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Melbourne mum arrested over Thai bar 'prank'
Reko Rennie -
May 19, 2009 -
An Australian mother charged in Thailand with theft for allegedly taking a bar "slops rag" says she is innocent and has made an impassioned plea for help from the Federal Government.
Thirty-six-year-old Annice Smoel faces jail in Thailand for the alleged theft of a bar-mat Photo: 3aw.com.au
Mother of four Annice Smoel, 36, of Montrose in Melbourne's outer east, says her arrest for allegedly stealing a bar mat from a Phuket bar during her mother's 60th birthday celebration was "totally unbelievable".
Speaking from Thailand in a conference call with her Melbourne lawyers this morning, Mrs Smoel broke down and said she just wanted to get home to her daughters, aged 6, 8, 11 and 12. Her husband Darren has flown to Phuket.
'She abused chief of police'
Owner of Phuket bar says arrested Australian woman had an attitude problem that got her into trouble.
"If they wantd to teach me a lesson they have well and truly done it," she said.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said all available consular assistance was being provided to Mrs Smoel and he was concerned that "all the facts be established".
"I've just been advised about this, the Foreign Minister and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are on top of this case," he told reporters in Melbourne.
"They are providing every level of consular assistance to the family and the individual concerned."
Her brother-in-law, Gary Smoel - also at this morning's conference call - said the arrest centred on what he understood to be a "slops rag" - a towel on a bar to soak up spilt drinks.
Smoel said she was devastated to have missed her eldest daughter's appendectomy, Mother's Day and another daughter's birthday.
She said she spent four nights in a four-metre square cell with three other inmates before she was released on bail. Thai police had confiscated her passport and she is required to report to authorities every two weeks as a condition of bail. She said it was expected to be 14 weeks before her case was heard in court.
"She has received legal advice that suggests that if she is found guilty of night-time theft in Thailand, she faces two to five years' imprisonment," lawyer Brendan Murphy said.
"Annice Smoel is an innocent woman. She has not committed a crime, she did not place the bar mat in her bag, nor did she leave the premises of the bar with it in her bag.
"This is a dire situation and we are calling on the Federal Government to urgently intervene to ensure she can return home to her family.
Smoel told Radio 3AW that the consulate had provided her with a list of lawyers but had told her that the consulate could not interfere in legal proceedings.
"I explained to them that I am innocent but they said that the Thai Government hasn't decided that yet. Until I've been to court I haven't been proven innocent," Smoel said.
"I get very scared when I see police. I'm just trying to keep it together, so I can get home," she said.
Didn't do it
Ms Smoel told Radio 3AW this morning that she didn't do it.
She said a friend had confessed to police that she had done it and there was video evidence proving her innocence.
"There was video evidence in the bar. I was nowhere near the handbag," she said.
"One of the girls involved went down to the police station on Sunday morning and confessed to the crime and apologised and they [Thai police] told her to go away. They didn't care.
"Apparently the police have 48 days to investigate the crime.
"It's just a really slow and crazy system."
In a statutory declaration to Victoria Police, Ms Smoel's friends said they had played a "silly joke" on Ms Smoel that had backfired.
"We would like to apologise for any harm, inconvenience or any lack of respect on our behalf. This was truly not our intention.
"We were all out drinking and became intoxicated. We put the bar mat into Annice's handbag and she was unaware that we were playing a joke on her."
The women said the bar mat did not leave the premises and that they intended to return the bar mat to the table.
They said bar staff approached Ms Smoel and asked her to open her bag. When staff saw the bar mat, they called the police.
Rubbed the wrong way
Aussie Bar owner Steve Wood said Ms Smoel had "rubbed the wrong people the wrong way".
He said patrons regularly tried to steal the bar's beer mats, which were on sale for $60, and were usually spoken to by staff.
But Mr Wood, who was not in the bar the night of the arrest, said police had this time caught Ms Smoel's friends in the act.
He told Radio 3AW, Ms Smoel had fled when approached by police and was later spotted at a beach and walked to Patong police station where she abused the police chief.
Ms Smoel said police had confiscated her bag and she was having difficulty communicating with police and lawyers.
She said she had spent two nights in a small cell.
"It's everything you read about, it's four metres by four metres, concrete slab, big bars," she said.
"The toilet makes you feel sick just to look at, no toilet paper.
"They would bring food twice a day. It was food from the street."
Ms Smoel, whose husband, Darren, has flown to Thailand to be with her, said she now just wanted to get home to her children.
Hanging in there
"I'm OK, I'm hanging in there, I don't feel like I can really deal with what's happened until I get home with my kids and I'm just trying to hang in there and do it one day at a time and get home."
"DFAT in Canberra have provided extensive consular assistance to the woman and her family," a DFAT spokeswoman said.
"A court hearing for the woman was scheduled for May 18. The embassy is seeking the outcome of that hearing."
Melbourne mum Annice Smoel facing five years jail in Thailand
May 19, 2009
UPDATE 5.40pm: A MELBOURNE woman facing a Thai jail for stealing a bar mat has made an emotional appeal to return home.
Annice Smoel in a family photo issued at a press conference today. In the photo are Annice, her husband, Darren, and children Zhian (back), Lilly (front left), Daisy and Zoe. This photo is not recent. Lilly is now 6.
Emotionally drained Montrose mother-of-four Annice Smoel said her daughters needed her desperately, particularly Zhian, who had undergone emergency surgery without her mother by her side, after suffering appendicitis.
"I've already missed so much, I really want to be a good mum and I've always prided myself on being a good mum and I've missed my daughter's operation, I've missed Mother's Day, I've missed another daughter's birthday," a tearful Mrs Smoel said from her Phuket hotel room.
Mrs Smoel says she's "scared, helpless and alone" and is pleading for the Rudd Government to intervene.
She has spent four days in a cramped Thai jail cell with three other women and described her holiday gone wrong as "totally unbelievable".
Her husband, Darren, says the Australian Government is offering little help.
Mrs Smoel, 36, is facing up to five years' jail in Thailand over the alleged theft of a bar mat from the popular Aussie Bar in Phuket.
She was drinking in the bar with friends when they apparently played a prank on her, putting a bar mat in her handbag.
But the owner of the Aussie Bar, Steve Wood, told 3AW he believed Mrs Smoel had been abusive toward the undercover police who had stopped her in the bar.
"When they talked to her all they wanted to do was chastise her, and they usually let you go, but she did a runner on them ... the police had to chase her down the beach," Mr Wood said.
"When they took her back to the police station, she continued to abuse everyone at the police station including the chief of police and I think this is what the problem is.
"It's more of an attitude problem than a crime problem."
She was charged with a "night-time theft" and imprisoned for four days.
Mr Wood said he had not pressed charges.
During a telephone link-up from Phuket with reporters, Mrs Smoel broke down, saying she just wanted to get home to her four young daughters aged six, eight, 11 and 12.
"They are terrified and scared," she said.
Asked how she felt, she said "just scared, helpless, alone".
In a plea to the government, she said: "You've got to help me, I have not done anything wrong, this is a crock."
Her husband has flown to Phuket to be by his wife's side.
"This is a complete joke - the Thai authorities have no compassion and no respect for Western women or the wrongly accused. It's just a joke," he said.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said all available consular assistance was being provided, but Mr Smoel says the action of the Australian Government and consular authorities had been "nowhere near good enough".
Mr Smoel said he felt like he was "chasing his tail" in Thailand.
"My journey with them started a week ago and I don’t feel it’s been that good to be honest, I don’t feel that there’s anyone out there looking for us that’s for sure," he told 3AW.
"We have stat decs (statutory declarations) stating what happened and their total innocence here and we really feel the Australian Government should be helping us."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed Mrs Smoel was arrested on May 3 and charged with theft. A court hearing has been set for next Monday.
The spokeswoman said consular assistance had been provided to Mrs Smoel.
"Consular officials from the Australian embassy, Bangkok, and from DFAT in Canberra have provided extensive consular assistance to the woman and her family," she said.
Mrs Smoel said undercover police in the Aussie Bar stopped her on her way out of the bar. She was then arrested and spent four nights in a Thai jail cell.
"They came up to me and said ‘show us in the bag’. I had only just picked it up … had a quick look inside and saw there was something in it,” she told 3AW.
"I was nowhere near the handbag. One of the girls involved went down to the police on Sunday morning and confessed to the crime and apologised and they told her to go away, they didn't care."
"I have been treated unfairly and held here for something I didn't do."
Mrs Smoel said she initially thought police were letting her go but when she got outside they arrested her and put her in a 4m by 4m jail cell.
"I am doing ok, I am hanging in there. I don’t feel like I can really deal with what’s happened until I can get home and see my kids,” she said.
Mrs Smoel was in Thailand with friends celebrating her mother’s 60th birthday.
The family had even tried offering money to Thai authorities but that was refused.
Ms Smoel insisted she was innocent of the theft which was committed by a friend who confessed to the police but was told to go away.
Mr Rudd says consular officials in Thailand were assisting Mrs Smoel.
"I've just been advised about this, the Foreign Minister and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are on top of this case," Mr Rudd told reporters in Melbourne.
"They are providing every level of consular assistance to the family and the individual concerned."
Mrs Smoel is required to report to authorities every two weeks as a condition of bail and it is expected to be 14 weeks before her case is heard in court.
Her lawyer Bernard Murphy says she has been told she could face two to five years' in jail if found guilty of "night-time theft."
AAP with Sarah Wotherspoon
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