Drug smuggler facing death penalty reveals how he escaped Thai jail

Drug smuggler facing death penalty reveals how he fled ‘Bangkok Hilton’ maximum security prison in incredible escape involving hacksaw blades, bamboo poles and gaffer tape

  • David McMillan broke out of Bangkok’s Klong Prem jail on August 26, 1996
  • He recalled his escape in new episode of MailOnline YouTube series ‘My Story’

A drug smuggler has revealed how he fled a maximum security prison in Thailand in an extraordinary escape involving hacksaw blades, bamboo poles and gaffer tape.

David McMillan, who had been facing the death penalty, became the first Westerner to break out of Bangkok’s Klong Prem jail in a daring plot on August 26, 1996.

The British-Australian, 67, got a friend to send him a care package with four hacksaw blades concealed among cigarettes for the guards and extreme pornography.

He slowly cut the bars of his cell with the blade to make as little noise as possible before a friend ‘held back that bar and gave me six inches which I slipped through’.

Mr McMillan got out and slid to the ground on nylon webbing before using a ladder made out of bamboo poles, gaffer tape and picture frames to climb over a high wall.

He climbed over the wall before getting out an umbrella which kept his face hidden while he walked under the guard towers and then took taxis to get to the airport.

There, Mr McMillan picked up a passport left by a friend and fled to Singapore then Pakistan where a tribal leader kept him safe and new passports were organised.

He returned to London in 1999 and has now spoken to MailOnline in a new episode of our YouTube series ‘My Story’ featuring people with extraordinary life stories.

David McMillan has spoken to MailOnline in a new episode of our YouTube series ‘My Story’

David McMillan escaped Klong Prem Prison in Bangkok by breaking out of his cell, avoiding guards, scaling a wall with a makeshift ladder then getting through the gate under an umbrella

Mr McMillian entered the criminal world after living a relatively normal life in his late teens and early 20s when he worked as a camera operator, for an advertising agency and then at a cinema which is where he ‘met the family of some retired villains’.

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Speaking to MailOnline, he explained: ‘They had been safe crackers and did some selective robberies but found themselves with some money to invest and narcotics was where they saw best.’

This led to him becoming involved in the drugs trade in Australia in the 1970s, building up an international smuggling ring involving mules operating in South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Mr McMillian was first jailed for 11 years at Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison in 1982 after being convicted of drug trafficking, during which time he survived a fatal fire that killed six fellow inmates.

In 1993, while still on parole in Australia, he fled to Thailand to collect money he had stored there – but was spotted moments before boarding an outbound flight at Bangkok Airport and arrested.

Mr McMillian was found with a forged passport and illegal drugs, which led to him eventually facing a maximum sentence of death.

Sent to Klong Prem, after spending two years there he was told he would be found guilty of drug trafficking and within two weeks would be sentenced to death, with an execution by machine gun. It was then that he decided to escape.

Mr McMillan also described the shocking conditions at Klong Prem – ironically nicknamed the ‘Bangkok Hilton’ – saying he was held in dormitories with 200 inmates despite them having been built for only 16.

David McMillan became the first Westerner to break out of Klong Prem jail on August 26, 1996 

David McMillian, pictured in 2007, became involved in the drugs trade in Australia in the 1970s

He said prisoners were ‘lying on the floor sandwiched like sardines’ and that many of them were in chains and facing the death penalty – including him.

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Speaking about why he was in jail, Mr McMillan said: ‘I think it was they found 20 grams of heroin somewhere in a bit of a sweep at the airport. I did point out that if it had been mine, it would probably have been a lot more.’

He added: ‘The escape from the Thai prison was probably the longest night of my life and the most exhausting. It was an old school kind of escape because telling anybody would have proved fatal.

‘I had Michael, my business partner, send me a care package with four hacksaw blades concealed in a huge amount of very distracting materials… cigarettes to give to the guards and pornography that would shock them.

‘And I got my hacksaw blade and started cutting after midnight. I’d only got through one bar after about two hours. It’s different at night. Anybody thinking of escaping… it is no use pacing out how long you think things will take you in daylight.’

He said at night you could ‘hear a pin drop, even if there’s a bit of background noise from other cells’.

Mr McMillan explained: ‘You touch a hacksaw blade on an old steel bar of a prison cell. It screams in protest as you drag it along. You have to go slowly.

‘Half a bar was cut in two hours. Should I go that night or do what I knew was fatal? When it comes to escaping, don’t hesitate. Go with every opportunity that comes your way.’

Security guards stand at a gate inside Klong Prem high-security prison in Bangkok in 2016

A view of a cell with a toilet, where five inmates sleep, inside Klong Prem in Bangkok in 2016

He described how his ‘big Swedish Viking friend Sten’ held back the bar to give him six inches of space which he slipped through and got out, then ‘slid to the ground on some nylon webbing that I’d got from one of the factories’.

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Mr McMillan continued: ‘By the time I stumbled myself around to what luckily was an outside wall… very high, too high, with electric wiring along the top and a ladder that I’d had to make out of bamboo poles, gaffer tape, some picture frames forming the rungs of the thing all taped up together.

‘It was almost dawn. Oddly enough, I thought, even when I saw that glow from dawn at the top of that prison in Bangkok, even if I failed, then at least I felt free at that moment.

‘Well, I stopped all that nonsense and made it my business to get over that wall, slid down, took out my prop from my kitbag, which was an umbrella from the umbrella factory, and kept my white face well hidden under that as I walked under the guard towers.’

He then ‘got a couple of taxis, went to the airport, picked up a passport that a friend had very carefully left for me’ before fleeing to the province of Baluchistan in Pakistan to ‘my friend from many years ago, from the 1970s’.

That friend was Mir Noor Jehan Magsi, from the Balochi Magsi clan, and Mr McMillan said ‘only then I knew I was safe’.

He continued: ‘I found myself as the guest of the tribal lord, looking at some new passports on a bed. There. Should I stay or should I go? Should I throw myself back into it?

‘But really, there wasn’t an awful lot of choice. I had used up many favours escaping from the Thai prison, escaping from a certain death sentence.’

A prison guard stands with a baton in the sleeping quarters of Klong Prem prison in 2002

David McMillian was also sent to Pentridge Prison in Melbourne in 1982 for drug trafficking

He was later arrested in Lahore after being shopped by a drug courier and remained in the country for three years, in and out of prison, before returning in 1999 to London, where he was born in 1956.

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In 2012 he was arrested in Orpington, South East London, for possessing 35g of heroin, which was allegedly sewn into the lining of a shirt and posted to his house.

McMillian denied any involvement but a jury found him guilty and he was jailed for six years but released in 2014.

Soon after, the Thai government began extradition proceedings and he was held at HMP Wandsworth in London.

But in September 2016, he learned he was being released and the threat of the extradition – which could have led to a death sentence – was over.

Speaking about his wider criminal activity, Mr McMillan also explained how he continued to survive in an extremely dangerous marketplace of smuggling.

He said: ‘People have sometimes asked me, looking at me, how did you survive where you were dealing with cocaine and heroin and in a marketplace this ruthless and cutthroat? But one of the keys to the survival of that was being worth more alive than dead.

‘My customers, as it were, were all crooks. And of course, my wellbeing was important. 

‘It was necessary for me to be alive, to be doing the smuggling so they could make their profit. So, anybody else from their world who had come to attack me.

‘Somebody who would kidnap me and hold me to ransom for money, someone who would come and follow me and try and steal the goods, they would be subject to the most instant and permanent punishments by my customers. So I didn’t have to worry about that.’

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