Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Problems and Adventures by John Shaw MBE

These tales are some of the problems and adventures that came to John Shaw MBE from British citizens when he was Honorary British Consul in Chiang Mai from 1990 to 1995. Some stories are sad, others hilarious; have a read. They are true.


Tom was, by profession, an electrician. Aged twenty -eight he had worked in a shoe factory in Leicester for seven years. Bored and lovelorn he gave up his job and decided to travel the world. He meandered through Indonesia and then spent a year in Australia doing odd jobs to support himself. Now on his way home he was spending the last of his money in Thailand , first on the beaches of the south and now, for his last few days, in Chiang Mai until his money ran out.
It never occurred to him that His Majesty's Government would give him free accommodation for an additional unexpected forty-two days in Chiang Mai.

Tom checked into the Rim Koo Guesthouse where he was asked to share a room with an Australian who had been there for some time. This man had not paid his rent for several weeks so finally the police were called. They burst into the room where Tom lay quietly on his bed smoking pot. The Australian was not there so the police, in frustration, arrested Tom.

After a week in custody at the central police station he was taken to court. The prosecutor asked for B80,000 for bail which, of course, he could not pay. Captain Supachai said that the pot, and he only had one joint, would have to be sent to Bangkok for analysis and that it could take three months before the result was known. Tom was sent to the main prison.

I visited regularly and he was always cheerful, saying that he was in no hurry and that he had never expected to have a paid holiday (prisoners receive an allowance of seventy baht a day which is set against their fine).

After forty-two days he was finally arraigned and taken to court shackled and dressed in orange prison garb. When I arrived, I discovered that the prosecutor's office had not sent the papers to the court. I managed to find them and the trial began. As we waited for the judge I chatted to the warder - an attractive girl from Lamphun called Mem who said that she often went to Bubbles disco, did I go too? At this point the judge entered. So small she could hardly see over the desk, in one minute flat she sentenced Tom to a fine of three hundred baht and ordered him to keep the peace for one year.

Tom was led back to the holding pen busy working out how much money was owed to him from his seventy baht daily allowance. From there he was to be taken back to the prison and then released. I waved goodbye to Mem.

I heard that he was released that very evening and went to spend the night with the missionaries before heading off to Pattaya for a well earned rest.
Tom wrote to me from England .
'Hello John,
Thank you for your support and help with my pridiciment. Could I ask another favour of you, could you please get in touch with the girl called 'A' at the guesthouse and retrieve my money (approx B9700). If you do get it back please give her B200 as a token of my appreciation. Thank you.'
I did get the money back. I never saw Mem again, perhaps next time a Brit goes to court.

Proper Consuls work only during office hours and certainly not at weekends. Honorary Consuls, working from home, are not so lucky. So it was that the telephone rang at eight o'clock one Saturday morning.

'Please help me, I can't believe it, I am at the police station. I have been arrested for spilling a cup of tea and they are threatening to put me in prison. Please can you come and help me.'
Later Danielle wrote about her experience.

"'Madam, welcome to Chiang Mai!' cooed an attractive young woman, as I stumbled off the night bus from Kho San road in Bangkok . 'You must all be very tired,' she empathized, as we were ushered onto mini-buses and taken directly to the X Guest House. I got onto the mini-bus to the X, mainly because I was somewhere on the outskirts of town without a map.and, for all I knew, the place could have been half decent.

"The reception area was clean and cosy. The friendly lady bustled around, making sure everyone had cups of tea. This was a well practiced routine, giving us plenty of time to check out the trekking information on the walls, before gathering us around to point out our location on a city map. Unfortunately as I shuffled over to get a better look, I accidentally spilled some of my tea onto my hostess. Not a lot, I might add, nor was it particularly hot, but enough to make a brown stain on her white T-shirt and rouse me from my zombified state to make several apologies and offer to take her to the bathroom.
"'Why did you burn me?' she screamed, jumping to her feet.
"'You pay! You pay for doctor!'
"I am a qualified tour leader - I was on my way home after a six month stint in Vietnam - and I have a First Aid certificate. Once again I tried to offer apologies and assistance.
"'No! You hurt me! You will go to prison!'
"Naturally, it stood to reason that, having just arrived in a new town and without provocation of any kind, I would maliciously fling a cup of scalding hot tea over a woman who was trying to help me.
"Now that the motive was established, there was only one way to deal with someone like me. I was invited to accompany her to the police station."

When I reached the police station I found a very frightened Danielle surrounded by a group of policemen in uniform, other men who could have been police in plain clothes (it turned out that they were tourist police in cahoots with the guesthouse), and the injured lady herself.

The accusations and demands multiplied as the lady worked herself up with repeated calls for support from her witnesses. Danielle had deliberately thrown the tea at her. She was probably high on drugs. She had disfigured her for life. At this point I suggested to the officer who appeared to be in charge that we should look at the wound. Very reluctantly she allowed the policeman and myself to peer down the back of her T-shirt - there was a very slight red mark that certainly did not warrant medical attention.

'This is my skin! This is my life!' she stormed.' You must pay me 5000 baht! If not we take your passport. You go to prison for fifteen days at least.'

It became clear to me that this was not an official matter, Danielle had not been booked, but rather an effort to intimidate and extort, but it was apparent that she would be charged and would have to go to court on Monday. The X team insisted that she should be detained until then but I finally persuaded the officer to accept my personal guarantee that she would appear on Monday and that she could stay at my house over the weekend.

Danielle spent a relaxed two days by the pool while my wife worked desperately pulling strings and badgering friends because we felt that this case reflected very badly on Chiang Mai and on Thai tourism. She called the Directors of the Chiang Mai Tourist Association, TAT and the Guest House Organization. It was, however, the Governor's wife who finally persuaded the injured lady to drop all charges and to accept an apology.

On Monday morning, escorted by the Deputy Governor, we all went to the police station. Danielle gave the lady a bunch of flowers and a muttered apology, which was accepted with a bad grace. That evening Danielle thankfully waved goodbye to Chiang Mai. Later we heard that the X guest house was partly owned by members of the tourist police and that there had been several previous cases on tourists being hassled.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

An Introduction

Gary Graeme Jones is a prisoner in Bang Kwang Prison. The infamous Bangkok Hilton. So many people have heard of it but do not realise what a nightmare that name conjures. I have never been there, I have never been to Thailand and from what I have heard of the place I never wish to go.

My partner read a book, The Angel of Bang Kwang by an American, Susan Aldous (ISBN-10: 1905379323). In this book was detailed the issues that all the prisoners have to deal with from day to day, bribery, corruption, lack of food, lack of sanitation and an unbelievable harsh regime. In this book Susan Aldous said the best way to help is to write to someone there. We picked Gary from the Foreign Prisoner Support Service (http://www.phaseloop.com/foreignprisoners/pris-bangkwang.html) The website describes Bang Kwang as "a Maximum Security Prison which holds inmates who are serving more than 25 years" It also says "Overcrowding is an understatement as 20 or more inmates sleep side by side in small concrete cells with a bare bulb shining all night long. An open shit hole in the corner which all the men use. Originally built to hold a few thousand inmates, it now holds over 8000. "

Other books we have read since have also described the same conditions, in a land that describes itself as the "land of smiles".

Many will get this far and say "well they did the crime and so they do the time" but actually its not that simple. Corruption is rife amongst the judiciary and the police forces. Many foreigners (Farangs) are found guilty of crimes they did not commit based on planted "evidence." Each time a Farang is found guilty of a drugs offence the arresting police officer gets a bounty of many thousands of Baht. This can amount to up to at least 5 years worth of salary for an individual.

Once the arrest has been made the prisoner is shackled and locked away in a holding prison (usually Bombat). In this time in the holding cells the prisoners can be shackled to a bar for many days. Court appearances are made in shackles and all the proceedings carried out in Thai. In many cases the prisoner is not allowed an interpreter and only a lawyer who is disinterested in them and their case. Many also plead guilty as the options are as follows. Plead guilty and get a heavy sentence, plead innocent and if found guilty its the death sentence. Admittedly if you have enough money you can pay to get out of most cases but sometimes that price is too high for an ordinary person.

Once found guilty (its a headline event if a Farang is found innocent) then you are taken in chains to prison. The shackles stay on indefinitely in direct contravention of the United Nations
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Sections 33 and 34. Whilst may agencies in the UK and abroad accept that men are shackled they will always say that the shackles are removed upon appeal. What they dont mention is that this appeal can and does take many years and whilst bribery can help the chains do remain on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the British Embassy in Thailand is the logical first choice for all Brits with an issue stuck in jail one would think. However, they (and other agencies) do not rock the boat. Tourism is big money in Thailand and for that and other reasons Consul staff do not interfere in anyway with the Judicial process. In fact in one case I found them downright unhelpful and when trying to lodge an appeal for a prisoner, they blocked the appeal every step of the way. The FCO basically are working under the instructions to never, ever question the Royal Thai Police in any way. Also don't bother them if you have pleaded guilty to a conviction as they will not be of a mind to help you. Catch 22?

The FCO do however give money to supply food for all British inmates (incidentally ask them how many Brits are in Thai jails, they dont know for sure). This money is to be used to buy food and goods for the inmates. However, this never makes it to the prisoners. Instead the guards pocket the money and substandard food is made available (you get rice you have to wash before eating even though it is cooked). Then the wives of the guards cook healthier food which the inmates have to buy. The obvious solution is to get friends and relatives to send food? Well yes but Farangs are not, under any circumstances, allowed to cook food. They have to employ another Thai inmate to do thier cooking for them.

So this is Gary's Blog. Gary is a British Citizen, Married to a Thai with four adopted kids. He was born in 1950 and is doing Life for the exporting of 2.4Kg of heroin. Thats the website info. we have found Gary to be articulate, intelligent and extremely outspoken in the treatment of prisoners, not just in the Thai jails but everywhere in the world. As we go on we will post stuff that Gary has written in letters, descriptions of his fellow prisoners, pictures where possible and gradually we will get a picture of him and his life.

Hope you enjoy it.