Bangkok’s British looter enrages fellow ex-pats

May 27, 2010
Edward Loxton

If Thai police hadn’t caught Jeff Savage, the ex-pat vigilantes would have pounced

Jeff Savage, a British man facing terrorism charges that carry the death penalty in Thailand, can probably count himself lucky to be confined securely behind bars at a detention centre here in the Thai capital. Otherwise, he'd be on the run from British ex-pats and local Thais enraged by his active involvement in this month's 'Battle of Bangkok'.

Savage, 48, became Public Enemy No 1 overnight in Thailand after a video (above) went on YouTube showing him in black shirt and bandana urging Red Shirt protesters in central Bangkok to loot and burn the city's finest shopping mall at the height of the violence.

"We're gonna smash the fucking Central [World] plaza to shit," he said to the camera. "We're gonna steal everything out of it and burn the fucker down. Trust me, get pictures of that fucker. We're gonna loot everything, gold, watches, everything, and then we're gonna burn it to the ground."

The video was shot just days before Central World, Asia's second largest shopping centre, was indeed torched.

When Thai troops broke up the protests, Savage escaped to his home in Pattaya, the hedonistic resort town on Thailand's eastern seaboard, leaving behind a scene of destruction that will cost at least the equivalent of nearly £1bn to repair and which gave the country's lucrative tourism industry a mortal blow.

While firemen fought to douse the smouldering ruins of Central World, and several other buildings including the Bangkok Stock Exchange, Savage lay low in the small apartment he shares with a Thai woman on Pattaya's palm-fringed Beach Road, where prostitutes routinely ply their trade.

It's not clear how Savage supports himself and his companion in Pattaya, but many ex-pats lead a split existence, returning to Britain regularly to earn enough money to finance their lifestyle in Thailand. Savage reportedly last worked as a hospital orderly in Tonbridge, Kent.

As Thai TV stations carried incredulous coverage of "the foreigner who wanted to burn Bangkok down", a manhunt was organised in the seedy streets of central Pattaya - not by local police, but by groups of ex-pats incensed by what one described as "this despicable act that shames every British resident of this country".

One ex-pat posted a message online saying he had joined a posse of 35 "from all backgrounds" who were touring Pattaya bars in search of Savage. "We will find you, dickhead," he wrote. "You'd better hope that the immigration police find you before we do."

Fortunately for Savage, Thai police tracked him down before the vigilantes pounced. Hundreds of messages of hate from an outraged ex-pat community continue to be posted, however, many of them demanding swift justice and the death penalty.

"String the prat up," was a typical demand. Thai posters are more moderate in tone, but still seethe with anger at the involvement of a foreigner in the worst outbreak of unrest in Bangkok in nearly 20 years.

Savage will certainly not be executed for his stupidity. Unlike in neighbouring Malaysia, no British subject has ever suffered the death penalty in recent history.

An initial charge against Savage accuses him of violating the state of emergency decree enacted by Thailand's Democrat-led government as the Bangkok violence intensified. Conviction brings an automatic two-year prison sentence.

Thailand's Eton and Oxford-educated prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has indicated, however, that Savage could also be charged with supporting terrorism, which is theoretically punishable by death.

A painful prison sentence is the most likely outcome. Savage is certainly unlikely to enjoy the king's pardon any time soon - and when he does step to freedom through the prison gates he'd better watch his back...

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