A 36-year-old woman imprisoned in Thailand for the "prank" theft of a bar mat has compared her experience to that of convicted drug runner Schapelle Corby.
Montrose mother of four Annice Smoel, who was reunited with her family today at Melbourne Airport, says she had endured the worst experience of her life and would never return to Thailand.
"Being locked up in that cell for two days on a concrete slab ... and worrying ... so many times it went through my head this is just like Schapelle Corby, even though drugs weren't involved, they're just going to lock me up and throw away the key and not care," she said.
Mrs Smoel had faced a prison term after undercover detectives found her friends had put a bar mat in her bag as a "prank" in a Phuket bar.
After 18 days of uncertainty, the matter was swiftly resolved yesterday when Mrs Smoel pleaded guilty to the charges in a Thai court and was deported.
Emotional and exhausted, Mrs Smoel said had she not pleaded guilty it would have taken her months to get out of Thailand.
''He [the Phuket Governor] guaranteed me personally that I wouldn't go to jail if I pleaded guilty. If I pleaded not guilty it would take months to go to a trial and I just had to come home," she said.
But Mrs Smoel and her husband, Darren, both said they had been unsure whether she would walk free from her court appearance.
"The whole thing's been horrible, you feel very helpless," Mr Smoel said.
Mrs Smoel said she had not received her passport until she was at Phuket airport and did not feel safe until she boarded a Thai Airways flight to Australia in Bangkok.
"Things work very strangely in Thailand and you get told something and then it goes backwards and you take two steps forward and then it goes backwards," she said.
Mrs Smoel said she knew her friends in their "wildest dreams" hadn't imagined their prank would land her in jail. "No one meant for it to go this bad. It was a dumb thing to do in a country where you don't do dumb things. I knew that at the time."
Mr Smoel had flown back with Mrs Smoel and thanked the State Government and media for campaigning for her release.
"Annice was definitely going to go to jail. There's no doubt about that," he said.
Mrs Smoel said she did not know what had happened behind the scenes to secure her release but believed the Thai authorities were worried the country's lucrative tourism industry would be hurt by her case.
The family are planning a dinner together tonight but Mrs Smoel said it would definitely not be Thai food.
There were emotional scenes at the airport earlier when Mrs Smoel's four daughters, Zhian, 12, Daisy, 11, Zoe, 8, and Lilly, 6, and extended family including her mum and nephews greeted her and her husband Darren in front of a media scrum.
Two of her daughters handed over homemade welcome signs and were thrilled when a reporter later let slip that their parents were planning a surprise family trip to Disneyland.
Mrs Smoel said she had never been happier to see her daughters. "Just to be able to hold them and comfort them and tell them it's all right and mean it - it's just really nice."
Media attention was the big driver behind the release of Mrs Smoel, a Melbourne mother who was jailed in Thailand for stealing a bar mat from a Phuket bar 18 days ago, says her lawyer.
Bernard Murphy, chairman of law firm Maurice Blackburn, said a hurried court hearing was arranged to try Mrs Smoel and get her out of the country.
"The court hearing came out of the ether and essentially a deal evolved which was `You plead guilty, we'll pay the [$38] fine, we'll apologise and you go home," Mr Murphy told Fairfax Radio.
He said the quick about-face was brought about by a variety of causes "but the driver has been the media and the public focus the media gave".
Mr Murphy said support from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Victoria's Premier John Brumby and Attorney-General Rob Hulls "was fantastic".
He said Mrs Smoel's guilty plea to stealing the $50 bar mat was a major concern but he believed the court would have found her guilty anyway.
"You are not giving away a whole lot by pleading, but really, she didn't want to plead," he said.
Mr Murphy said that, as she was being deported, officials told her she would be welcome back any time.
"She's been told she was deported, but as she was being deported she was told she should feel free to come back."
- with AAP