THE King of Thailand's generous decision to pardon two British women convicted of smuggling heroin into his country will give great comfort to the women and their families. The conditions in which they were kept were far more unpleasant than they would have undergone in a British jail and the long sentences they were serving have been felt in some quarters to have been unnecessarily Draconian.
The pardon, however, also will give great comfort to the drug trade, which will now see some advantage in employing young Britons as couriers to Asian countries, in the knowledge these simpletons will believe the Prime Minister will intercede on their behalf.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej's humanitarian gesture presumably was made in the interest of good relations with Britain. But John Major's decision to appeal for their release in the first place was surely ill-considered. It sends the wrong signals to the drug runners and embarrasses Asian governments who have decided, rightly, to take a hard line against drug smugglers. Couriers who smuggle drugs in or out of Asian countries are involved, wittingly or otherwise, in a business that wrecks lives, damages the region's reputation and helps corrupt the local population.
It is time the British news media and politicians stopped assuming that any Briton convicted abroad was automatically an innocent unjustly trapped by evil and unscrupulous foreigners. It would be interesting to see how Mr Major would react if President Babangida of Nigeria, say, or Governor Chris Patten of Hongkong were to ask him to pardon some of those who have pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs into Britain.
Instead of romanticising petty crooks and drug runners, Britain should try to negotiate sensible bi-lateral arrangements with Thailand and other Asian governments so that convicted criminals can serve their sentences in their own countries. If Patricia Cahill and Karyn Smith had been locked in British jails instead of the overcrowded Klong Prem prison, public sympathy would have evaporated rapidly.