination for British travellers with more than 850,000 of them making a visit there every year. The draw is obvious—the climate, the exotic culture and the regional history are but three factors that entice backpackers and luxury travellers alike. The vast majority of the visits are trouble-free. However, our consular operation is committed to delivering high-quality support to British nationals abroad, in particular when crises arise and tragedy strikes.

Sadly, in 2006 our consular team provided assistance to 252 families who had suffered the death of a family member in Thailand. In the majority of those cases the death was from natural causes, but three of those who died were, tragically, murdered. I therefore fully recognise that the murder of a family member is a totally devastating, life-changing experience for loved ones of the victims. I also recognise the need of the bereaved families to have justice.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the background of Kirsty’s case and the concerns that her family have about the progress made by the Thai authorities’ investigations. While we cannot interfere in another country’s legal process, we can make appropriate representations to local authorities if we have concerns that the investigation is not being carried out in line with local procedures. I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman that we are committed to continuing to make representations on Kirsty’s case where appropriate.

The Thai Department for Special Investigations—the DSI—has been conducting a reinvestigation of Kirsty’s murder since June 2005. The DSI fully understands the close interest that we take in ensuring that everything can be done to find Kirsty’s murderer. Despite having no legal obligation to do so, DSI representatives have regularly met colleagues from our embassy in Bangkok to relay updates on the progress made and to answer questions from the family and Dyfed-Powys police.

We have put a considerable amount of work into building a close and open relationship with the DSI to ensure that as much information as possible is given to the family. It is often the case that the professionalism and effectiveness of foreign police forces are called into question when investigations are not concluded quickly. I have never felt the need to comment on such issues, as I feel that it would be inappropriate for me to do so in the context of a consular case. I need to maintain good relations. Suffice it to say that I probably do not need to remind the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—our mission statement—is:

“To work for UK interests in a safe, just and prosperous world.”

We take every opportunity to promote British standards of good governance across the globe. We do so with the caveat of respecting sovereign jurisdiction and without the desire to interfere in the legal processes of another state.

The hon. Gentleman raised his concerns over the delay in the DSI producing a formal request for UK police assistance on certain aspects of the investigation. As he mentioned, the DSI undertook to issue that request during a video-conference with the family and Dyfed-Powys police in February this year. I will follow that up with the ambassador. During our most recent meeting with the DSI on 4 June, the newly appointed director of foreign affairs confirmed that, due to renewed efforts in its lines of inquiry—of which the Jones family are aware—he judged it unwise to press ahead immediately with the request for further assistance. He would instead order the request to be drafted so that, when the DSI deemed it to be appropriate, it could be passed swiftly to the UK police.

I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman that we continue to be committed to providing the family with a high level of consular assistance. Our embassy in Bangkok will continue to meet the Thai Department for Special Investigations to relay updates in its investigation to the family and in turn to relay any questions that it may have.

As I have said, I cannot begin to imagine the distress that the Jones family continue to feel about Kirsty’s murderer not being brought to justice. I think that the activity that I have mentioned highlights that we have already made the Thai authorities, and in particular the DSI, keenly aware of our interest. We will continue to do so and I give the hon. Gentleman my assurance on that.

I should like to close by saying that it is not natural for parents to outlive their children. I am keenly aware of, empathise with and understand the distress caused by the loss of Kirsty. The family grieve for two lives, the one they had with Kirsty from the moment she was conceived and the one that was yet to come and was so cruelly taken away from them. They have my heartfelt sympathy and my thoughts are with them. More than that, I will do what I can to bring the murderer to justice. I wish to meet the family, if they wish to meet me; it would be my honour to do so. If the hon. Gentleman will put that request to the family, I will arrange it as soon as I can.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has prosecuted the case on behalf of the family and, in particular, on behalf of Kirsty.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Six o’clock.