Couple's dream holiday ends in nightmare

A drink in a bar ended with a spell in jail, Louise Jury reports

Shirlee Cook's ordeal began on the final night of a two-week holiday in Thailand last November. As she and her husband, Brian, sat at a bar in one of the busiest thoroughfares in the town of Patong, she claims they were suddenly flung to the ground by about half a dozen casually dressed men, handcuffed and bundled into a truck.

Fearing they were being kidnapped, they screamed for assistance but no one helped. Only when they arrived at a police station did they realise that they had been arrested.

Mrs Cook claims she was forced to put her hands over her head while she was frisked by an officer, who then excitedly waved a small plastic packet in front of her face. Mr Cook, 48, was allowed to go and she was left "absolutely terrified" in a cell. The only refreshment she was given until the next morning was a bottle of water passed by prisoners in the next cell.

The following morning, Mr Cook returned with the Airtours representative, Anna Roberts, who Mrs Cook understood to have set in motion arrangements to secure her release, which she was told involved payment of a large amount of money. "She said to me the only way I could leave the jail and get sent home was if the money was paid," she said. Ms Roberts wrote out instructions which detailed the sum of 200,000 baht (pounds 5,063) that Mr Cook was to pay. He returned home to England that day and began raising the cash to be forwarded to Thailand, selling his car for pounds 2,000. The money was sent via a travel agent on the Monday.

Mrs Cook was held for five days in the same prison cell before appearing in court in Phuket. On her way to court, she claims to have watched as a man and woman, whom she believed had been assigned to her by Airtours, visited immigration and other offices with a bag of money, which she took to be the money her husband had sent. However, she saw no money being paid out.

At court, she was met by a man she took to be from the travel company but she now understands to have been a lawyer. He told her not to worry. She was to plead guilty and say that she was a self-employed interior designer in England, although this was false The man held two notes worth about pounds 25 in his hand, which she presumed to have come from the money her husband had sent; she believed it to be the fine. Afterwards, Mrs Cook was put up in a hotel by Airtours until her flight home. On the day of the flight she went to the police station to sign some forms. Mrs Cook said that as she sat on a bench at the station she saw one of the original arresting officers walking towards her. "I'll never forget this man's face. I thought he was coming up and was going to say sorry. But as he came towards me he stopped and punched me right on my mouth. I fell to the ground and he hit me. He punched me in the eye, then he ran off ... I was screaming and crying," she said.

She was too scared to tell anyone of her ordeal until she confided in a flight attendant on the journey back to Britain.

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