Thursday, May 21, 2009

In the News : Bar Mat Mum Released From Thai Jail

Thai court frees bar mat Aussie

Thursday, May 21, 2009
9 hours 26 minutes ago

Australian woman Annice Smoel has been released from detention in Thailand and is free to travel home.

Ms Smoel, who had faced a possible five years in jail for allegedly stealing a bar mat, has been given a six-month suspended jail term and a 1,000 baht ($38) fine for theft.

Officials at the Phuket Provincial Court told AAP Ms Smoel was initially sentenced to six months' jail but the sentenced was suspended after she pleaded guilty in court.

The officials said Ms Smoel was also placed on a two-year good behaviour bond.

They said Ms Smoel's passport and other documents, initially held with the Thai Police and immigration, were to be returned to her.

The Phuket Wan website said the fine was paid by the Governor of Phuket, Wichai Praisa-nob who intervened after being contacted by Thailand's Ministry of Tourism and the Foreign Ministry.

Ms Smoel, 36, and her husband Darren, from the Melbourne suburb of Montrose, embraced after the ruling.

"I think I am going home," Ms Smoel told the website.

"The governor is waiting for my passport now. He has been very gracious.

"I don't know exactly how it all happened today. I think it was probably a combination of my lawyers here, my lawyers in Australia and my government and the Thai government.

"The governor has apologised to me and been very kind. He seems like a lovely man."

The website said her jail term would be stayed for one year.

It said if the mother of four does not commit any crime in Thailand for the year, her jail term will not have to be served.

Before the court case, which was called at no notice, Ms Smoel had told journalists she was feeling the strain.

"(I'm) not real well, not real well. I'm tired, I'm exhausted and I'm scared," she said.

Ms Smoel's lawyer in Australia, Bernard Murphy, said he was encouraged by Wednesday's developments, but remained cautious.

"There have been some very good developments today but I'm reluctant to say anything until Annice is on a plane and on her way home," Mr Murphy told AAP.

"The most important thing for us to do is to get her home."

Ms Smoel was arrested on May 2 for allegedly stealing the bar mat from the Aussie Bar in Phuket where she was celebrating her mother's 60th birthday.

She spent four days in a cramped jail cell with three other women and had been told she could have had to wait 14 weeks before her case came to court.

Ms Smoel claimed her friends had put the bar mat in her handbag as a practical joke.

Her four daughters, Zhian, 12, Daisy, 11, Zoe, eight and Lilly, six, had made emotional pleas for the government to help bring her home.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had said the government was facing an uphill battle to get Ms Smoel released.

"I just want to be saying very clearly that it's going to be tough. We're dealing with the laws of another country. We've got to work our way through that," Mr Rudd told reporters earlier on Wednesday.

A relative at the family home said they had not expected Ms Smoel to appear in court and be dealt with so soon.

"It was really quick and unexpected," she said.

The relative, who declined to be named, said Ms Smoel's daughters had struggled with their mother's absence.

"It's just been horrible for them," she said.

Speaking to reporters in the office of a Thai immigration official, Ms Smoel was wary of making any comment before her passport was returned to her, but she said she was looking forward to being reunited with her daughters.

"I'll probably cry... and hug them," she said.

Husband Darren added: "Yeah, not the best thing I've ever had to deal with, but talk to our solicitor. He'll tell you how it's been."

The couple are expected to fly into Melbourne from Bangkok about noon (AEST) tomorrow.

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