The trial of two Burmese men charged in connection with the murder of two British tourists in Thailand has been adjourned until July.
Migrant workers Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 21, are accused of killing David Miller, 24, from Jersey, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
The pair protested their innocence again yesterday at an all-day hearing on the island of Koh Samui.
A judge set a trial date for 8 July, when the case is expected to resume with evidence from prosecution witnesses.
The judge rejected a plea from the defence to delay proceedings until they could further prepare their case.
Before yesterday’s unexpected hearing, the trial had been expected to start in February.
The victims’ bodies were found with severe head wounds on a beach on the holiday island of Koh Tao on 15 September.
Police said Ms Witheridge was raped during the attack and that two semen samples had been found on her body.
The two suspects retracted confessions made to police in October, claiming they confessed only after being beaten and threatened by officers.
Thai police have been criticised for their failure to secure the crime scene and for releasing the names and pictures of suspects who were not subsequently charged.
At a hearing this month, the pair’s lawyer, Nakorn Chompoochart, said they had pleaded not guilty to several charges relating to the deaths. They are accused of conspiracy to commit murder, rape, criminal cover-up, illegally entering Thailand and staying in the country without permission, according to court papers.
After yesterday’s hearing, Mr Chompoochart said there was now more time to convince witnesses currently in Burma to appear at the trial.
A committee of investigators set up by Burma’s embassy in Bangkok last week said potential witnesses able to prove the suspects were innocent had been too scared to appear in court for fear of retribution by Thai police or their former employers.
“Now we have witnesses, but the problem is they are scared. We might need more time and we might have to go to Myanmar [Burma] to meet them,” he said. “I’m confident because we have enough information to convince the court that the two did not commit the crime.”
The embassy’s investigators said they had interviewed about 40 Burmese nationals who were working on Koh Tao, a tiny island and popular diving destination, at the time of the murders.
They said “strong witnesses” had returned to Burma because they were worried that they would be implicated in the crime.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to monitor the case closely and expect the trial to be conducted in a fair and transparent way in line with international standards.
“The British government cannot interfere with Thailand’s judicial processes, just as other government’s are unable to interfere in UK judicial processes.
“We continue to provide support and assistance to both the families of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller.”
About 2.5 million people from Burma work in Thailand, most as domestic servants or in industries such as construction, fisheries and the garment sector.