POLICE in Thailand have launched a murder inquiry after two young British tourists were found dead on a bloodstained beach with what were described as "gruesome" head injuries.
The bodies were discovered, partly naked, close to the location of where a beach party had been held the night before.
Thai police named the two, David William Miller, 24, from Jersey, and Hannah Victoria Witheridge, from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, aged 23. They were found on a rocky beach on Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, a location in the south of the country known as a for its dive sites.
The young woman's throat had reportedly been cut while the man had suffered a cutting wound on the back of his head. Some of the pair's clothes were located nearby, as was a hoe, which police believe was used in the murder.
"The man was chopped in the back and on the side of his head, while the woman was chopped in her face," police chief Prachum Ruangthong told the Associated Press. "It's very gruesome."
The bodies were found at around 6.30am on Monday morning by migrant workers from neighbouring Burma, employed to clean the beach. There had reportedly been a beach party the previous evening, just a few hundred metres from where they were found on Sai Ree beach.
Police said they had not immediately identified any suspects and were checking CCTV cameras at nearby restaurants, hotels and shops in a search for the attacker or attackers.
The tourists had been separately staying in the same resort of beachside huts, local media reported, and had gone out to a bar with other tourists on Sunday evening.
For some time after the killings, people on the island, located in Surat Thani province and which is home around 2,000 residents, had blockaded its piers to help prevent anyone escaping. The blockade was lifted after a few hours, raising the prospect that whoever carried out the attack could have fled.
In Jersey, police said family liaison officers were working with the family and close relatives of the dead man. A spokeswoman for the force said it was not in a position to name the victim, who may not have been formally identified, as that was up to the Thai police.
Norfolk police referred all inquiries to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. A spokesperson there said yesterday: "We are aware of the death of two British nationals on 15 September on the island of Koh Tao. The embassy are urgently seeking information from the local authorities and consular staff stand ready to provide assistance at this tragic time.
"The consul from Bangkok is travelling to Koh Tao as soon as possible," they added.
The killings will present a new challenge for Thailand's government, which seized power in a coup earlier this year. The tourism industry, which attracts around 27m tourists, is worth anywhere up to £21bn, as much as 9 per cent of GDP.
But following months of political turmoil, followed by the coup, officials in the tourism industry say visitor numbers have fallen by up to 10 per cent compared to last year.