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The baffling 27 years of Richard Burrows, aka. ‘Peter Smith’

Peter Smith Richard Burrows
Richard Burrows, aka. 'Peter Smith', before his first appearance in Court after his arrest at Heathrow.

by Tim Newton

So how did he manage to evade detection, in plain sight, during his 27 years in Phuket? ‘Peter Smith’ was, mostly, well liked, had a close circle of friends, worked professionally in a number of jobs, all with the requisite visas and work permits required in Thailand.

But how did he get a passport with the name ‘Peter Smith’? How could he keep getting renewals of a stolen passport? How did he get to Thailand in the first place? How much did close friends actually know about his dark past?

80 year old Richard Burrows, aka. ‘Peter Smith’, who had evaded authorities for nearly three decades, was apprehended upon his return to the UK from Thailand, according to police reports.

I had known him, professionally but spasmodically, for 10 years working in and around the media in Phuket. The man I knew as Peter Smith was at every media function, free lunch, product launch or party. I hardly ever spoke more than a few words but could see he was liked and generally respected in the Phuket media community, and rubbed shoulders with the local hoi polloi, police and respected community leaders.

Burrows had skipped his trial for child sex offences at Chester Crown Court back in 1997. He arrived in Phuket that same year.

Cheshire Police disclosed that he was taken into custody at Heathrow Airport on Thursday, April 4 (reported as March 28 in other articles). The charges pertain to alleged child abuse incidents spanning from 1969 to 1981. Burrows was a former scout master as well.

In his first hearing, since being arrested at Heathrow, the 13 counts of sexual misconduct, including 11 of indecent assault and two of a serious sexual offence, were read out by the judge. According to the BBC, proceedings were briefly delayed due to his hearing difficulties.

Mr Burrows spoke only twice during the court appearance – to confirm his non-appearance at court 27 years ago, and again to acknowledge the successful execution, albeit 27 years late, of his arrest warrant.

Burrows had originally arrived in Phuket in 1997, living on the island under the name Peter Smith – the name in the passport he had allegedly stolen from one of his victim’s father. Somehow he was able to use this passport as ID to set up companies and even renewals for a new UK passport during his time in Thailand.

Many questions are being raised how a passport, assumed to have been reported missing by the real ‘Peter Smith’ in the UK, would be able to be used for such a long time without detection. During that time he would have completed numerous 90 day reports , visa renewals and UK passport renewals through the British Embassy in Thailand.

Some stories, unconfirmed, have also come to light that he had stolen a yacht in the UK and, somehow, made his way to South East Asia. He did buy another yacht whilst living in Phuket which he lived on in Chalong Bay for many years.

Mr Burrows had set up his own company and taught English at Phuket schools from time to time before becoming a successful sales agent for Image Asia and the publication Windows on Phuket.

‘Peter’ at his farewell dinner just days before flying back to the UK.

Police in the UK claim there was an “extensive search for Burrows”, including being featured on the BBC’s Crimewatch program in 1998. Some offences were alleged to have occurred at a children’s home in Cheshire, while others were reported in the West Midlands.

Although he had denied all charges back in 1997, Burrows is expected to enter pleas again at a hearing scheduled for June this year. He will remain in custody waiting for further hearings, with a trial set for January next year.

The BBC ‘Crimewatch’ TV program featured his story again in 2011…

“West Mercia Police are seeking any information in respect of their whereabouts of Richard John Ramsay Burrows in connection with historic child sex offences. He is described as being white, over 70 years old, around 165 – 170 cm tall and of a ‘large’ build.”

Despite all the red flags – the stolen passport, countless visa renewals in Thailand and the preparation of new passports under the assumed name of ‘Peter Smith’, UK police have been patting themselves on the back about the arrest of Mr. Burrows.

Detective Inspector Eleanor Atkinson said the arrest was a “significant step forward” and cautioned other fugitives that evading justice was futile.

But there is no evidence that UK or international police had anything to do with Mr. Burrows’ eventual return to the UK. Many of his Phuket acquaintances said his return was due to dwindling finances and health problems. He even had a goodbye dinner, catching up with friends and old work acquaintances, just days before his flight back to the UK.

The sudden appearance of a ‘dodgy’ passport under the name of Peter Smith at immigration in Heathrow on March 28 may have been the first knowledge they had of the missing Richard Burrows in 27 years. But we don’t really know how British police eventually caught one of their ‘most wanted men’.

But the British National Crime Agency claim they had tracked ‘Peter Smith’s’ movements and prearranged his arrest upon entering the UK. ‘When’ they became aware of his actual identity, location and travel plans is unclear.

Many of his closer circle of friends have hinted at some limited knowledge of a dark past but also clarified they had no idea of the extent of his crimes back in the UK. Meanwhile, Peter Smith’s Facebook page provides a few clues of his fondness of younger men.

In recent years ‘Peter Smith’ lived in a container home near the old Phuket Zoo in Chalong.

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