The Thai Examiner covers many stories of foreigners dealing drugs in Thailand and the harsh punishment regularly meted out by Thai authorities. This can include real life prison sentence and even the death sentence. There are many foreigners, quite rightly, who feel that this no nonsense approach is the correct one and would like to see similar regimes in western countries. It would be true to say that there is little sympathy among foreigners in Thailand for other foreigners who break the law in the kingdom. In the case of Lance Whitmore, the young UK man from Pattaya who received a 50 year sentence from a Thai court in June 2015 for drugs dealing, the same commentary must apply. Except in this case, there are some special circumstances. The young man quickly confessed to his crime and has, from day one, accepted his guilt. This is always a good thing. Another circumstance is the young man’s state of mind when he committed the crime as reported by his family. Having worked abroad in the petrochemical business and spent three years in Thailand, the death of Lance’s beautiful Thai fiancée 25 year old Jitma Tahin in 2014 shocked the young UK man to the core. The casual nature of death in Thailand is something many foreigners find it difficult to accept. Then, since Lance was sent to Klong Prem prison in 2015 and his prison sentence subsequently upheld, there is his family and their heart rending support. Lance’s father, 56 year Russell, who lives in Pattaya and his mother Debbie Caswell have shown a devotion and commitment to their son that, in spite of the serious and despicable nature of the crime, is inspirational. It can only be hoped now that the prisoner transfer process to transfer the young man back to the UK to complete his prison term ultimately goes ahead at the appropriate time and that someday, Lance and his family will see the light at the end of what must be a never ending nightmare for them all. Only the hardest of hearts would wish otherwise.

The family of Lance Whitmore are hoping that the young man will soon be transferred to the United Kingdom under the International Prisoner Transfer program enacted in 1984 by Thai authorities. It is understood that in January he gave his permission to the agreement and is now awaiting on a decision from authorities in the UK and in Thailand.

Lance Whitmore has been held at Bangkok’s mammoth Klong Prem prison in Chatuchak, on the outskirts of the city now for over 4 years. It is reported that he gave his permission or authority, in recent months, for the Thai international transfer of prisoner program in the hope of being repatriated to the United Kingdom to serve out the remainder of his prison term under the Thailand’s 1984 law and treaty with the United Kingdom. This probably will see him serve an even lengthier prison term in the UK than he has already served in Thailand up to now. There is some debate on whether it will be 10 or up to 20 years. The 32 year old UK man was sentenced by a Thai court to 50 years in prison in 2015 with the sentence being upheld in 2016. Since then, his devoted mother and father as well as a network of close friends and strangers have helped to support Lance in his nightmarish ordeal in prison. The crime was a most serious and reprehensible one that would be condemned by nearly all foreigners in Thailand, however, the attitude of the young man and his family to the ordeal has, so far, been inspiring.

The UK man was jailed for 50 years in Thailand in June 2015, after being caught in August 2014 attempting to sell 200 ecstasy pills to an undercover informant for the Thai police at a car park outside a supermarket in Pattaya.

UK man jailed for 50 years at Thailand largest maximum security prison in Bangkok

The young man, who is now 32 years of age, is believed to be suffering from the physical and mental effects of 5 years in Bangkok’s Klong Prem prison on the outskirts of Bangkok in Chatuchak. The prison is a maximum security facility with over 20,000 inmates being held cramped and unhygenic conditions. It is reported that least 1,000 of these inmates are foreigners normally held in Building 2.The institution is a huge prison complex housing both men and women. Lance is lucky that he is not being held at Bang Kwang Prison also known infamously as the Bangkok Hilton which is reputed to be Thailand harshest jail. However, prison time in Thailand, at any institution, is not easy particularly for foreigners and especially, according to reports, in recent years with severe overcrowding and the consequent need for tighter prison discipline.

Lucky to have the support of a committed family both in the UK and here in Thailand

The UK man is lucky to have the support of a committed and active family both at home and in Thailand who visit him as often as possible and provide an impressive level of support. The young man is believed to be suffering from a bad back from having to sleep on a concrete floor at the huge prison where he once shared a bare wall prison cell with up to 78 other inmates. At one point, when Lance first arrived at Klong Prem, the young man was also reported to be suffering from chronic tooth decay from poor nourishment and stress.

UK man’s mother, Debbie, runs a Facebook page for Lance and speaks with him via video chat

His mother, Debbie Caswell, who updates readers on a Facebook support page, recently revealed that one of the prisoners walks on her son’s back to help him cope with the pain he suffers from constantly sleeping on a hard surface. She also revealed that her son receives great comfort and hope from receiving letters and visits at the prison.

Dark day for the UK family in September 2016 when the 50 year prison sentence was confirmed by a Thai court and destroyed all hope

It is quite a different picture from September 2016 when the Thai Appeals Court upheld the UK man’s 50 year sentence. At that time, his father, 56 year Russell Whitmore expressed his frustration at the fate of his son. Russell said that conditions at Klong Prem were very harsh and had been tightened up. He lamented the fact that prison guards took away two soft Towels he had bought for his son as they were deemed too luxurious for the prison. At the time, he expressed his deep concern for his son at the prison because of the poor food provided to prisoners and the prevalence of Aids. Many prisoners in Klong Prem are drug addicts. Thai prisons, for male prisoners and hardened criminals at maximum security institutions at least, are notorious for providing poor quality rice and fish heads to those who cannot afford to buy their own food.

Father broke down after court when his son was led away back to prison after appeal verdict

In 2016, Lance’s dad broke down to the press when his son’s 50 year prison sentence was upheld. It was only two years into Lance’s prison term at Klong Prem prison had begun and the loving father had hoped that the sentence would be reduced. He attended court in Bangkok in September 2016 when the verdict was handed down with his son shackled to his co accused Australian, Jake Mastroianni. The father broke into tears when his son was lead away again back to prison that day.

‘It’s horrendous,’ said Lance Whitmore’s father on prison conditions at Klong Prem in 2016

‘I was hoping for a much shorter sentence and I’m totally devastated,’ he said. He expressed his frustration with the support from the UK Embassy at the time and lashed out at the conditions that his son was being held in at Klong Prem. He described bad food with cockroaches everywhere in the prison. ‘It’s inhuman,’ he said.

He revealed that he traveled regularly to the prison to bring his son food and expressed himself worried about his son’s physical and mental condition. He said his son had witnessed two stabbings and an attempted rape up to that point while imprisoned there.

Lance’s mother believes her son was ‘in a bad place’ when he committed the crime he was jailed for in 2014 after losing fiancée

At the time, Lance’s mother, Debbie Caswell who has championed support efforts for her son including her own regular video calls to him in prison, felt strongly that the psychological fallout from the sudden death of Lance’s beautiful Thai fiancée, was a big factor in his admitted criminal actions in August 2014. 25 year old Jitma Tahin had died just months before his arrest. The young Thai woman had succumbed to a meningitis infection. ‘He was in a very bad place,’ his mother told the press in 2016 after his conviction was upheld. ‘He has done wrong, but there is a reason he got mixed up in all that, everything that was going on,’ she said. Debbie has said that he believes her son was ‘vulnerable’ after the shock death of the young woman he loved. She said this mental condition had led her son to become vulnerable to the influence of others.

UK man’s family are deeply committed to his cause

Lance’s mother is deeply committed and devoted to her son as is his father. His mother has said that if she could change places with her son tomorrow in prison, she would do without question. She has been quoted as saying she would ‘walk in there and take over’ her son’s prison term if it was possible. She also says that her son is sorry for the crime he committed. A key theme in Debbie’s online pronouncements is religion and the support it offers both her and her son in what appears to be hellish situation. She describes the whole journey, in one Facebook post, as the ‘will of God’ which she and her son try to accept.

Faith keeps the UK man going in his prison ordeal

She told the press in 2016 that her son has also turned to the bible. ‘His faith keeps him going,’ she says. ‘Lance is a kind, caring, unselfish, loving person who always put others before himself. He would help anyone in need,’ she said then.

Network of people who support Lance in Thai prison

As well as his mother, father and family, Lance is also fortunate to have the support of many friends who write to him and visit him in prison. There appear to be a number of very close friends in Thailand who visit along with Lance’s father Russell. His mother, through video chats and online coordination, works to keep the young man’s spirits buoyed as he serves time in one of the harshest prison regimes in the world.

Klong Prem is a mammoth high security prison where the spread of disease, ill health and sheer tedium is the greatest threat to prisoners

While there are some contradictions about just how tough and nightmarish Thai prisons are or Klong Prem prison might be, it is a high security facility in Thailand notorious for the spread of diseases and conditions that are unhygienic. Some prison cells have a hole in the centre of the ground that serves as a toilet for up to 80 prisoners at a time in a small cramped room. However, there are also cells in the prison which hold up to 5 people with a small toilet area. These are less than 5 ft wide and 10.5 ft long. Many prisoners opt to get prison tattoos to alleviate the boredom while relationships with ladyboys or transsexuals are discreetly tolerated by prison authorities. However the fear of Aids encourages many of them to be monogamous. Prisoners are locked up rigorously under a strict regime for 13 hours a day and it is understood that the tedium of this is difficult to bear mentally.

New Zealand drugs entrepreneur and multi millionaire died recently in a Thai prison after he was held on immigration charges

A famed legal drug entrepreneur and multi millionaire from New Zealand recently died within a Thai Prison while being held for immigration offences. Admittedly, the Kiwi was reported to have a serious underlying health condition. Thai prisons are known to be very difficult for foreign, western prisoners, without support both materially and mentally, to survive. This applies to most Thai prisons and certainly Klong Prem.

Transfer back to the United Kingdom to serve his prison sentence would be a great relief to the UK man

Debbie reveals in her Facebook post that she sometimes also feels down or low when contemplating the ordeal that still lies ahead for her son and her family. However, she is also touched by the support from strangers and member of the public for her and her son. She revealed that while walking past a flower shop on Valentine’s Day recently, a young girl presented her with rose for her son. On the other hand, she is now desperately waiting for the ‘good news’ that Lance will be on his way home to the United Kingdom which will be a huge step forward for the young man and of great comfort and reassurance to his family.

Lance’s mother often finds herself crying out of fear

On the other hand, she reveals that there are times when she finds herself crying all the time ‘for fear of the unknown.’ She says that it is the same for her son and his father but that the family must ‘keep it together’ to get through the shared ordeal.

It is an ordeal and nightmare that nearly everyone can only imagine and certainly never wish to experience.

Lance and Australian pal Jake Mostraini were well known for their dream lifestyle in Pattaya

Lance was formerly a member of the UK armed forces and had worked in the petrochemical business before retiring to Thailand and an expat lifestyle in Pattaya. Before the death of his girlfriend and the drugs bust, he was a recognisable figure about the town with his friend Jake Mostraini living what many young twenty something western foreigners would consider a dream lifestyle in Thailand. With his beautiful Thai girlfriend, he regularly attended high profile parties and entertainment events and was often seen with beautiful women. Now both young men are still only getting into the stride of what will still be very long and painful prison term even if both are eventually transferred to home prisons. Whenever that happens or what terms will be subsequently laid down by Thai, UK and for Jake, Australian authorities. Jake Mostraini, the Australian man, must wait at least two more years to even apply and will serve a far longer prison term in Australia as his sentence in Thailand was two life sentence terms.

Thai committee has discretionary powers to decide all aspects of foreign prisoner transfers

It is the Thai authorities who must ultimately agree the terms as the prison sentences were imposed by Thai courts under Thai law. The process of international prison transfers is overseen by Thai authorities and a special committee involving representatives of the judiciary, justice ministry, the Thai police, the Thai Attorney General as well as the Thai Department of Corrections. It should also be noted that all its decisions are entirely discretionary and case based.

Lance pleaded guilty in 2015 to all charges

Lance Whitmore pleaded guilty to the charges against him in 2015. This turned out to be fortuitous as his fellow accused, Jake Mostraini, pleaded not guilty and was handed down two life sentences. Both cases related to somewhat different circumstances it must be said. Both prisoners had their sentences confirmed by the Thai Appeals Court in September 2016 when they both appeared before the court shackled together.

It could take some time for Lance Whitmore’s transfer to a UK prison to happen

There is no guarantee that Lance Whitmore will be transferred back to the United Kingdom immediately although authorities do seem to be moving quite quickly with his case. Debbie, his mother, herself alluded to this on Facebook recently when she said that although she was very happy that the process was now underway, it usually took a long time. Lance and the family must now wait for word from the UK and Thai authorities. She said it was now a ‘waiting game’ for them all. In one post, she revealed that Lance was recently down because a friends in prison who had supported him in Klong Prem for the last 4 years had just been released. However, at least now the young man has something himself to hope and hold on to.

Young UK man faces a lengthy prison term in the UK if he is transferred home

Under the prison transfer agreement, Lance Whitmore will certainly be required to serve a very long spell in prison in the United Kingdom as he will still be serving the sentence imposed by the Thai courts according to Thai law not the laws in the United Kingdom.

There is some dispute about the length of time he will have to serve ranging from 10 to 20 years but it certainly will be a long term of imprisonment in a UK prison. In 2016, one of Lance’s legal team, Jeffrey Stevens, suggested that it may be possible to get the residual prison term down to 10 years by working with the UK Foreign Office.

Family will not have to pay fines initially imposed by the Thai court in 2015

One significant point is that Lance and his family will not have pay the ฿3.3 million in fines originally imposed by the Thai court in 2015. Under the prisoner transfer agreement, all outstanding fines must be paid before the matter can be progressed. In 2016, the Thai Appeals Court dismissed this element of the punishment.

Lance’s best hope may still be a Royal pardon

In many cases, with UK prisoners in Thailand with very severe sentences, the quickest route to release, even when transferred back the the United Kingdom has still been the issuance of a Royal pardon from the Thai King. Other offenders who have been transferred from Thailand in recent years have been held at Wandsworth prison in London which is a category B prison and the largest prison in the country.