Thai King pardons drug smugglers: Secret letter from Major helped to win freedom on humanitarian grounds but the two women still considered guilty

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The Independent Online
TWO BRITISH women jailed in Thailand for heroin smuggling have been granted royal pardons. But as their families celebrated last night, both governments made it clear they were still considered guilty and were being freed on humanitarian grounds.

Patricia Cahill, 20, from Birmingham, and Karyn Smith, 22, from Solihull, were arrested three years ago and convicted of trying to smuggle 66lb of heroin out of the country.

Last night they were waiting to hear when they could fly home to their families. Officials in Bangkok expected them to be released in the next few days, adding it was very rare for the King of Thailand to intervene.

When news of the pardon was broken to Cahill's parents, her mother, Frances, said: 'I want to go and dance in the streets.' Smith's father, Eric Smith, said: 'This is the best news I have heard for years.'

The Thai authorities used the women to demonstrate their determination to crack down on drug trafficking. At her trial Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced in December 1990 to 25 years in jail. Cahill, who denied the charge, was sentenced five months later to 18 years and nine months' imprisonment, although a juvenile under Thai law.

Some campaigners in the UK, including the Bishop of Birmingham, have claimed they were framed, accusing drug enforcement officials of planting at least some of the heroin on them. They pointed out that the amount of heroin in the charge could not have fitted in the bottles allegedly found in the women's luggage.

But in a written parliamentary reply on Monday, Mark Lennox-Boyd, the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office dealing with the case more than three years, said: 'We have seen no convincing evidence that the heroin was planted on the girls.'

To get their pardons, the two women had to waive all objections to their convictions. Cahill went as far as to say in an interview this week: 'We were not set up by the Thai police. It's a load of rubbish. The problem with so-called do-gooders back home is that they won't believe the obvious. Please ask these silly people in England to shut up. Have they any idea what it is doing to our case?'

According to the trial evidence, the women - both teenagers at the time - were carrying 66lb of heroin in suitcases when arrested at Bangkok's international airport. The drugs' street value was said to be about pounds 4m.

At their trials the women claimed they had been duped into carrying the cases while on a holiday paid for by a man they knew in Birmingham. The drugs were hidden among bottles of shampoo and toiletries. No one in Britain has been charged with supplying drugs to the women.

In a letter to the Independent on Monday, the Bishop of Birmingham, the Right Rev Mark Santer, said: 'Vast quantities of heroin were planted on them by drug enforcement officials.'

The solicitor acting for Smith's family, Stephen Jakobi, said last night that the Foreign Office had jeopardised the release by keeping secret for five months a personal intervention by John Major, who wrote to the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, in February. The Prime Minister's intervention became known this week.

That meant, Mr Jakobi said, that while British diplomats were working behind the scenes, campaigners for Smith were claiming the women had been framed by customs officials.

Smith and her father had decided in December to run a high-profile campaign claiming they had been framed. Until then, the family had worked closely with the Foreign Office, but they finally decided not enough was happening through official channels.

'It was a high-risk strategy, and could have upset the Thai government. If the Foreign Office had told us about John Major's letter, we would have said, 'OK, we'll keep our heads down'.'

The Foreign Office said last night: 'Government to government communications have to remain confidential to be effective.'

Two Britons, Sandra Gregory and Robert Lock, are due to appear in court in Bangkok tomorrow on heroin trafficking charges.

Older and wiser. . . . .2