A British diver who admitted murdering his Thai girlfriend has walked free after arguing that he killed the bar hostess in self-defence.
Mark Storey, 48, could have been given the death penalty by the Thai courts if he had been found guilty of premeditated murder. But Storey, who was living in Thailand and training to be a diving instructor, has returned to the United Kingdom after being given a suspended sentence.
He admitted murdering 30-year-old Rattanaporn Pimkot in January this year on the Thai holiday island of Phuket, allegedly after a row over another man.
His girlfriend, who had known him for three months, died after being strangled with a telephone cord and stabbed, according to Thai police. Storey was arrested at Phuket airport on 16 January 2003 as he was about to leave the island. After the arrest police said Storey, originally from Cardiff, confessed to killing his girlfriend. He claimed he discovered she had been seeing another man.
Speaking after the arrest, Lieutenant-Colonel Pisit Chunphet, of Kathu Police Station, said witnesses heard Storey and his girlfriend arguing in their rented house. They saw Storey leave the house with his luggage and the injured woman was later found.
Ms Pimkot, who lived in Patong, died on the way to the local hospital. Police arrested Storey at the airport soon after her death.
At the time, Lieutenant- Colonel Chunphet said: "The suspect has told us the fight started when they argued about her having a Thai lover."
A Thai court imposed a two-year sentence suspended for three years at a hearing in June, but the family of the convicted man asked the Foreign Office not to release any publicity. Details of the case only emerged yesterday. A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said: "He was found guilty of murder on 19 June. Our understanding is the sentence is such because he successfully submitted a plea of self-defence. We understand he has since returned to the United Kingdom."
Under Thai law, Storey could have been sentenced to death if he had been found guilty of premeditated murder or life imprisonment if the court ruled it to be a crime of passion.
Storey closed his dive shop at Torquay and moved to Phuket in November last year with the aim of becoming a diving instructor.
Mark Layton, who taught Storey to dive, said after hearing about the case: "He was a nice guy, a regular type of chap. I am shocked by this."
The decision to free Storey with a suspended sentence with a penalty of just two years in jail if he reoffends is considered by legal experts to be highly unusual.
Thailand has a reputation for handing out severe punishments, particularly in cases involving drug trafficking.
In September Julian Gilbey, 35, from West Sussex, was scheduled to face the death penalty in Bangkok but his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment at the last minute after he instructed his Thai lawyers to issue a change of plea.
The former welder who had started a new life as a teacher in the Far East, was arrested at Bangkok airport in October 2001 carrying 4kg of pure heroin. Gilbey earned the reprieve from the Thai authorities by insisting he had been duped by a gang who told him he was smuggling diamonds and not heroin.
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