A Thai judge in the provincial court in Langsuan in Chumporn in Southern Thailand yesterday found James Christensen guilty of attempted arson against his Thai neighbor back in February last year and consequently sentenced him to 15 years in prison. In the same verdict, the judge then pardonned him of the last five years of the sentence, so James will now “only” have to spend ten years in prison.
The judge based his verdict of guilty on the fact that James had “admitted” that the gas tanks found at the neighbors farm, where a small fire had taken place, “could possibly be his” although he denied ever having carried them over there or intended to burn down the neighbor’s farm. He had put them in front of his house because they were empty.
No witnesses could substantiate the neighbors claim that James Christensen had anything to do with the small fire that erupted at his place on 15 February 2005. The small fire was quickly put out by the fire brigade and damages were estimated at 54.000 Baht.
James Christensen’s advisors, including the Danish consul in Bangkok, had all told him that the acquittal in the case was a mere formality. Therefore he had not used the opportunity to flee Thailand that was opened to him when he was released on a bail a few weeks ago posted by the mayor in the little town after Danish daily BT had revealed the bizarre case. Fleeing Thailand would of course have been illegal, but James had planned to leave for Denmark anyway immiately after the expected acquittal. Instead he was put right back behind bars.
“He was shocked. We were surprised too, because we didn’t really think that there was any evidence to prove the accusations,” Ulrik Sorensen, who is head of Denmark’s consular affairs in Bangkok, has told the Danish news agency Ritzau.
44 year-old James Christensen now intends to appeal the verdict to a higher court of law, but it can easily be another year and a half before such an appeal will be treated. In the meantime, he may again be released on bail, but the amount might be higher this time, and it is not certain if James’ sister in Denmark will be able to raise the new amount, estimated to be around 80.000 Danish kroner.
An Escalating Dispute Between Neighbors
James Christensen was arrested in February 2005, and shortly after he was charged with arson. The whole case started as a dispute between the Dane and his neighbor. James Christensen was feeding and taking in stray dogs at his rented house on a quiet street. As the cocks at a fighting cock farm 700 meters away started to disappear, James Christensen was blamed for not being able to control his dogs.
At first he agreed to pay compensation to the chicken farmer when ever a dead chickens were found in the area. The increasing amounts of money demanded by the farmer resulted in James Christensen filing a complaint with the local police. Then his dog started dying one by one by rat poison.
The fight peaked when the neighbor after the small fire at his farm reported the attempted arson to the police and the police consequently arrested James based on the neighbors accusations and the finding of gas tanks that might have belonged to James on the farm and footprints that they thought could match the tall Dane’s.
No Bail Has Been Set
James Christensen was yesterday immediately after the sentencing moved back to his prison cell, and he will now wait for a chance to be released on bail. However, no bail has yet been set by the court, but the Danish Embassy’s head of consular affairs Ulrik Sorensen expects that it will be set at 500,000 Thai Baht (approx. 80,000 DKK). He does not wish to predict what chances James Christensen will have in a second trial.
“It is impossible to say. No one has seen him carry those gas tanks over to the chicken farm. I have no idea about how this will end,” Ulrik Sorensen tells Ritzau.