Pensioners held in Thailand for taking bridge too far

Police in Thailand investigating a tip-off about an illegal gambling racket met some unlikely resistance — bridge-playing British pensioners who refused to put down their hands even as they were detained by the army.

A member of the public had alerted police to what was said to be a seedy upstairs syndicate run by foreign nationals. Instead of stumbling upon a criminal gang, however, they found the group of committed bridge players.

The 12 Britons, reportedly including the event’s organiser, Jeremy Watson, 74, were among 31 westerners rounded up as more than 50 officers, including some from the army, swooped on Pattaya Bridge Club.

It was the latest in a series of crackdowns on foreign “offenders” by the Thai government in a town known for its links to organised crime. The authorities suspected that the pensioners were gambling on card games, which is illegal in the country.

Although the British ringleaders convinced investigators that they were only playing for points at the club, which meets three times a week above a restaurant, they were suspected of violating a different law, the Playing Cards Act of 1935, which bans the possession of more than 120 playing cards at one time.

Footage of the raid showed the elderly detainees being marched into a van, including a Dutch woman aged 84 carrying a walking stick. The pensioners remained defiant as officers interrogated them and began seizing decks of cards, continuing to play their hands until they were taken away. They were all released at 3am after paying bail of 5,000 baht (£96).

Among the Britons, who were detained for more than 12 hours, was Barry Kenyon, 68, a former British honorary consul who was appointed MBE for his services to Britain.

Describing the ordeal, he said that some of the group were more than 80 years old and that a local shop had to be drafted in to deliver food during their interrogation. He said that they were told the charges were being dropped just as a “black Maria” van was being prepared to take them to court.

Police deferred further action after the Contract Bridge League of Thailand intervened to explain that there was no money involved.

“We had done nothing illegal. We do not play bridge for money. But the district officials insisted they wanted to go ahead with a case whatever,” Mr Kenyon, a former president of the Pattaya Bridge Club, said.

“They saw the computer we had to record each player’s bridge records and must have thought something big was going on. It was all quite absurd.”

In addition to the 12 Britons, those detained included three Norwegians, three Swedes, two Australians, a German, a Dane, a Canadian, a New Zealander and a Dutch and Irish national.

The club could still face sanctions for playing with more cards than legally allowed and has been closed temporarily until it gets a new licence.