IT’S been a long time coming, but a Fylde coast man trapped in Thailand for nearly four years is finally home.
Lee Chestnutt and his partner Jaffrey Maharan were arrested in a cafe in the country in 2009, accused by their former landlord of damaging his property and stealing furniture.
The case went to trial, which took eight days held over the course of a year, and they were acquitted in January 2010.
But the landlord appealed, putting an immediate block on their visas and leaving them unable to leave the country or work there.
That appeal was heard in December and found in their favour, leaving them free to travel home to their families.
But the ordeal carried on when the landlord made threats to take the case to the supreme court – usually reserved for high-profile cases like murder.
It meant their visas were once again suspended.
However, news came home last month that the second appeal was never lodged, and Lee was finally returning to his parents’ home in Pilling.
It is no wonder, after all the years of heartbreaking blocks on his attempts to come home, Lee, 41, was still looking over his shoulder as he flew into Manchester Airport early yesterday morning.
He said: “It’s been four years since we were in control of our own lives.
“We weren’t free. We weren’t in jail but it felt like we were. A lot of people probably think we must have done something wrong for it to have gone so far, but we genuinely haven’t.
“For the last three or four years we’ve been facing the prospect of going to Bangkok jail. What kept is going was that we knew we weren’t guilty. We just had to trust the justice system.”
Lee and Jaffrey were preparing to leave Thailand four years ago, when they were arrested.
Once they were found not guilty of the charges against them, they began preparing to move their lives back to the UK. Everything was ready when the second immigration block was imposed.
Jaffrey, also 41, said: “We keep waiting for something to go wrong, because every time we try and do something, it goes wrong.
“We’ve got into the habit of constantly worrying about something.”
Lee, who was working in engineering and IT in Thailand, added: “For the last four years we’ve been going to bed feeling sick, and waking up feeling sick.
“And what’s worse is we’ve lost a lot of time with our families.
As a final insult to injury, when the couple were finally allowed their visas, they were fined for overstaying in the country.
It’s the first time in seven years Lee has been home with his parents, Pat and Bruce.
Pat said: “It is amazing.
“Right up until the last minute, because of what we’ve been through I was thinking something else was going to happen to stop them coming home.
“It wasn’t until I finally saw them that it hit me – they’re finally here.
“We did start to believe it was never going to happen.”
Lee and Jaffrey, who is from Singapore, will spend two weeks in England before returning to Thailand to pack up their old home.
And Lee’s first thoughts on being back in the UK after so long... “Cold!”