Reporting of the story of 29 year old Chris Dodd, who was arrested and jailed in Thailand on suspicion of the theft of a smartphone, has so far failed to investigate the basis for his release and the meaning of the ‘non prosecution order’ on which it was made possible. This week Thai police in Chiang Mai, in an unusual move, have revealed details of the crime for which the young tattoo artist was charged and which on some points, contradicts the British man’s version of events to the UK media. The young UK tattoo artist, who became somewhat popular in Chiang Mai prison during his short sojourn, claims that he was innocent of any wrongdoing and merely intended to seek out the owner of the phone he found at the airport before being arrested by Thai police.
Thai police in Chiang Mai have revealed this week that they are considering further legal action against a UK backpacker, recently released from prison in Thailand after being accused of stealing a smartphone from a German traveler at Chiang Mai International Airport. The UK man was released on bail on March 11th after he was arrested on February 26th at his guest house in central Chiang Mai and charged with theft. Information revealed by Thai police this week, runs contrary to the UK man’s account of events in media interviews to UK media outlets. Thai police are reportedly concerned with the way the matter is being portrayed. The UK man adamantly claims to be innocent of the charges while Thai police are also stoutly defending their decision to charge him. Dodd was only released after an innovative Thai legal provision, which allows public prosecutors to issue a non prosecution order, was deployed. The UK man’s father, through a lawyer in Thailand, legitimately and properly used crowd sourced funding first of all on March 11th this year, to obtain bail for his 29 year old son and then to make a legitimate payment, as provided for by Thai law, so that a court approved non prosecution order could be issued in accordance with proper Thai legal procedures. This was subsequently approved by a Thai court. Reporting in the UK on the story, so far, has failed to explain the workings of this Thai legal mechanism to the public.
The story of 29 year old UK man, Chris Dodd from Pole in Dorset in southern England, who was rescued by his family and a crowdfunding exercise from prison in Thailand may not be the innocent man wrongly jailed in a third world country that British media, including the BBC, would have you believe. Indeed, the UK man could be facing further legal action in Thailand according to the Thai police who are not happy with international coverage of the matter and statements being made to the media by the 29 year old.
UK man allowed to leave Thailand and spared prosecution after an advanced Thai legal provision was deployed in the case by prosecutors
It has also emerged that criminal charges against the 29 year old were only dropped by Thai authorities after a substantial sum was paid through a legal representative employed by his father and sourced through a crowd funding appeal process. This means effectively that the British public paid a legal fine or penalty specified by prosecutors and legal fees to arrange the best outcome for the young man. The amount paid was required under advanced Thai legal regulations which allows public prosecutors significant discretion in certain cases, including theft, to settle disputes between injured parties, employ meditation or simply to adjudicate where a prosecution is concerned. Such resolutions have to be approved by a Thai court and must be in the interests of the nation and society. It is reported that Chris Dodd was released, despite an ongoing prosecution for theft, by the issuance of such a non prosecution order that was fully approved by a Thai court.
UK law or jurisprudence in western countries very different to Thailand’s legal code
There are acute differences between the Thai legal system and the UK legal system which is in itself in a profound state of change in addition to law enforcement in the UK. It would be quite true to say that both systems are moving further apart. Long vaunted as the criminal system par excellence for the rest of the world, the British criminal system, in recent years, together with police enforcement has deteriorated to such an extent, that UK nationals in London and other areas are increasingly forced to pay private security firms to protect against theft and larceny while individuals speaking their mind online and exercising their rights to free speech may experience the UK police out in force either to apprehend or warn them off. This is also coming at a time when younger western people are growing up with a lack of knowledge or respect for sound legal principles and are being encouraged by society to think more in emotional or subjective terms.
Media coverage in the UK often displays a prejudice towards Thailand due to corruption
The case of 29 year old Chris Dodd also highlights a growing prejudice and ready acceptance among the media and some sections of the public in the western world, of automatic criticism of Thailand. It is often portrayed as a country mired in corruption. Thailand ranks a very poor 99th out of 180 countries in the transparency.org world index while the United Kingdom comes in at number 10 or 11, jointly with Germany, based on 2018 figures. Certainly, Thailand suffers from corruption and it is a serious problem and issue for the country. Its true extent and strong efforts to combat it are, however, not understood or properly reported on in western countries. We have to also ask how these indexes are created and by whom? What is the nature of the values that are taken into account? An increasingly liberal media in western countries portrays Thailand in a negative light not just because of corruption but also due to its traditional and old fashioned values which includes a strong emphasis on law and order. Thailand is seen as behind the curve when it comes to global, progressive values.
Explanation for payment of £5,000 of crowdfunded money not forthcoming from UK media
An example of this attitude and media reporting can be seen from an interview the father of 29 year old Chris Dodds gave to the BBC, in recent days, where he categorizes the money paid by the family on behalf of the 29 year old in a manner that failed to fully explain the proper and appropriate legal context in which the payment was made and approved of by a Thai court to allow public prosecutors to issue a non prosecution order for his son: ‘Over there money talks but, yes, it’s… having a really good lawyer.’ Of course, what Mr Dodd’s senior said was entirely accurate and true but to many western minds, not understanding the law in Thailand, the explanation might sound circumspect when nothing improper at all occurred. It is important to note that neither was 29 year old Chris Dodd found innocent or guilty of the offence with which he was charged as no trial ensued. The order itself certainly has some weight as such orders are not granted where there are aggravating factors or where they are not in the public interest
Theft in Thailand is strictly interpreted
The essence of this story, however, is the strict interpretation of theft and prosecution of such offences in all situations which occurs in Thailand. A similar situation has arisen this week with a 26 year old American, Parker Wilson, who considered it appropriate while traveling in the Phi Phi islands, to drive away with and damage a motorboat belonging to a Thai family firm and which was the basis of gainful employment. The young American was drunk and determined to drive speedboat from one island to another. He was arrested last Monday at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Rights to private property tightly guarded by Thai people as used to be case in western societies
In Thailand, property rights are guarded closely. The law states that no one has to right to touch or move another person’s property at anytime. This is why you will see in Thailand personal belongings left outside doors without fear and why there is such respect for law and order. It is indeed a far cry from the deterioration in law and order in western countries where property is now routinely stolen and damaged without even police investigation or follow up. A UK police force in the south of the country recently notified shop owners in a region that they would not respond to shoplifting complaints where to amount taken was under £150. It should cause people living in western countries to question the direction western society is taking and be less prejudiced or more understanding about the laws in Thailand. Is there, for instance, any index that illustrates or takes into account this patent failure by UK police forces to protect owners of property? Is this not a failure to uphold rights also?
Thai police in Chiang Mai take unusual step of providing information on the case after UK media interviews by 29 year old UK man accused of theft
This week, police in Chiang Mai have come out and taken the unusual step of giving more details on what they believe was a strong case of theft against 29 year old Chris Dodd, the dreadlocked backpacker holidaying in Chiang Mai caught up in an alleged offence perpetrated on February 26th last. A senior police officer in Chiang Mai, Police Colonel Krissana Pattanacharoen, is also reported as saying that based on recorded interviews the 29 year old Dodd has made to UK and international media, the Thai police are now contemplating further legal action against him.
UK man told UK media that he ‘found’ the smartphone and was looking for its owner
The 29 year old has claimed that he ‘found’ the smartphone as he was about to get into a taxi after arriving at Chiang Mai International Airport on February 26th. He has suggested, in interviews to the UK media, that he picked up the phone near the taxi and went looking for its owner. Technically, this is of course theft under Thai law. It is quite common for hard working and underpaid Thai taxi drivers in Thailand, however, and those who provide such services for tourists, to routinely return phones and lost items even at times including large amounts of cash to travelers. Such as the respect for the law in Thailand and it must be said, the fear of being found in contravention of it.
Theft of all property in Thailand is a very serious criminal offence and swiftly punished
Theft in Thailand will send a person to Thai prison for five years and as Mr Dodd discovered, jail time in Thailand is not easy. In addition, the often maligned Royal Thai Police have a very impressive record of tracking down wrong doers in the kingdom with a population of up to 70 million people. Most perpetrators of crime are caught within hours certainly within days. The consequences for offenders are severe particularly if they cannot afford to make restitution for damage or loss caused to the injured party as Mr Dodd may have been able to do.
Thai Police in Chiang Mai strongly defend decision to charge Chris Dodds for smartphone theft
This week, a senior police officer in Chiang Mai, revealed an account somewhat contrary or perhaps in a wider context to what the 29 year old Chris Dodd has been telling the media in the UK and elsewhere. Police Colonel Krissana Pattanacharoen revealed that police officers at Chiang Mai International Airport had been approached on February 26th by a German tourist who reported that she had lost her smartphone. Police immediately took action to investigate the German travelers complaint. They discovered from CCTV footage the distinctive and unmistakable Mr Dodd, sporting his dreadlocks and a white cap, picking up the phone from the floor of the passenger lounge in the terminal. He then proceeded to leave the airport terminal by taking a ride on a public passenger van.
CCTV showed the UK man take the smartphone from the airport floor and leave by passenger van
Thai police, who take theft and complaints from owners of property very seriously, then traced the passenger van in which Mr Dodd took his leave of the airport terminal to a guest house in the Sripoom area in the heart of Chiang Mai. Within the guesthouse, they found Chris Dodd in possession of the smartphone that he had taken from the airport. To be fair to the 29 year old, he told a TV interviewer in the UK, in the last few days, that he had barely arrived in his guesthouse when he was ‘ambushed’ by raiding Thai police thus being preventing from taking steps to find the rightful owner of the phone. He strongly claimed that this was his intention and that he was not afforded the opportunity to do so by the zealous response of the police.
Thai police: UK man removed the smartphone sim card, changed its languages, cleared the data and changed the password of the phone
Except this does not appear to be the case according to police accounts from the senior officer. Police Colonel Krissana Pattanacharoen in Chiang Mai told The Nation newspaper this week that when the police seized the smartphone from Mr Dodd, they found that the sim card for the phone had already been removed by him, a move which if true, would have in fact, prevented the rightful owner of the phone from making contact with it. Police also say that they found that the language settings had been changed as well as the password on the mobile device. All data had been removed from the phone. If reports from the Thai police are to be believed and credited, the UK man had taken ownership of the smartphone that he had found earlier at the airport and taken it away with him. No attempt appears to have been made to trace the owner of the smartphone.
Arrested, charged with theft and sent to prison awaiting legal proceedings and prosecution
Chris Dodd was arrested on the spot and taken to the Pupingrachaniwet police station. Police charged him with theft on the basis of the clear evidence before them and as any other person would be treated including Thai nationals. The UK man was later transferred to a Thai prison in Chiang Mai pending a trial for theft. Colonel Krissana Pattanacharoen of the Royal Thai Police had this to say this week to The Nation, the English speaking newspaper read by local expats in Thailand and Thais alike: ‘We strictly follow the laws with respect to basic human rights.’
After UK media interviews, police in Chiang Mai are looking at further legal action against 29 year old Chris Dodds due to portrayal of events
The senior Thai police officer then revealed that Thai police in Chiang Mai were considering further action against the UK national. ‘We are gathering information from his interviews to consider legal action against him.’ The police officer also explained that it was standard procedure in Thailand to remove dreadlocks and excess hair when committing inmates to prison as is the case in many countries. This aspect of his prison experience has been particularly referenced by Mr Dodd in his media interviews. It is also understood that his dreadlocks were returned to him when he was subsequently released from prison.
Ordeal of young UK man in Thai prison was real
No one is questioning the ordeal that the young UK man must have experienced at being lodged in an overcrowded Thai prison. It is perhaps the main reason why there is respect for law and order in Thailand. Dodd described his ordeal to sympathetic BBC reporters recently: ‘I was stripped naked, sent in, given a blanket. Then, the next thing you know you’re being taken into the cells, where they house massive amounts of people,’ he said. ‘Nobody spoke English. It was really intimidating. You just have to fight for a space on the floor and you have people’s legs all over you.’
Sadly, many western people may not be interested in the law or legalities of the matter at all
It must be admitted that most UK people, responding to the funding request to assist Chris Dodd in today’s western world, may not be ready to consider at all, the minutiae and legalities of the case. Skepticism in western society has now reached a point where finders keepers is nearly an acceptable moral and legal principle in itself. In addition, the goal of releasing the young man from the rigors of incarceration Thailand would be enough to override any merits of the case presented by Thai police to some people, prejudiced against Thailand. Whether this attitude is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable is quite another matter. For some, it is a reflection of where things have gone wrong in the western world, for others it is actually a sign of progress.
Media coverage on ‘non prosecution order’ in the UK is lazy or deliberately obtuse
Chris Dodd, his father and indeed UK media have repeatedly referenced the issuance of a non prosecution order and said that charges were dropped by the prosecution. This is, of course, entirely true. In western jurisdictions, however, this would imply that there is not enough evidence to secure a conviction or that the charges were based on flimsy or even false evidence. This is not the case in Thailand which in some respects, has a criminal justice system more advanced than western countries and certainly one that is fairer for victims of crime.
Such an order is at the discretion of the public prosecutor and can involve mediation or payment to the injured party but this is not always the case
We do not have the details to hand for this case but the non prosecution order is a legal course open to Thai prosecutors in cases where the matter often involves property or disputes between the parties and are not compounded or aggravated by other factors such as severe personal injury or even death. In other words, the injured party can accept compensation in place of a prosecution if a public prosecutor deems this the right course of action for all parties and Thai society. The ultimate decision is for the prosecutor to decide upon. An injured party can still prosecute an offender even where a non prosecution order has been issued but not where a mediation and settlement has been agreed between the parties.
UK man released from prison on bail on March 11th and in recent weeks left Thailand after payment of crowd sourced funds to the Thai authorities
Chris Dodd was released from prison on March 11th when he made bail which his family put up with the assistance of a UK crowd funding exercise which raised nearly £20,000 (฿830,000) on his behalf. His family reported to the media and all those who supported the appeal, the young man’s joy at being able to catch up with family news, sleep in a comfortable bed and eat breakfast following his traumatic incarceration in Chiang Mai Prison at that time.
One media reports suggested that Thai police were ‘forced’ to suspend prosecution which is to misrepresent the legal procedure and context
Press reports in the UK described the subsequent issuance of a ‘non prosecution order’ as simply the result of a payment to authorities of £5,000 (฿212,500). One media report suggested that the order ‘forced’ the Royal Thai Police to desist from prosecuting Mr Dodd. It did not mention anything about the advanced, fair and sophisticated legal prosecution system involved that had granted to the UK man a legal way out under Thai law. The media reports, it must be said, leave a plausible impression that the UK man was found to be innocent of the charges against him or that they were somehow not sound. It is another example of systematic prejudice and bias routinely shown towards Thailand by the UK media based on outdated, false stereotypes. No attempt was made to understand what had transpired or seek comment from Thai authorities. The non prosecution order that was issued in the theft case against Chris Dodd was approved of by a Thai court in full conformity with Thai law. Certainly, in Mr Dodd’s favor, it did not specify guilt but neither did it confirm innocence although it does suggest that key parties including the prosecutor, who had the ultimate authority, were satisfied with the outcome.
Inspired move by Mr Dodd’s mother saved the day
29 year old Chris Dodd is a skilled tattoo artist and a graduate of Poole Grammar School in Dorset. On hearing of the misfortune her son had experienced while traveling in Asia, his mother Fiona Dodd had the inspiration and initiative to set up a crowdfunding page through GoFundme on March 1st, days after his incarceration. There followed appeals on behalf of her son and a range of activities over the coming weeks even including a golf outing a local gold club. There is no doubt that the funding generated by the appeal helped the young man from Dorset possibly avoid an unspeakable, longer prison sentence in a Thai prison. The actions of the UK man’s family are both impressive and understandable. They have consistently credited the funds raised through crowd sourcing with a successful legal effort that retrieved the young man from the clutches of prosecution in Thailand and perhaps a stiff prison sentence.
Family ‘blown away’ by support and would have sold the house to bring son home to the UK
His father and his family said that they were ‘blown away’ by the support they had received but suggested that if Chris had not been released, they would have sold their home, no matter what hardship that entailed, to do everything possible for the young man and the son of the family. Again an understandable and admirable response.
The 29 year old, speaking to the media back in the UK, recalled his experience of Chiang Mai Prison. His ordeal was not as harrowing and brutal as many would imagine. He talks about being given some information while being admitted at the prison before being transferred to the general population. He recalls people shouting at him in Thai language and not being able to understand a word of what they were saying: ‘just really didn’t understand anything.’
Fighting for a place to sleep in a Thai prison
He found himself fighting for space in a crowded jail cell just to sleep. ‘No no on spoke English’ he remembers. He moved about after being stripped naked, showered and given a prison blanket after first having his dreadlocks shorn off. ‘It’s really intimidating,’ he explained. Once he did managed to find a space to lie down, it was just a matter of waiting until the morning.
Chris Dodd’s prison experience became more comfortable at Chiang Mai prison
Chris was lucky. His skills as a tattoo artist and ability to draw saw him make friends and gain respect in the prison. In most Thai prisons, contrary to popular mythology, westerners are well liked by the prison population. Problems usually arise with inmates who have mental health issues. Chris described his drawings as ‘really popular’ within the prison. ‘I actually started doing drawing for prisoners,’ he recalled. The UK man was given tips or gratuities such as coffee, noodles and even food for his efforts. ‘Life got a bit more comfortable after that.’
Sage and good advice from a lucky UK man to other travelers to Thailand
What is of great importance is Chris Dodd’s comments on his experience and his advice to other UK nationals visiting Thailand. His advice is good and accurate. The first is to realise that the laws are different in Thailand are different and to strictly respect them. The second is never to touch another person’s property under any circumstances.