COUPLE BUTCHERE D AT BEACH PARTY
Two tourists have been found brutally murdered at a popular island in southern Thailand.
The grim discovery of the naked bodies of the young man and woman was made early today on a rocky beach on Koh Tao, an island in Surat Thani province known for its diving sites and serene beaches.
The victims are believed to be a 23-year-old woman from Norfolk and a 24-year-old man from the Channel Islands.
Staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs had been in touch with authorities in Thailand to see if there was an Irish connection in the shocking murder when early reports indicated one of the victims may have been from here.
Police say a bloodied hoe found near the bodies is believed to be the murder weapon because the victims suffered what were described as gruesome head injuries.
There were also reports that the woman was raped and her throat was cut.
Police Col Prachum Ruangthong of the Koh Tao police today said the man and the woman were found dead behind rocks and that their clothing was located nearby, along with the bloodied hoe.
It is reported that a beach party had taken place at the location on Siree Beach late on Sunday night and that the couple may have attended it, or were walking home while the party continued.
The pair were staying at a bungalow around 100 metres from the beach where their bodies were found.
"Police are checking closed circuit TV footage at nearby restaurants, hotels and shops for clues," said Col Ruangthong.
Police blocked the pier on the island to stop anyone escaping, according to the Phuket Wan news website, as officers searched the island.
The bodies were found early this morning, according to the Samui Times website.
Police are understood to be in the process of contacting the victims' families.
The British Foreign Office has said it is aware of the reports of the murders and is urgently looking into them.
The island, which is very popular with Irish tourists, is only around 20 square kilometres. Police are hoping that the killers are still on the island today and that forensic evidence from the bodies of the two victims and the hoe could provide essential clues to catch the culprits.
Both of the victim's bodies were removed from the beach in blue plastic body bags early today.
Koh Tao is the northernmost of three islands off Thailand and is only accessible by boat as it has no airfield.
Of the three islands it is known least for party scenes, which happen more frequently on the larger islands. Koh Tao has marketed itself as an ideal location for diving and scuba pursuits.
The island only has a population of around 1,500 people, but that is considerably increased with overseas visitors as tourism makes up the bulk of the economy.
The Lonely Planet guide describes Koh Tao as having "something for everyone, and nothing in moderation".
"Diving enthusiasts cavort with sharks and rays in a playground of tangled neon coral. Hikers and hermits can re-enact an episode from Lost in the dripping coastal jungles. And when you're Robinson Crusoe-ed out, hit the pumpin' bar scene that rages on until dawn," it advises.
An estimated 63,000 Irish tourists, mainly students, young adventurers and backpackers, are known to travel to Thailand every year.
While some tourists have placed online warnings about moped and scooter hire scams in operation on Koh Tao, the island is generally regarded to be a safe place to stay.
Police will be anxious to establish if the killer is local or another tourist and are keeping an open mind until they can interview the others who attended the beach party and get DNA or fingerprint evidence from the bodies and from the murder weapon.
Searches of the beach where the bodies were found were continuing today in a bid by detectives to determine what exactly happened to the two victims.