Phuket couple apologise for beach steps incident

Phuket couple apologise for beach steps incident

Local doctor and friend mistaken for Chinese tourists who had intruded earlier, pair tell police

Swiss national Urs Fehr and his wife Khanuengnit attend a meeting with officials and police at the Phuket provincial hall on Friday to give their side of the story about an incident in which Mr Fehr was alleged to have kicked a woman he mistakenly thought was trespassing on the couple’s property. The couple have apologised for the incident. (Photo: Achadthaya Chuenniran)
Swiss national Urs Fehr and his wife Khanuengnit attend a meeting with officials and police at the Phuket provincial hall on Friday to give their side of the story about an incident in which Mr Fehr was alleged to have kicked a woman he mistakenly thought was trespassing on the couple’s property. The couple have apologised for the incident. (Photo: Achadthaya Chuenniran)

A Swiss man who allegedly kicked a woman for sitting on the steps near his Phuket villa, and his Thai wife who berated her, apologised on Friday for their actions.

The wife claimed she and her husband thought the doctor and her friend were Chinese tourists, who had caused problems earlier by intruding on their property.

As it turned out, the steps where the incident took place were not even on the couple’s property but were found to be encroaching on public beach land. Authorities have ordered them demolished.  

Urs “David” Fehr, 45, and his wife Khanuengnit drew a big crowd of reporters and onlookers when they arrived at the Phuket provincial hall on Friday after officials invited them and their lawyer to explain their side of the story.

Coverage of the incident — and a seemingly damning video — have gone viral online and drawn a barrage of heavy criticism against the couple.

Mr Fehr and his wife run the Green Elephant Sanctuary Park in Phuket.

Among those at the meeting on Friday were Phuket deputy governor Adul Chuthong and Pol Maj Gen Sinlert Sukhum, the provincial police chief.

The couple told officials that they accepted responsibility for what happened at their villa on Yamu beach in Thalang district on Feb 24.

Elaborating on the reasons for her reaction, Ms Khanuengnit discussed an earlier incident that had upset her. She said some Chinese tourists had entered the villa she rented, causing her to panic as she was swimming at the time and her husband was not present. She later alerted the owner of the villa development.

On the night of Feb 24, she said, her husband thought the same group of intruders had returned. Upon seeing two women sitting on the steps at the bottom of the property, he grabbed his mobile phone and ran towards them to take video but slipped on the steps, she said.

Her husband later went to see a doctor who treated his wounds and confirmed they were caused by slipping, she added.

Mr Fehr apologised for the incident, insisting he had no intention to harm the doctor. He also said he mistook the woman and her friend for the intruders from the earlier incident.

Thandao Chandam, a doctor at Dibuk Hospital in Phuket, on Thursday filed an assault complaint with police against the Swiss man.

Dr Thandao, 26, told police that she and a friend had been walking along Yamu beach about 7.30pm on Feb 24 after dinner. They sat down on the steps, which they assumed were public property, to view the full moon.

Suddenly she experienced what felt like a kick to her back, which caught her and her friend off-guard. She said the man was filming her with a mobile phone and swearing at her.

Dr Thandao said the man’s wife then appeared and told her that she could shoot them dead without being found guilty because her son is a powerful police officer. (Story continues below)

Thandao Chandam, 26, a doctor at Dibuk Hospital in Phuket, accompanied by her father (right), speaks to reporters after giving her statement to police at the Thalang station in Phuket on Thursday. (Photo: Achadthaya Chuenniran)

Talks unsuccessful

Pol Maj Gen Sinlert said that officers who were called to the scene tried unsuccessfully to get the parties involved to settle their dispute. The doctor subsequently filed a complaint against the Swiss man with police. She was questioned and taken to identify the scene of the attack.

Police investigators have pressed charges against Mr Fehr for assault causing physical and mental harm, said Pol Maj Gen Sinlert.

After Dr Thandao filed her complaint, Thalang district chief Pairoj Srilamun led officials to inspect the steps. A check of the title deed to the villa showed the steps were outside the property line and on public land, so Dr Thandao was not trespassing, they concluded.

Authorities ordered the couple to demolish the stairs within three days.

Mr Adul said Phuket governor Sophon Suwannarat has stressed that all sides deserve justice when it comes to disputes.

“Our main goal is to create better understanding and to live in harmony between natives and foreign tourists and others. Everyone must respect the law,” said Mr Adul.

Mr Fehr said he felt sorry about the incident, adding that he never thought the case would escalate. He said he did not offer his apology on the night the incident happened as he was still angry, given what his wife had experienced earlier. Now, he said he wanted to see the doctor in person and offer his apology.

The high-profile case has not surprisingly attracted some expressions of anti-foreigner sentiment, with some commentators saying authorities should look into Mr Fehr’s business.

He said he was willing to let officials investigate. The Green Elephant Sanctuary Park, he said, has strictly abided by the law, paid taxes and salaries to employees in line with the law.

Officials inspect the steps leading to a seaside villa in Thalang district of Phuket, where a Thai woman said she was assaulted by the Swiss occupant of the villa. (Photo: Achadthaya Chuenniran)

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