A court in Thailand has convicted two Myanmar men of the murder of two British backpackers on the holiday island of Koh Tao in September 2014.
Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk, and David Miller, 24, from Jersey, were found by the rocks on Sairee beach, both with severe head wounds.
After an extended trial on the neighbouring island of Koh Samui, bar workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, were found guilty on Thursday of the rape and murder of Witheridge and the murder of Miller.
They were both sentenced to death by three judges who maintained that the DNA evidence that connected the men to the killings and rape was “up to international standards”.
The verdict had previously been expected in October but was delayed to give the defence extra time after three months of witness testimony.
The mothers of the two convicted men cried as their sons were escorted out of court, metal chains around their feet. The defence told the Guardian that there would be an appeal – a process which could take several months.
Minutes later outside the court, Michael Miller, David’s brother, gave a statement with his father, Ian, and mother, Sue, standing by his side.
He said: “David was hacked from behind, dragged into the sea, and left to die. That will live with us forever.
“What happened to Hannah Witheridge is unspeakable.
“We believe that the result today represents justice for David and Hannah. Ultimately, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo obtained the best possible representation in court by a team of seven lawyers.
“David always stood up for justice and justice is what has been delivered today. We came to realise that the police investigation and the forensic work performed was not the so-called shambles it was made out to be.
“We believe that, after a difficult start, the Royal Thai Police conducted a methodical and thorough investigation.”
The Witheridge family had remained in the UK for the verdict but both families had visited the court over the Thai summer to observe the legal process.
During the trial police said Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo had been motivated by sexual jealousy after seeing the Britons together on the beach. But the defendants later said they had been tortured during interrogation and forced to sign a confession.
The judges on Thursday said there was no evidence that either had been tortured.
The case against them however rested heavily on sperm collected from the crime scene, samples they say were taken from Witheridge’s body. But when the defence asked for an independent retest, officers failed to retrieve the samples and one officer suggested they had been destroyed.
Wai Phyo told the court during the last two days of witness testimony in October that a police officer took photos of him naked. “They also kicked me in the back, punched me and slapped me; threatened to chop off my arms and legs, and throw my body into the sea to feed the fish. They also said they would take me into another room and electrocute me.”
Thai authorities also had been criticised for parading the suspects on the beach to re-enact the murders in front of the media – a common practice in Thai investigations that is condemned as suggesting a suspect’s guilt.
Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at international human rights charity Reprieve reacted to the verdict saying: “There are credible allegations that these two young men were tortured into ‘confessing,’ and we know that they have been subjected to numerous unfair trial practices.
“It is therefore deeply alarming that they have been sentenced to death, as without a fair trial serious doubts over their guilt will remain. No one would disagree that those responsible for this crime need to be held to account. But it is hard to see how a trial as flawed and unfair as this one can provide any confidence that justice has been served.”