A 22 year old British tourist has been shot and killed during new year celebrations on Koh Phangan Island in Southern Thailand. According to the Thai media, the young British backpacker was out celebrating with two female friends at Zoom Bar on Had Rim Beach. The Countdown had already passed and about 300 people, a mixture of Thais and foreigners, were dancing on the beach in front of the bar until the early hours of the morning. It was then when an argument started between two rival groups of Thai youths. One group then left the bar when one of them turned back and fired a shot at the other group who were still in the bar. The British tourist, who was dancing at the time, was shot and killed and at least another Thai person was injured. Early this morning, Thai police arrested a suspect who they say has already confessed to pulling the trigger. As this is an important holiday island, police are keen to quickly close this case before any damage can be done to tourism. The British Embassy has already been informed and they will notify the next of kin.
Koh Phangan is a well-known destination among backpackers for the full moon parties. The island has a very bad reputation due to drinking and drugs. There has been a number of reported brutal attacks against foreign tourists. I would not recommend anyone going to this island until something is done about it. Some say it is a lawless place.
The British Embassy already had this warning on their website before the incident: “Western tourists have been victims of vicious unprovoked attacks by gangs in Koh Phangan. These attacks are particularly common around the time of the Full Moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars in Haad Rin. Exercise caution when walking in this area at any time, especially after dark.” (see full warning).
UPDATE 01: The Thai language media were the first to name the victim in an online report at 1:30pm on Tuesday (see full report at 4:42pm). The Bangkok Post then tweeted the name of the victim in English at 5:10pm (see here). At 7:42pm, the Bangkok Post not only published the full name of the victim in their online newspaper, but they also printed a photo of his passport (see here). It is really bad form for the media to publish names like this before the next of kin have had a chance to be told first in private. The UK is not only seven hours behind, it is new year’s day there. What was worse, after the Bangkok Post tweeted his name, the Thai Visa forum posted his full name and then people started speculating what had happened. As it turned out, the initial Bangkok Post tweet was wrong as it said that the victim was shot “after a quarrel with Thai youngsters”. Some Thai Visa Forum members suggested that the victim was at fault.
UPDATE 02 on Tuesday 1st January: A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are aware of the death of a British national in Thailand on New Year’s Eve. We are providing consular assistance to the family.” The victim has been identified as Stephen Ashton.
UPDATE 03 on Wednesday 2nd January: There was nothing in the print edition of the Bangkok Post this morning. The Nation had a short “meanwhile…” piece on the shooting. This is now headline news in the UK. Sky News led with: “A British tourist is shot dead during a gangland gunfight at a new year’s party in Thailand” in their 10pm news bulletin on Tuesday night. Online editions of all the major UK newspapers have this story. It will be a few hours yet before we know if it is front page news or not.
Here are the headlines going around the world about this story:
- British new-year reveller shot dead at Thailand beach party (The Independent)
- Briton killed by stray bullet in gang crossfire as he danced at Thailand New Year’s Eve party (Mirror)
- Family and friends of Purley traveller shot dead in Thailand speak of their shock (This is Croydon Today)
- British tourist Stephen Ashton shot dead in Thailand (BBC)
- Thailand Killing: Brit Shot Dancing On Beach (Sky News)
- Stray bullet kills Briton, 22, as New year’s Eve party on Thai beach explodes into violence (Daily Mail)
- Brit shot at NYE party in Thailand (The Sun)
There wasn’t much in the Thai newspapers this morning. Most notable was Thai Rath that had a small front page headline with main story deep inside the newspaper. This was mixed with other incidents that happened during the countdown elsewhere. No pictures in the newspapers, but online edition of Thai Rath had pictures of the dead body. Online edition of Khao Sod has this picture of the suspect, Ekkapan Kaewkla, who has been arrested. Initial report from the police said that he had confessed. Subsequent media reports said that he hasn’t. He is expected to be interrogated at 12pm on Wednesday. Hopefully we will know more later this afternoon.
UPDATE 4 on Wednesday afternoon: The Bangkok Post newspaper has now removed the picture of the victim’s passport from their website. This was likely done at the request of the British Ambassador (See his tweet here). Channel 3 had a brief report showing the suspect being paraded to the Thai media this afternoon. Nothing new was added from that report. Waiting for more detailed online reports now.
UPDATE 5 on Thursday 3rd January: The British Embassy has amended its travel advice for Thailand due to the “death of a British national in a shooting incident on Koh Phangan”. The British Ambassador Mark Kent is expected to travel to Koh Phangan today to meet local authorities
Western tourists have been victims of vicious, unprovoked attacks by gangs in Koh Phangan. These attacks are particularly common around the time of the Full Moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars in Haad Rin on Koh Phangan. On 1 January 2013 a British national was killed in a shooting incident while at a beach party in Haad Rin. Exercise caution when in this area at any time, especially after dark.
Ekkapun Klaewkla, the suspect in the killing, was paraded in front of the press yesterday on Koh Phangan. He was also forced to re-enact the shooting at the scene of the crime. Sky News has video of this re-enactment. The family of Stephen Ashton are on their way to Koh Phangan to formerly identify the body and to make preparations to fly the body home. They released this statement through the Foreign Office:
“As a family we are completely devastated by the loss of Stephen from our lives. He has been taken away from us in such cruel and tragic circumstances in which he was an innocent bystander simply enjoying new year celebrations.
“He will be truly missed by his family but also by the many friends he made during his life. We cannot comprehend how someone can carry out such a reckless act, giving such little value to human life. We ask that our privacy be respected to allow us to grieve.”