Yamba boys jailed in Thailand
THEY were just two, young Australian mates at the end of a laid-back holiday in Thailand getting ready to fly home.
But 22-year-olds Jacob McGrath and Paul Johnson, both from Yamba, now sit in a Thai prison with shaved heads, sharing a single cell with more than 25 other prisoners.
The pair, who are friends from Maclean High School, were due to fly out of Thailand on March 23 and return home after their holiday money ran out.
The day before they were scheduled to come home, they reported a stolen laptop, Ipod, digital camera and sunglasses to police in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
But when police came to investigate at their hotel room, they located all the missing items.
The young men were promptly arrested and charged with supplying false information to police.
Just four days later, they appeared in court and, after pleading guilty to the charges, their sentences were reduced from four to two months.
Since then, they have been sleeping on camping-style mattresses in a cell that sometimes houses 35 other prisoners at a time in Chiang Mai Prison.
Their heads were shaved and they are forced to use an open, communal toilet in the corner of the cell.
They are allowed to go outside only twice a day and then for only one hour at a time.
Although Jacob and Paul appeared in Chiang Mai Court on March 26, it is understood the pair's first visit from Australian authorities was not until five days later on March 31 at the prison.
Their families knew nothing of their fate until they were contacted by a New Zealand missionary, Kathryn McDaniel, who regularly visits the prison to help the foreign inmates.
Visiting hours at the prison are restricted to two, one-hour sessions a week and when Ms McDaniel visits she prints out emails sent by their parents and holds them to the prison glass so the young men can read them.
Since Australian consular officials learnt of the young men's situation, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has been in regular contact with their parents back home.
“There were two Australian men arrested in Chiang Mai on the 22nd of March,” a DFAT spokesman said.
“They appeared in a Chiang Mai court on the 26th of March.
“They pleaded guilty to three charges relating to making false statements and were sentenced.
“The department was first alerted to this case on the 27th of March.”
Jacob has been studying contemporary music at Southern Cross University, which he has deferred.