The Thai tourism minister has met with the British charges d’affaires in Bangkok over the vicious assault of a British family in Hua Hin which has sparked a tsunami of negative publicity for Thailand. The minister gave assurances that Thai authorities will pursue justice for the family and that they will be paid compensation.

Left: Rosemarie Owens and Lewis Owens Sr celebrate in a bar in Thailand. Regular visitors to Thailand, the two, along with their son Lewis Owens Jr were viciously assaulted on a street in Hua Hin. Right: The assault which left the family sprawled unconscious on the street caused an international media and online sensation when CCTV footage went viral this week. (Source: You Tube/Facebook)

The attack on an elderly British couple and their son, described as fans of Thailand, is a setback for Thailand and a tragedy for Thailand’s tourism sector. Facing online outrage across the world, the response of the Thai authorities has been both timely and appropriate. However the efforts to rescue Thailand’s battered image may not be enough to counteract the negative perception which the story has generated. The Thai PM’s office has described the publicity around the incident as a ‘nightmare’ for Thailand.

Thailand damaged by vicious attack on elderly tourists

The international coverage of the April 13th vicious assault on a British family in Hua Hin, that emerged last week, has caused severe damage. A top police commander, sent from Bangkok, has arrived in Hua Hin to oversee the investigation into the attack. There has also been a suggestion by a provincial Thai police boss that the infamous CCTV footage should not have been ‘leaked’ to the public or may, in fact, be a breach of the rights of the victims of the tragedy. The men charged with the attack will face the most serious charges possible when they appear in court. This was an assurance given by Thailand’s deputy police chief Gen Wuthi Liptapallop. It is another indication of how seriously authorities in Thailand are taking the case. The men are being charged with intentionally attacking the Britons causing harm. If convicted, they could face a jail term of up to ten years.

British family attacked in Hua Hin were big fans of Thailand

It has emerged that the Owens family have been regular visitors to Thailand for over 30 years. Their enthusiasm and love for Thailand was revealed by foreign media coverage. Locals in Wenvoe in Wales spoke of the family’s special connection with Thailand. Lewis Owens Sr and his wife Rosemarie live in Wenvoe, a remote village. Mr Lewis is a respected electrical contractor in the area. Their son Lewis Jr works as a graphic designer in Singapore. ‘We are still upset, they are just fabulous people, the best neighbours you could wish for,’ said Dave Cannon, a community leader in the area. ‘Their Thai friends bake a cake every year for Lew’s birthday. It is a family joke, Lew reckons the whole of Thailand is celebrating his birthday that day.’

Hua Hin attack a tragedy for Thai tourism

Thailand’s tourist industry is targeting another record year. The vital tourist industry helps support an economy that has seen sluggish growth recently against economic headwinds and an emerging demographic crisis. The image of a concerted attack on a family grouping who have been regular visitors to Thailand since the 1980’s gives the story an element of tragedy.

Over the weekend, as the CCTV video footage showing the appalling assaults and the three members of the family sprawled unconscious on the street, was played on desktop and mobile screens in Thailand and western foreign countries, the Thai tourist authority sent a team to present Mrs Rosemarie Owen with flowers. Mrs Owens had just emerged from a series of medical interventions by doctors in Hua Hin after she developed fluid on the brain from swelling. In an interview with foreign media, her son Lewis revealed: ‘They were a bit worried about my mum but she is okay. The swelling was not going down on her brain but they have done some operations. I had 16 stitches.’ He told the UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper that his father had six stitches, suffered heavy bruising and was left with two black eyes.

Response of Thai authorities cannot be faulted

The CCTV footage, which has been seen by viewers all over the world, was recorded on recently installed CCTV security cameras on Soi Bintabaht in Hua Hin. The cameras are owned by the local municipality. It was initially reported that the CCTV had, in fact, been released by the Royal Thai Police in an effort to track down the perpetrators of the crime. However this is now the subject of an internal police investigation. A police spokesman has said that the footage was owned by the municipality of Hua Hin and should therefore not have been released. There is growing concern in Thailand, at all levels, about the damage that the video may have caused to the country.

In spite of the fact that there is an internal police investigation, it has to been suggested that this action led to the prompt arrest of the perpetrators. Despite the adverse press and publicity the CCTV footage has brought to Thailand, the release of the CCTV footage at least showed a determination to solve the crime. The arrests of the leading two perpetrators occurred within two days of the late night incident. This was also impressive. The Thai police in Hua Hin have also revealed that statements have been taken from the Owens family members while in hospital so that they will not be required to attend court hearings when charges are initially prosecuted against the men involved in the attack.

Tourism deputation sent to Mrs Owen’s bedside

The visit by the representatives of Thailand’s tourist authority to the bedside of Mrs Rosemarie Owens showed concern and compassion for the British tourists. It is also seen as an official expression of regret and apologies. The gesture has however also generated many cynical comments on social media by expats and foreigners both shocked and outraged at the assault. Prior to the Thai government announcing that compensation will be paid to the family, many online had called for the authorities to make some gesture in relation to hospital expenses for the family who have been in hospital in Thailand since the ordeal began.

Main perpetrator says he was drunk and angry

The Thai men have apologised to the British family for the incident explaining that they were drunk. Since the incident made world headlines it has come to light that now four men have been arrested by police in Thailand and charged in relation to the brutal assault. One perpetrator, Supatta Baithong, is reported to have told the police that the 43 year old son of the elderly British couple had come into contact with his arm as the family and the men were walking on the bustling street. He explained that he had got very angry because he was drunk. His statement appears to be in conflict with some news reports which suggest that there was a word on the street in Hua Hin that an attack on foreigners or farang was imminent. Police have dismissed this speculation insisting that no specific group of people was targeted.

UK elderly couple recuperating at a Hua Hin hotel

The elderly British couple Lewis and Rosemarie Owens were still in Thailand at the time of the media frenzy. This happened over two weeks the event. They were recovering from their injuries and their son told media outlets that they preferred not to comment. They have now been released from hospital and are staying at a hotel in Hua Hin recuperating before flying back to the United Kingdom. Their son Lewis Jr had already flown back to Singapore.

Amazingly: victims did not realise viciousness of attack

Lewis Owen Jr has revealed that the family had no idea how vicious the assault on the family trio was until he watched the explosive CCTV footage for himself: ‘I watched the video today and it is horrendous,’ Mr. Owens said from his home in Singapore. ‘I have been speaking to my mum and dad every day. I did not realise how badly we were beaten up. He went on to say that because the attack was so sudden and as the three members of the family were rendered unconscious, they were not fully aware of the extent of the attack. ‘We were all unconscious. My mum did not even realise she had been kicked in the face. I did not know my head had been stamped on. He made the revelation to the UK daily newspaper the Daily Telegraph. He said that the attack seemed to come ‘just out of the blue’ as they returned from a night out having celebrated his father. None of us were drunk, we had just had a merry night and we’re going home after celebrating his father’s birthday at a local bar.’

British family will ‘never, ever again’ return to Thailand

Lewis owens Jr. has told another UK newspaper that he will never return to Thailand and that that this is also the position of his mother and father. He made this damning comments to the the Daily Mirror newspaper, one of the UK’s most popular tabloid publications, on the weekend after the story of the assault, which occurred on the 13th April 2016 and made news all over the western world. ‘I’m not going back to Thailand again,’ Lewis Owens Jr said. ‘Mum and dad won’t be either. Never, ever again.’

Thai police quickly apprehended main suspects

Thai police initially arrested two of the perpetrators of the vicious attack on the UK family in Hua Hin just two days after the incident on a crowded street in the popular tourist destination. The two men arrested Supatta Baithong and Yingyai Saengkhamin were both aged 32 years of age and were charged by the Thai authorities with causing grievous bodily harm. It was later reported that a third man had also been arrested just after the assault and a fourth man on the week of the media frenzy. This younger man, Chaiya Jaiboonis is only twenty years of age. Appearing before the press, he offered a traditional Thai apologies with a ‘wai’. He apologised to the people of Thailand, Hua Hin and the British family for his part in the attack.

Shocking Hua Hin video footage generates outrage

The video itself is shocking to watch. The family is seen walking on a very busy street full of people celebrating Thailand’s famous Songkran festival and those enjoying Thailand’s vibrant nightlife. The incident occurred in a district of Hua Hin known for its nightlife and frequented by foreigners. The shocking video footage shows the family being attacked first by one Thai man and then a group of men in what initially appears to be an innocuous incident. The most graphic element of the video shows Mrs Rosemarie Owen being punched directly into the face by an able bodied man and the final scenes show the family sprawled out on the street unconscious while members of the gang kick them in the head.

Expat online forums caused CCTV video to go viral

The outrage provoked by the video started on social media when popular forums used by foreigners in Thailand, such as the popular Thai Visa site and a foreigners forum in Hua Hin called the Hua Hin Forum, published the CCTV footage. This caused more information about the attack to come to light and at the same time caused the publication of the footage all over the world.

Even before the furore caused by the footage, a western man had come forward as a witness who happened to be in the same bar as the Owens. He watched them as the left the premises. The witness was right behind the family group when they entered the fray on Soi Bintabaht and attempted to intervene in order to protect Mrs Owen in particular.

Nightmare for Thai authorities of attack on foreigners

The western man was also assaulted and taken to hospital where he is reported to require extensive cosmetic dental surgery as a result of his injuries. The angry gang of Thai men, seen kicking the bodies of the family as they lay unconscious on the CCTV footage while up to a hundred local Thais looked on, stunned the internet and the social media community. ‘The viciousness and the precision with which the attack was carried out on the helpless foreign family and the absence of any intervention by the public is rather compelling. The image of an able bodied man viciously kicking an elderly woman in the head is absolutely chilling, there’s no doubt about it but that this is a nightmare for the Thai authorities with regard to tourism but it must be remembered that it was the Thai police who released the CCTV footage in the first place in order to apprehend the perpetrators of the crime, I think the Thai authorities can take some credit for this, I understand also how it may have been a breach of the victims rights,’ said James Morris, an internet commentator in Bangkok.

Hearsay reports of planned attacks on foreigners

The western man, known as ‘Usual Suspect’ in a Hua Hin internet forum, who was caught up in the affray and assault described the atmosphere before it took place: ‘By the end of the night around 2am as the bar’s customers were leaving gangs of Thai youths were priming themselves to start punching westerners,’ he said. He told an online forum community of foreigners in Thailand that a Thai girlfriend of one of his friends had reported that she has overheard locals discussing the prospect of launching an attack on foreign tourists after drinking alcohol during the Songkran festivities. ‘Small groups were scattered at various places, all with the intention of attacking tourists’ he wrote. ‘The girls in the bar I was in all night waved Goodbye to the elderly customers and their son. My wife and I followed only seconds after them.’

‘Within 20-30 metres of leaving the bar the Thais were punching the 65 year old lady in the face!!! The elderly gentlemen was down on the floor, and their son was beaten very badly !!!’ ‘At this point I caught up to scene and pushed one of the youths away from the woman. I got severely punched and kicked for my troubles but felt the need to protect this frail lady.’ The man’s conclusion to his narrative of the assault also poses serious questions. ‘Not one person (other than myself) came to aid these old  folk, and they ended up laid in the road bleeding. ‘So if you’re still out in the wee hours tonight please be alert. These pockets of youths were intent on causing harm and did blend in with all others beforehand.’

Social media: were foreigners in Thailand targeted?

The emergence of the story that generated world headlines is also interesting. It started with reports on internet forums used by foreigners in Thailand. The initial report came on the popular Hua Hin Forum for foreigners and this was followed by Thailand’s biggest expat foreigner internet forum, ThaiVisa, publishing the story. This happened when the shocking CCTV footage emerged. Although there are online reports of foreigners being specifically targeted by groups of Thai men on the night, it must be pointed out that Thai authorities have categorically denied this. In official statements, they attribute the attack to the effects of alcohol during the Songkran festival. The reports must treated with extreme caution as hearsay. It must also be noted that the shocking footage contained in the CCTV, has shocked many foreigners and expats living in Thailand. Initial posts made on forums and social media website mention rumours of foreigners being targeted. The intention was to warn foreigners in the Hua Hin area to stay clear of the Songkran festivities.

Dane living in Thailand avoids Songkran festivities

George Cannings is a Danish man who moved to Thailand was his Thai wife in 2010 after the world financial crisis. He loves his new life in Thailand and feels that Thailand’s image abroad is often unfairly reflected in a negative light. However the CCTV footage of the British family being attacked has shocked him: ‘It’s truly disgusting, I’ve seen some people try to suggest that the Thai man was hit by Mrs Owens, the old lady or had lost face but this is nonsense. There is no culture that would not be outrightly shocked by what the video showed online.’

Significantly, George reveals that his Thai wife never wants him to go out during the Songkran festivities. ‘She always tells me it is dangerous, that it is not good for me, I will get hurt, I suspect she fears that it will come to some sort of clash if some people pick on me. I love living in Thailand, I have even written an article on why Thailand is better than Denmark for me but I admit that the video online has made me a bit anxious and uneasy.’

Hua Hin police chief: accused men say they’re sorry

The Hua Hin police chief told the UK daily newspaper the Daily Telegraph that the four charged with the assault would appear in a cleft in Huan Hin in the coming days. The police told the UK daily that the victims would not be required to attend court a s they had already given a statement to investigators. ‘They accused men say they’re sorry and they wouldn’t have done this if they weren’t drunk,’ said Colonel Chaiyakorn Sriladecho, the Chief of Hua Hin Police.

Foreigners the victims of 2015 Hua Hin burglaries

Hua Hin has developed a reputation as being a more authentic and upmarket retreat for tourist and foreigners alike. It is often compared to Pattaya, another urban centre by the sea frequented by foreigners on the opposite coast. Pattaya, unfortunately, has developed a reputation for sleaze and criminal activity. This is despite the fact that Pattaya was voted in 2015 as one of Asia’s top tourist destinations in its own right in a survey that put Bangkok as the most popular destination in Asia. Hua Hin is perceived as having a better image. It is reported that 4,000 foreigners live in Hua Hin which is a comparatively small urban centre with a population of 85,000.

In July 2015, Thai police in Hua Hin arrested a Thai man and woman who had specifically targeted homes owned by foreigners in a series of burglaries. Traveling on a motor bike, Mr Thawatchai Thawilsuk, 37 years of age and Surintra Khumsup, 31 carried out their raids on what looked like valuable targets at night. They had rented a house in the affluent seaside town and began their crime spree which lasted over six months. The couple sold items found in the houses to pawn shops in the area. When police raided their home, they found more than 100 different valuables including smartphone and watches. The Thai police later invited foreigners to retrieve their valuables at a local police station. Speaking to the media at the time, Police Colonel Chaiyakorn Sriladecho said that most of the homes targeted were owned by foreigners.

Damaging media reports question safety in Thailand

The international coverage generated by the assault on the UK family is quite damaging to Thailand’s image abroad. It comes at a time when Thailand is increasingly portrayed in a negative light on international media in relation to a range of issues from human trafficking to abuses in the Thai seafood industry as well the political situation after the 2014 coup.

However it is important to bear in mind that British nationals alone make nearly 1 million visits to Thailand every year. Thailand is a still considered a comparatively safe tourist destination although there are now reports of foreign government preparing to provide more detailed cautions to foreign tourists.

This information is contained in an advice from the UK’s Foreign Office which does warn UK nationals about the Samui archipelago and islands such as Koh Tao, in the Gulf of Thailand, where two British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were murdered in 2014. The appeal by two Burmese migrants against their conviction and death sentence for these murders last year is likely to provoke further media attention in the coming months.  A recent Channel 4 documentary in the UK featured an in depth report into the Koh Tao murders which has left an indelible impression on many in Britain and around the world.

Thailand still targeting a record year for tourism

A the beginning of 2016, the Thai Tourist Authority told Reuters that it was expecting 2016 to be a record year for Thailand when over 30 million visitors expected from countries all over the world. Recent arrival figures suggest that the expectation is sound and that Thailand is on course to achieve its goal.

60-70% of visitors to Thailand, like the Owens family from Wales in the United Kingdom, are regulars to Thailand. Many of these are western foreigners although a substantial portion of the recent surge in visitors is due to visitors coming from Asian countries such as India and China. The Thai tourism sector is estimated to be worth over $66 billion to the Thai economy representing approximately 10% of GDP.  With Thailand facing sluggish economic growth compared to its Asean partners, the success of its tourist is vital to the country’s prospects.

It is not clear how damaging the Hua Hin incident will be. There have been reports of UK holidaymakers cancelling planned visits to Thailand in recent days. There is no doubt that online sentiment towards Thailand, in the aftermath of the attack, has taken a dip and a severe turn for the worse. As opinion pollsters would say, Thailand now has very high negative ratings in some quarters. For the Owens family, we can only wish that they fully recover from both the injuries and trauma resulting from the brutal assault. The offer of compensation and pursuit of justice by the Thai government may be a step to restoring confidence among tourists and visitors to Thailand.