A Liberal and Labor politician joined forces to endorse a letter that an Australian man believes saved him from the prospect of execution.
West Australian father-of-two Luke Cook made a final appeal to escape execution after a Thai court sentenced him and his wife to death in November, 2018 over an alleged plot to smuggle half a tonne of crystal meth through the country.
His appeal was put together independently of Mr Cook by a Melbourne legal group Capital Punishment Justice Project, who examined his case and made a submission that there were plenty of holes in the evidence against him.
To add official weight to the appeal, the group managed to get the signatures of Liberal Senator Dean Smith and then NSW lower house MP Chris Hayes, who retired at the 2022 election.
‘It is likely I would still be on death row in Thailand if I didn’t have the support from the Australian parliamentarians against the death penalty and also the Capital Punishment Justice Project,’ Mr Cook told The West Australian.
Luke Cook (right) and wife Kanyarat Wechapitak (left) spent four years in Thai jail facing the death penalty accused of attempted drug smuggling
Luke Cook, 39, and his Thai wife Kanyarat Wechapitak were both facing the death penalty over the alleged drug smuggling and had spent four years in Thai jails leading up to their final appeal in Thailand’s Supreme Court in September 2021.
The couple were arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport in December 2017 and accused of picking up $300million worth of meth from a Chinese trawler in international waters and bringing it back to Thailand to smuggle to Australia.
Thai Police had alleged the couple threw the narcotics overboard when they spotted a patrol boat but 50kg of the drug – in four yellow sacks marked with red Chinese characters – washed ashore in Rayong in June 2015.
It was alleged that Mr Cook was a member of the Hells Angels bikies, an allegation he has always strenuously denied, and was acting on the orders of another Hells Angel Wayne Schneider, who had been murdered by his fellow gang members in 2015.
Mr Cook (left) and Ms Wechapitak (right) were arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport in December 2017
Mr Cook admitted driving Antonio Bagnato, who was accused of the murder, to the Cambodian border as he fled Thai police.
However, Mr Cook said he did so under duress and had never met Schneider and was not a bikie.
Mr Cook was convicted on the testimony of another Australian fly-in and fly-out worker Douglas Shoebridge and sentenced to death in 2018.
However, during his successful appeal, defence lawyers briefed by the Capital Punishment Justice Project successfully argued the evidence was not credible.
Following the acquittal, Mr Cook and his wife were deported back to Western Australia and now live in the coastal city of Mandurah, south of Perth, where he sells boats.
Former NSW Labor MP signed the document compiled by Capital Punishment Justice Project that was submitted to the Mr Cook’s final appeal against execution
Next month, he intends to travel to Canberra to thank the two politicians who he credits with making the Thai court take seriously the dossier put together by the Capital Punishment Justice Project, that argued his conviction should not stand.
The document, known as an amicus brief, also argued there were breaches of international laws in the ways the case had been handled.
It is believed to be the first time two Australian politicians have signed such a document for someone facing execution.
‘I’m sure it wasn’t an easy choice,’ he said of Mr Hayes and Senator Smith.
‘I’m sure a lot of their colleagues were telling them they were committing political suicide by getting involved in such a thing. They obviously morally felt it was the right thing to do.’
Mr Cook, who protested his innocence throughout, said the ordeal of spending four years behind bars, alongwith four months in solitary and having just a litre of water to use each day, had filled him with anger but he had found the capacity to forgive.