Thailand beach shooting: Arrest over Stephen Ashton death

Stephen Ashton Stephen Ashton, 22, was described as a likeable young man

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A man has been arrested after a 22-year-old British tourist was shot dead in Thailand on New Year's Eve.

Stephen Ashton, of south London, was reportedly caught by a stray bullet during a fight between two groups at a bar on Koh Phangan.

Thai police have arrested Ekkapan Kaewkla, 26, and confiscated a gun.

Mr Ashton's family said he was an innocent bystander and they were "devastated". It is understood he had attended a party on Haad Rin beach.

Koh Phangan is a resort island, neighbouring Koh Samui, which draws thousands of backpackers to its famous full moon parties on Haad Rin.

According to the Bangkok Post, Mr Ashton was shot in the upper body in the early hours and taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The Foreign Office said it was providing consular assistance to Mr Ashton's family.

'Reckless act'

A statement issued by the Foreign Office on the family's behalf said: "As a family we are completely devastated by the loss of Stephen from our lives.

Analysis

Even the official Koh Phangan tourist website says "violence is frequent" on the island, and warns foreigners to walk away from any potential conflict with local people.

The Thai police say Stephen Ashton was simply very unlucky to be caught by a bullet fired during a fight between two Thai gangs.

He was dancing on the beach at the time, at the tail end of the massive new year party on Haad Rin beach, which had attracted tens of thousands of mostly young foreign tourists.

Probably the greatest danger to tourists on Koh Phangan is posed by the vast amounts of alcohol and other stimulants during the monthly full-moon parties on Haad Rin, which have become one of the biggest attractions on the so-called 'backpacker trail' through South East Asia.

Sometimes this leads to drownings in the fierce sea currents, or other accidents.

Koh Phangan also attracts local criminal gangs that prey on the vulnerable party-goers.

There are violent disputes between these gangs which very occasionally drag in tourists; in 2007 an Israeli was knifed to death during a full-moon party brawl.

"He has been taken away from us in such cruel and tragic circumstances in which he was an innocent bystander simply enjoying new year celebrations.

"We are comforted in the thought that he was having a fantastic time with friends after such a difficult period following the loss of his much loved dad who passed away from a brain tumour in 2011 and the loss of his granddad a few months earlier.

"We were all so proud of him; he was a much loved son, brother, grandson and nephew.

"He will be truly missed by his family but also by the many friends he made during his life.

"We cannot comprehend how someone can carry out such a reckless act, giving such little value to human life."

Advice on the Foreign Office website, updated in December, notes that seven British nationals have been murdered in Thailand since January 2009.

It says western tourists have been victims of vicious unprovoked attacks by gangs in Koh Phangan.

"These attacks are particularly common around the time of the full moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars in Haad Rin," it states.

Ekkapan Kaewkla  with police Police on the island have arrested 26-year-old Ekkapan Kaewkla (centre)

"Exercise caution when walking in this area at any time, especially after dark."

Mr Ashton's neighbour Dawn Mason described him as a "normal, likeable young man".

She said his family had moved to Purley, south London, about three years ago and had always been "very nice neighbours".

Mr Ashton was a regular at the Rectory pub, in Brighton Road, Purley.

The pub's deputy manager Matthew Hitchmough said: "He had been coming in here for quite some time and was bubbly - he always had friends and girls round him.

"He was a nice man, I can't say a bad word about him.

"I know that a few of the people who come in go to Thailand for Christmas and new year."

A former colleague, Michael Jarman, described the junior stockbroker as energetic, happy and full of life.

He said Mr Ashton was "dedicated and devoted to what he wanted to do in life".

"He was a breath of fresh air," he added. "It's a big, big shame."

Richard Ottaway, Conservative MP for Croydon South, said he had contacted Mr Ashton's family to extend his condolences and offer any help that he could.

He said the UK ambassador to Thailand would visit the scene on Thursday.

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