United Kingdom

Aussie father who faced death in a Thai jail for smuggling meth returns home after acquittal 

An Australian father-of-two sentenced to death in Thailand after being accused of smuggling ice for the Hells Angels has returned home after he was acquitted of the crime last week. 

Perth man Luke Cook, 37, and his Thai wife Kanyarat Wechapitak, 43, were both freed after the Supreme Court in Bangkok quashed their sentences.

Mr Cook, a former FIFO worker who had owned a hotel and bar in Pattaya, returned to Sydney on Sunday where he will undertake two weeks hotel quarantine before he is able to see his two sons. 

Perth man Luke Cook's arrest in December 2017. He stood accused of taking a yacht into international waters off the Thailand coast to collect drugs from a Chinese trawler on behalf of the Hells Angels

Mr Cook (left) and wife Kanyarat Wechapitak after their arrests in Bangkok in December 2017

Mr Cook, a former FIFO worker who had owned a hotel and bar in Pattaya, returned to Sydney on Sunday where he will undertake two weeks hotel quarantine before he is able to see his two sons

Mr Cook pictured with his family. 'Luke is a family man who loves his kids,' a family friend told the media at the time of his arrest

The court decision ended a long-running saga in which Mr Cook and his wife were arrested in December 2017 and charged with attempting to smuggle half a tonne of crystal methamphetamine, worth around $300million into Thailand and on to Australia in June 2015.  

Mr Cook stood accused of taking a yacht into international waters off the Thailand coast to collect drugs from a Chinese trawler on behalf of the Hells Angels.

After spotting a patrol boat, police alleged he threw a 50.4kg package of the drug overboard.

The parcels later washed up on a Pattaya beach but no DNA or other evidence linked Mr Cook to the packages. 

He and his wife were sentenced to death for the crime in 2018.  

'Luke is a family man who loves his kids,' a family friend told the media at the time.

'When this first happened, he did everything he could to try and get them out of the country.'

'He is innocent. He would never do something like this.'      

Mr Cook pictured as Thai authorities raided the family home in the tourist hot spot of Pattaya in 2017

Mr Cook had owned a hotel and bar in Pattaya before he was arrested and sentenced to death by a Thai court

The Thai prosecution claimed high-ranking Hells Angels member, Wayne Schneider, paid Mr Cook $US10 million to receive and store the drugs before smuggling them to Australia.

Schneider's body was found naked and mutilated in Thailand in 2015.  

In his appeal Mr Cook's defence lawyers said another Australian FIFO worker, Douglas Shoebridge had framed Mr Cook for the smuggling crime.

Mr Shoebridge had testified at trial that Mr Cook confessed to him about the smuggling attempt.

He said he'd been hired as a diver by Mr Cook to search for gold, but the Perth man later told him it was to look for the drugs thrown overboard.

The reliability of Shoebridge's testimony was thrown into doubt, however, after a NSW inquest into the death of Schneider.

That inquest heard that cars used to kidnap Schneider were rented by Shoebridge’s partner Siriphan Saimart, and that Shoebridge had given Siriphan 100,000 Thai baht ($A4130) to rent a house in Pattaya where Schneider was tortured and killed. 

Mr Cook was acquitted after the Thai authorities claimed Wayne Schneider (left) paid him $US10 million to receive and store the drugs before smuggling them to Australia. Cook later pleaded guilty to helping convicted murderer Antonio Bagnato (right) escape to Cambodia

Sydney man Antonio Bagnato was sentenced to death for Schneider’s murder in 2017, but later acquitted and re-sentenced for assault.

Mr Cook was later accused of helped Bagnato escape to Cambodia following Schneider's death, to which he pleaded guilty.

He told the court Bagnato had produced a gun at Mr Cook's Jolly's Piss Stop Bar in Pattaya and demanded he be driven to the border.

Mr Cook insisted he know about nothing about Schneider's murder.  

In a Facebook post from March year Mr Cook made a desperate plea for this story to be heard.

'I am not asking you to feel sorry for me, I just ask you to consider the facts as they happened,' he wrote.

'I was not involved in any way in the importation of drugs.'

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