Melbourne mum arrested over Thai bar 'prank'

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.

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.

"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."

Mrs Smoel was arrested by undercover police 14 days ago after leaving the Aussie Bar in Phuket. She says she is accused of taking a mat from the bar, putting it in her bag and leaving the premises.

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.

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Mrs 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," Mrs 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

Mrs 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."

Silly joke

In a statutory declaration to Victoria Police, Mrs Smoel's friends said they had played a "silly joke" on Mrs 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 Mrs 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 Mrs 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 Mrs Smoel's friends in the act.

He told Radio 3AW, Mrs 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.

Mrs 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."

Mrs 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."

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said consular officials from the Australian embassy in Bangkok were aware of the arrest.

"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."

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