Phuket security likely to be beefed up
PHUKET: Investigations into the killing of Australian travel agent Michelle Smith on Wednesday night (June 20) at Kata Noi are now being led by Pol Gen Chatchai Potranant, an expert in crime suppression and one of Thailand’s most senior officers.
Sunday 24 June 2012, 10:25AM
Gen Chatchai was recently in charge of beefing up security in Haad Yai following the Lee deadly Gardens Hotel bombing there in April, in which three people died.
His involvement in the Phuket case suggests that the government has woken up to the situation in Phuket, and that a great deal will be done in the coming months to boost security here, too.
The general chaired a meeting at Phuket provincial police headquarters with ranking officers in the region on Friday evening (June 22) to discuss progress in the case.
At the meeting were Police Region 8 commander Pol Lt Gen Santi Pensutr, as well as Phuket’s provincial police commander and deputy commander, police superintendents and deputy superintendents, regional and provincial Investigations Division officers, Chalong police detectives and others related to the case.
Pol Gen Chatchai said, “The government – especially the deputy prime minister [Chalerm Yubamrung] and the National Police Commander [Priewpan Damapong] – believe this is an important case and are greatly interested in its outcome.
“They have ordered senior police commanders to oversee and closely follow up the efforts of Phuket police.
“After listening to reports from local police on progress in the case, I believe they are trying to the utmost of their abilities. However, owing to the shortness of time, some portions [of the investigation] are probably incomplete.
“The Region 8 police commander insisted on additional strategies and points for investigation which will be acted upon.
“Reports from Investigations Division personnel lead me to believe that the perpetrators will be apprehended soon. Nothing in the case presents much worry regarding outcome: the suspects are likely local people, not members of a gang, who were driving back and forth looking for prey, and when opportunity arose they struck.”
He said CCTV footage of the suspects indicated they were teenagers or no older than 25 years. He said investigators were querying young people in the area trying to turn up individuals with physical characteristics matching those of the pair.
“They are rather tall,” he said, “which makes them stand out. I think they are people who troll that area regularly for victims. I expect the knife used was one its owner carried to cut bags from those he plundered when straps proved to strong for him to tear away. When the victims in this case put up a fight, he used it to stab them, leaving one injured and one dead,” said Gen Chatchai.
“I believe that the evidence accumulated so far in this case makes us 70 per cent sure of finding the perpetrators. As for the rest, we must rely on other factors, even on luck, and must try our utmost.”
The general said police in Phuket have been ordered to put caring for tourists and tourist safety above other concerns.
“The prime minister herself ascribes a great deal of importance to that,” he said, “which is a good sign we must completely integrate the operations of various units, and especially must have greater budget for installation of CCTV cameras at appropriate points and in appropriate numbers.”
The general said this very point was covered at his most recent meeting with deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung.
He said Chalerm feels surveillance cameras are a winning idea that will score points for Thailand, and that Phuket should be one of the pilot provinces for the project because “Phuket is one of our top earners.”
“If tourists lose confidence in Phuket’s safety they will stop travelling here,” he added, “and that will have repercussions for the whole country.”
As for the island’s understaffed constabulary and paucity of police stations, the general said he will push these issues. Nonetheless, he said, police here “rely on help from volunteers in solving cases, and they are quite effective”.
Regarding the Michelle Smith case, the general ventured to warn that, “Police may take a while to find [the killers], because investigation must be pursued via multiple avenues, using a variety of techniques.” – Source Siang Tai