Manchester

Family calls for Thailand drug smuggler to be released

Michael Connell
Image caption Michael Connell has served eight years at the notorious "Bangkok Hilton" jail

The family of a man with learning difficulties jailed for smuggling ecstasy into Thailand are campaigning for him to be released from custody.

Michael Connell, of Bury in Greater Manchester, was stopped at Bangkok airport in November 2003 with 3,400 pills hidden in facial cream jars.

He pleaded guilty in 2004 and was sentenced to 99 years, reduced to 20.

He has returned to the UK to serve the rest of his sentence. He served eight years in Bangkok's Bang Kwang prison.

The notorious jail is often referred to as the "Bangkok Hilton".

Mr Connell's father Derek said his son had become involved with drug dealers in his neighbourhood who had offered him a holiday to Thailand if he took the pills with him.

Customs officials found the ecstasy tablets in Connell's travel bag after they were detected by an X-ray scan at the airport.

The pills had an estimated street value of $85,000, according to the Thai customs department.

'Naive kid'

He was jailed for 99 years but had his sentence reduced to 30 on appeal and has been further reduced to 20.

His father said he understood his son would have to serve half of the remaining sentence, six years, in the UK, before being released on parole.

He is currently being held at Wandsworth prison in south-west London and his father is expecting him to be transferred to Whitemore in Cambridgeshire.

Mr Connell senior said his son was a "naive kid with learning difficulties. He was stupid to do it - he knows he was stupid to do it".

He added: "He has done eight years in probably the worst prison in the world. I think he has done enough."

He is now writing to the Ministry of Justice to ask ministers to consider his case.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said they were unable to comment on individual cases.

But she confirmed that, under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, British nationals imprisoned in Thailand were able to transfer to the UK to complete their sentences.

"Prisoner transfers are not there to enable a prisoner to receive a reduced sentence, but to help alleviate the problems of imprisonment abroad such as language, cultural and visiting difficulties."

Michael Connell's case is featured on Inside Out North West on BBC One at 19:30 GMT.

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