Ashton Killing: Man Charged With Manslaughter

The man accused of killing British tourist Stephen Ashton has appeared in court in Thailand charged with manslaughter and the illegal possession of a firearm.

Ekkapan Kaewkla, 26, has been accused of killing the 22-year-old tourist during an incident on the paradise island of Koh Phangan.

Mr Ashton, from Purley in South London, was caught in the crossfire during a fight between rival gangs at a New Year's Eve party on the island.

He is said to have been killed by a stray bullet as he danced with friends at a beach bar.

His family said they are "completely devastated by the loss of Stephen from our lives".

He was an innocent bystander simply enjoying New Year celebrations, they said.

Police Colonel Kittakarn Kramomthong, chief of police at the island's station, said officers had arrested Mr Kaewkla and confiscated a gun.

He has reportedly confessed to killing the Briton.

British ambassador to Thailand, Mark Kent, is expected to visit the scene of Mr Ashton's death on Thursday.

He warned of risks to Western tourists, and urged people to read the travel advice on the Foreign Office website.

"Most people have a very enjoyable holiday, a very trouble-free holiday," he told Sky News. "But there are risks and we've set these out in our travel advice which you can access on the Foreign Office website.

"In particular we do mention that there have been incidents involving Western tourists in Koh Phangan, so there are risks in going anywhere and I think Thailand is certainly not completely trouble free."

Thai police said Mr Ashton was with a group of friends and 300 other tourists celebrating the countdown to 2013 at a pub and restaurant called the Zoom Bar when he was shot by a home-made gun at Haad Rin beach shortly after 4am on Tuesday.

In a statement issued by the Foreign Office, the family said: "As a family we are completely devastated by the loss of Stephen from our lives.

"He has been taken away from us in such cruel and tragic circumstances in which he was an innocent bystander simply enjoying New Year celebrations.

"We are comforted in the thought that he was having a fantastic time with friends after such a difficult period following the loss of his much loved dad who passed away from a brain tumour in 2011 and the loss of his granddad a few months earlier.

"We were all so proud of him; he was a much loved son, brother, grandson and nephew.

"He will be truly missed by his family but also by the many friends he made during his life. We cannot comprehend how someone can carry out such a reckless act, giving such little value to human life.

"We ask that our privacy be respected to allow us to grieve."

Friends expressed their shock at Mr Ashton's death and paid tribute to him on social networking sites.

Robbie-Cameron Gray took to Mr Ashton's Facebook page to express his grief and posted a photograph of the two of them as young boys.

He said: "Don't want to believe it. Still got photos of us on my wall from football and school. Will miss you mate."

Aaron Kelly wrote on Facebook: "Horrible news. Be good up there mate."

Neighbour Dawn Mason, 48, described Mr Ashton as a "very normal, likeable young man".

His family moved to the upmarket area of Purley, south London, about three years ago, she said.

"They've always been very nice neighbours. If Stephen or his sister Emily had parties, they'd always be at the house with their parents so they knew where they were. I went to the house today and the family just seem in complete shock."

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