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Australian facing jail for stealing bar mat

AN Australian woman arrested for stealing a bar mat from a Thai nightspot has appealed for government intervention to allow her to return home, saying the theft was a practical joke.

Annice Smoel said she was being unfairly treated for a minor infraction.

But the owner of the Aussie Bar on the resort island of Phuket where Smoel was arrested on May 2 said she had abused police who challenged her about the bar mat.

Phuket police Major Songserm Preecha confirmed Smoel had been charged with stealing a bar mat and faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 baht (US$290).

In a conference call to media gathered at her lawyer's office in Australia, Smoel, 36, said she was arrested during a birthday celebration for her mother. Two friends had put the mat in her bag as a joke, she said.

She said she spent four nights in jail before being released on bail.

Aussie Bar owner Steve Wood said Smoel verbally abused police. "All they wanted to do was chastise her," he said. "But she did a runner."

Smoel's lawyer, Bernard Murphy, said Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith should "intervene and fix this problem."

John Brumby, premier of Smoel's home state of Victoria, said: "Who'd go to Thailand for a holiday if you can get arrested for having fun in a bar?"


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