Thai woman admits feeding her British husband to tigers

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A wealthy British farmer was battered to death and then barbecued over charcoal by relatives of his former Thai wife. The body parts of Toby Charnaud, age 41, from Chippenham in Wiltshire, were then scattered in a Thai national park, one of the last areas in the country where tigers roam, a court has heard.

He was killed on a trip to pick up the couple's five-year-old son, Daniel, whom he had gained custody of after the couple divorced, Petchaburi court in northern Thailand was told yesterday.

The Marlborough-educated former land agent and farmer met and married Pannada Laoruang, known in the family as Som, in 1997 and they initially returned to Wiltshire. He gave up his farming business and the couple bought a bar in Hua Hin resort in Thailand. But when Ms Laoruang, now aged 38, ran up heavy gambling debts in 2004, the couple divorced.

Ms Laoruang and five of her male relatives and friends stand trial for murder. Mr Charnaud's mother, Sarah, said she understood her son had gone to a property he rented for his former wife on 27 March last year, after receiving a call to pick up Daniel. But a group of men were there, some related to Ms Laoruang. They first tried to shoot him but the gun had backfired, Mrs Charnaud said. Her son was later battered to death and his body disposed of on the edge of a national park near the Burmese border, she added.

Mrs Charnaud said she understood that three men had admitted murder while her son's ex-wife had admitted involvement in helping to dispose of the evidence. Ms Laoruang was "seriously in debt", Mrs Charnaud said. "He had to pay off a lot of her debts. We had money in this country for Daniel's education and that had to be transferred to pay off her debts." She said Ms Laoruang's "motive was clearly to use Daniel as a meal ticket".

Describing her former daughter-in-law, Mrs Charnaud said: "We welcomed her to the family, as one does. It was fine, she appeared to fit in. She was involved in all family activities. But I became aware their marriage was getting into difficulty due to Pannada living her own life. She was using money from the bar without his knowledge."

Mrs Charnaud, 70, and her husband Jeremy, 69, received a phonecall from Ms Laoruang on 29 March last year, two days after Mr Charnaud's death. The couple hired a private investigator. "After we were told he was missing, we were determined to pull out all the stops to find out what had happened. What else could we do?" Mrs Charnaud said.

Yesterday, Hannah Allan, Mr Charnaud's sister, said: "This was a disgusting, pre-meditated murder which has ruined our family's lives forever. That includes the life of Toby's six-year-old son, who has been torn apart by what's happened to his daddy." Daniel is being cared for in Britain.

Shortly before Mr Charnaud's death, he won a writing competition for a short story published in a Bangkok magazine. The story, named "Rainfall", is about a British tourist named Guy who falls in love with an unfaithful Thai woman who builds up gambling debts. The book ends with Guy being murdered by one of her lovers. Ms Allen, described the story as "eerie". The case was adjourned until 6 September.