The Criminal Court on Wednesday ruled that lese majeste prisoner Ampon "Uncle SMS" Tangnoppakul died of cancer, not because of lack of proper care, while in the prison hospital.
The court's inquest judgement said the 61-year-old prisoner died while in the custody of the authorities on May 8, 2012 as a result of the spread of liver cancer and not from a lack of proper medical treatment.
Ampon's widow, Rosmalin Tangnoppakul, was not in the court for the inquest finding, She was not well.
The court rejected the testimony of Thantawut Taweewarodomkul, then a lese majeste prisoner in the same hsopital ward with Ampon, and Dr Kittiphum Juthasamit, a Phusing Hospital director, who both suggested that negligence and inadequate equipment were contributing factors that hastened Ampon's death.
Ampon Tangnoppakul's wife Rosmalin was sitting and holding a portrait of her husband next to a coffin carrying the body of her husband last year. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)
During the inquest, which began seven months after Ampon's death, Mr Thantawut told the court that hospital ward prison staff had "abused and maltreated Ampon -- not giving him proper rations of food, restricting his meetings with doctors, and stigmatising him with ill-intended words for being a lese majeste prisoner".
The court said the authorities did not harm or hurt prisoner Ampon and the food he was given was standard for all patients. There was no discrimination against Ampon. The court said other prison inmates also helped.
Dr Kittiphum testiified that the prison hospital should have done more for Ampon, for example by using X-rays and clearing condensed blood from his heart to slow down the acute fatal symptoms, instead of relying on normal medication to control belching, bloating, flatulence and nausea.
The Criminal Court ruled that his testimony did not amount to substantive evidence to show that lack of care caused the death of the prisoner. Doctors could have different opinions and approaches in treating their patients, the court said.
"The resident doctor had already planned further treatment for Ampon, ordering the nurse on duty to take samples for a blood test and for X-rays. The court has therefore concluded that the accounts given by the witnesses are still far from convincing that the inmate’s death was linked to the medical services provided to him by the hospital," the ruling said.
Dr Kittiphum's comments were more comprehensive, since he had read all the autopsy reports. Dr Kittibun Techaporn-anan, the resident doctor, did not have the same rounded picture while providing medical treatment to Ampon, the court said.
Dr Kittibun told the court last year that he was with the hospital director when Ampon died, and not at the patient's bedside. He said a ward nurse had contacted him to say Ampon's heart had stopped and they were trying to revive him.
He could not attend the patient to help because he had been instructed by the hospital director to welcome the director-general of the Corrections Department, who was visiting the prison at that time.
Ampon was accused and then convicted of insulting Her Majesty the Queen in a series of SMS messages in 2010. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. At the time of his death his lawyers were finalising the process for a royal pardon. Ampon always denied sending the messages, saying he did not even know how to text and someone else had used his mobile phone.
The court said Dr Kittibun had not neglected his patient, although it was a long holiday when he died and he was not mandated to show up.
"Although the doctor did not assign Ampon an electrical heart pump, he had ordered medication to control his rapid heartbeat.
The nurse had also moved him to the nearest bed with oxygen and other life-saving equipment. Ampon had not died because of a lack of proper care by the hospital staff, the court concluded.
Ratchanee Harnsomsakul, 59, a senior nurse who was working at the hospital on May 8 - the day Ampon died - said medical staff had provided the "standard treatment" for Ampon, but admitted the prison hospital was not properly equipped to treat cancer patients.
A police forensic team which conducted a post-mortem said Ampon had died as a result of liver cancer.
Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, one of Ampon's lawyers, said they could not do anything about the inquest ruling but they had filed a libel suit for more than two million baht against the government agencies on May 7 this year, but it was proceeding slowly. Ampon's widow had asked for subsidised support for the filing of the cases because she had very little money, he said. This had slowed proceedings.
"She does not actually want the financial compensation, but she would like to make the point of the below-standard medical services provided for prisoners. There’s nothing personal here," Ms Poonsuk said.