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DUBLINER TELLS OF NIGHTMARE IN A THAI JAIL.

Byline: FRANK PETERS IN BANGKOK

A YOUNG Dubliner spoke last night of his terror after being spirited home in an SAS-style covert operation to avoid being caged for 10 years in a Thai prison.

Wesley Higgins, 22, a former motorbike courier from Coolock, Dublin, had spent five months in a Thai jail.

He faced ten years sharing a filthy, rat-infested cell with 180 other inmates - murderers, drug addicts, drunks, rapists and pimps - for allegedly stealing a $100 camera which he swears he did not commit.

His case was due to be heard this Tuesday, but a group of Irish expatriates based in Bangkok devised a scheme to get him to Ireland safely to avoid the risk of the courts finding him guilty.

After skipping a one-million Baht bail (about pounds 16,000 punts), Wesley flew into Dublin yesterday and was reunited with his mother Elizabeth and his family in Coolock.

John Kealy, the Thurles-born businessman, who masterminded and bank-rolled the Midnight Express style escape, said he did it because what happened to Wesley was 'grossly unjust' and shouldn't happen to anyone.

"The guy was given a raw deal," he said.

"He was made stand in a police line-up with five Thai nationals and it was almost as if the police had asked the witness to the camera theft to pick out the one she thought was white.

"That's how farcical it was," said Mr Kealy.

"To a Thai person most white people look the same. Like Wesley said, if it had been Pat Kenny, Gay Byrne, or Daniel O'Donnell in the line-up, you or me, it wouldn't have mattered. Any white person would have been fingered and sent down just as easily," he said.

"I looked the guy in the eye and told him straight out that I wasn't concerned if he had stolen the camera or not, necause he had already been through more punishment than the crime justified.

"But I told him not to lie to me.

"He said he hadn't and I believed him, so I put my entire energies and resources, professional business team, and team of lawyers behind him to secure his release and get him back to his mother in Dublin.

"He's made such a catalogue of mistakes in this country, like signing a police statement written in Thai - perhaps he should have stayed at his mother's side for a while longer," said Mr Kealy.

Wesley was smuggled into Malaysia after a 12-hour car drive from Bangkok, where he was taken to Kuala Lumper and from there flown to London.

He arrived into Dublin around midday in the final leg of the operation which in total cost Mr Kealy almost three-million Baht - which is about pounds 50,000 punts.

Wesley said: "It's great to be home.

"I just cannot thank John enough. He has spent an awful lot of money getting me home and I just cannot begin to describe my feelings for him.

"He is a real hero as far as I am concerned.

"I was framed - and I could have ended up in the prison for ten years.

"The Thai justice system is a disgrace and our government should be highlighting that internationally."

CAPTION(S):

RUNNER: Wesley at his Bangkok hotel just before he 'left' the country
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 11, 2001
Words:545
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