Bag snatcher turns killer
PHUKET, 22 June 2012: Australia’s travel industry reacted in horror to the tragic death of a travel agent visiting Phuket on a familiarisation trip with nine other Perth-based travel agents on Wednesday.
Michelle Smith, 60, who worked for RAC Travel in Joondalup, was stabbed in the heart by a bag snatcher as she walked a short distance to her hotel Katathani Beach Resort on Phuket’s Kata Noi Bay.
She was visiting Phuket on an inspection trip organised by Asia Escape Holidays, a tour wholesaler in Australia
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive, Jayson Westbury, told the Age Newspaper “it’s dreadful news and it’s devastating for the agent’s family and also for the tight-knit travel agency community in Australia.”
According to initial reports, the victim was walking back to the hotel with another travel agent shortly after dinner. Two men riding a motorcycle attempted to snatch Ms Smith’s handbag. She resisted and was stabbed in the heart, dying instantly, while her companion suffered a deep slash on the arm.
In its latest update, Phuket province officials called for an emergency meeting late Thursday to respond to reports that had circulated through hundreds of news websites worldwide.
Chalong Police Superintendent Colonial Sirasak Wasasiri called it a severe incident that ruined Phuket image. He said police were working with witnesses and studying CCTV footage at the crime scene and along the street that suspects used as an escape route.
He said there were several leads claiming the suspects would be arrested soon. He added that police were intensifying security for tourists in Phuket.
The Katathani Phuket Beach Resort chairman of the board, Sombat Atiset expressed his condolence for what happened to the two guests staying at his hotel.
He noted that his hotel has 110 cameras inside the property and another eight around the hotel exterior. The property has 23 security guards that provide 24-hour service and recently the Karon Municipality installed more street lights and police patrols were increased.
However, violent crime has increased on the island in recent years. It prompted the ambassadors of European nations to visit the island, late last year and present concerns to the island’s governor. They claimed their citizens were at risk when visiting the popular holiday island.
On the same day, the Tourism Authority of Thailand released a statement expressing regrets over the incident.
The statement said the police were investigating this incident, working closely with authorities in Phuket Province, Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was also in close collaboration with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and consular officials, to assist the Smith family.
The statement read: “The safety of all tourists is a top priority for TAT, which will continue to encourage the police and government officials to take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security for visitors. As an immediate response, the province will accelerate the installation of close-circuit television at all tourist spots on the island.”