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Thursday, 30 March, 2000, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Drugs charge duo flee Thailand
Bangkok skyline
The couple were facing six years in a Thai prison
A British couple released on 10,000 bail after spending three weeks in a Thai prison on drugs charges are reported to have fled the country.

James Gilligan, 25, from Pontefract, West Yorkshire, faced six years in prison along with dental nurse Judith Payne, 21, from nearby Castleford.

They were charged with possession of half a kilo of cannabis and six grammes of opium.

Gilligan had confessed to hiding the drugs and said Payne had nothing to do with them.

But under Thai law she was held responsible because they were found in her room.

Payne, who was on her first trip abroad, had only met Gilligan on the day they were arrested.

She spent three weeks in the women's unit of the notorious Klong Prem Prison, which is nicknamed the Bangkok Hilton.

Reports suggest the pair have fled across the Thai border into north east Malaysia.

Parents 'shocked'

The parents of James Gilligan said they were shocked to hear of their son's escape.

His father Kevin Gilligan said: "This has taken us both by surprise."

He said he and his wife Pauline have not heard from their son since he jumped bail.

Mrs Gilligan said: "He telephoned us after he was released from prison to say he was OK."

Extradition threat

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the pair could face extradition if they return to Britain.

"It's feasible that Thailand could put in an extradition request for their return," she said.

Payne was being supported by Stephen Jakobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, who confirmed the pair have jumped bail.

"We don't support anyone who jumps bail, but in this case it's understandable why she did it.

"It's not unusual for people to skip bail on minor charges in Thailand," he said.

Gilligan and Payne were released from prison at the end of February after their families paid 5,000 each in bail.

They were also banned from leaving Thailand, although the British Embassy returned their passports.

They failed to turn up for a court hearing on Wednesday and a warrant for their arrest is expected to be issued.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Bangkok said: "We have had no contact with them for some time. As far as we know they were released on bail in late February."

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