BRIT backpacker Kirsty Jones was just 23 years old when she raped and strangled at a Thai hostel 20 years ago – but her killer was never found.
Now, her heartbroken mum has sold of her pain and anger after her daughter’s case was this month closed forever by Thai authorities.
Thai law’s 20-year limit on investigating cases means the country’s police will now be unable to arrest anyone for Kirsty’s murder – even if new information comes to light.
After two decades of working tirelessly for justice, her mum Sue Jones has spoken out against the law and revealed her anguish at the thought her daughter’s killer may never be put behind bars.
"Every day, she’s always in our thoughts," Sue says. "We still talk about her a great deal. We miss her every day and we always will.
“I miss her laughter and her chatter and her smile. I miss not knowing what she's doing, where she's going, where she's been. She’ll always be 24 but I’d prefer if she was here and she was 44.
“Whoever did this to Kirsty could do it again even if it’s 25 or 30 years down the line, it’s still possible that he could attack somebody else.
“I don’t see why anyone should put a limit on murder.”
Troubled travel hotspot
Sue is far from the first to face such tragedy.
Despite its flawless beaches and crystal seas, Thailand has earned a deadly reputation after 60 Brits between the age of 16 to 50 died there in unknown circumstances from 2014 to 2016 alone.
And at least six young Brits have all died in suspicious circumstances on the small island of Koh Tao, earning it the title ‘Death Island’.
With dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife, the Thai islands may seem like the ultimate tourist destination, but many are reportedly run by mafia families and have sky high crime rates.
And the Thai police’s reluctance to investigate foreigners' deaths has left many cases unsolved for years – and dozens of families worried they will never discover what really happened to their loved ones.
'He was living his dream'
When 26-year-old Luke Miller set off to Thailand with best friend James Gissing for a four-week holiday in December 2015, he was ready to have a trip of a lifetime.
His mum Sara Cotton, 56, remembers his excitement when he left for the Land of Smiles.
“I remember the day he left so well," Sara says. "I was telling him to be safe and to trust nobody.”
When she spoke to her son in Thailand, he told her he was living his dream.
But within weeks, Luke would be found dead at the bottom of a hotel swimming pool on Koh Tao.
His death came just 16 months after Brits Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were brutally murdered on the same paradise island.
When Luke was found, there were cuts and bruises on his legs and face, but the Thai authorities were quick to treat Luke’s death as an accident.
Sara insists the police did not investigate key witnesses and believes the Thai authorities did little to work out what happened to Luke on the night he died.
“The Thai authorities were adamant it was an accident, but that was no accident," she says.
“There were quite a few things that didn’t add up.
“He was found with a bit of ritalin in his system. I think he was drugged and beaten.”
Luke’s body was returned to the UK four weeks after his death and in 2017 a coroner ruled his death as an “open verdict” – meaning it was still unclear how he died.
While there was “no evidence” of murder, Sara still believes the truth of her son’s death has yet to be revealed.
And the bereaved mum is convinced Thailand’s 20 year limit on investigations should not be allowed.
I 100 per cent want the Thai authorities to investigate this," she says.
“I want to know what really happened to Luke on that night.
“If evidence comes to light that somebody’s guilty of murder, surely there should be no time limit on that. That’s not fair on the families, is it?
“But because it’s Thailand, you can’t be on the case all the time.”
Take care, don’t trust anybody in Thailand
Kirsty Jones' mum Sue agrees.
“I was hoping that something would occur that would make them extend [the limitations] but in my heart of hearts I knew that they wouldn’t," she says.
"The Thais have not done anything for a good number of years. There are many roads they haven't gone down or investigated.”
Sara, who recently lost her husband Martin, 59, still misses Luke every day.
“Luke was such a loving, caring, flamboyant young man. He loved life. He was the cheekiest person you ever knew," she says.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him or of all my children.”
Now Sara believes there should be far more warnings for young Brits of the dangers in Thailand.
“Thailand might look beautiful, you might think it's safe, but it's not what it seems," she adds. "You need to be aware it is dangerous. It is a very dark place.”
'My advice? Don't go'
Other carefree young Brits have also faced tragic ends on the ‘Death Island’ Koh Tao.
Christina Annesley, 23, was found dead in her bungalow with a mix of medication and alcohol in her system in 2015.
But delays by the Thai authorities in finding Christina’s body and glaring gaps in the investigation have left her parents convinced there is more to discover about how their beloved daughter died.
Her father, Boyne Annesley, previously said: “I don’t believe we’ll ever find out what happened to her.
“You can’t get proof because the authorities are corrupt.”
Another Brit, Nick Pearson, 25, was found in the sea in Thailand after he disappeared on a night out in 2014.
And Liam Whitaker, 24, was found hanged in a Thai police cell in 2013.
The shocking number of suspicious deaths in Thailand and the authorities’ failure to investigate them properly have sparked outcry from bereaved families and charities alike.
Now campaigners say more must be done to pressure the Thai authorities to look into foreign deaths thoroughly.
Matthew Searle, from the Lucie Blackman Trust (LBT), has worked on a number of suspicious deaths in Thailand and says people must be aware of the dangers in certain parts of the country.
He says: “When friends say: ‘I’m thinking of going to Thailand,' I say: ‘Don’t go.'
“It’s a beautiful place but the amount of cases we get where something bad happens is far worse than anywhere in the world.
“I wouldn’t dream of going to Koh Tao in a million years, we’ve worked on several violent and unexplained deaths there.”
"You’re never going to stop the youngsters doing it," Sue adds. "Take care, don’t trust anybody in Thailand.
"Keep in touch, tell people where you are, try and stay in pairs.”
Cops abandoning families
When a British backpacker dies in Thailand, Matthew says the main difficulty lies in the Thai authorities refusing to investigate.
“It’s very difficult working with the Thai authorities and getting anything done at all is a struggle," he says.
“If the Thai authorities have an opportunity not to do something, they’ll take it.
“A foreign traveller is not their highest priority and they don’t want the image of foreigners being killed because that’s bad for tourism.”
To prevent the tragedy of unsolved cases, Matthew urges families who find themselves in the awful position of losing a loved one in Thailand to call the Foreign Commonwealth Office and LBT immediately.
He says the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and other groups can then pressure the Thai police to investigate matters straight aware, making sure they do an autopsy and chasing them up for regular reports.
“The key is to get as much done as early as possible to make sure that everything that nothing is overlooked," Matthew adds.
“It’s got to be about getting things done at the start to make sure things are not unresolved 20 years later.”
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