Two young Thai girls accused of being pickpockets after they posed for a picture with a woman tourist have pleaded with the ‘victim’ to visit their home village so they can prove their innocence.
Stung by accusations that she and sister deliberately targeted the woman at a temple in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, one of the so called ‘adorable thieves’ told MailOnline that the pair was innocent, insisting: ‘I didn’t take your watch’.
A picture of the moment seven-year-old Kanlayanee is said to have unclasped the watch from the woman’s wrist went viral after it was uploaded onto the social media site Reddit.
But her older sister Thidaret, 10, told MailOnline they had done nothing wrong and added that she would say to the woman: ‘I want you to come visit me at Baan Doi Pui Village.’
Photographs of Thidaret and Kanlayanee dressed in bright traditional Thai costume outside the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple were posted on Reddit.
In one image, both girls are seen holding the hands of the female tourist as they stand at the bottom of the 300 steps leading up to the temple.
The picture, which swiftly went viral, shows Kanlayanee on the right with her fingers resting on the inside of the woman’s forearm, curled round the strap of her watch, under the caption “This pic solved the mystery of the missing watch”.
The Reddit poster then claimed that his girlfriend later realised her watch was missing after standing with the two youngsters.
The captions claimed it was only when they looked at the photos later that the couple believed they were victims of a scam.
After the photo was posted on Reddit by medardboss, other users weighed in and described the pair as experienced pickpockets.
One user called them ‘adorable thieves’, while another wrote: “Those kids aren’t good, they’re expert. That watch is long gone, It was just unlucky for the girl that the button was clicked at that exact second.”
Many others commented on the posting, which has since been removed, and said they girls were part of a well organised gang who preyed on tourists in the area.
However, the unnamed woman in the picture has claimed via Reddit that the photos were stolen from her Facebook page without permission and subsequently posted online.
Both the image and the medardboss Reddit account have been taken down.
The aggrieved parents of the girls are furious at the accusations and went to the police to protest their innocence, also telling MailOnline they were deeply concerned that the so-called incident had not been reported to police.
Phujaras Chiapaporn and his wife Lu Nithiwaraphob were interviewed by police after the photo posted by Reddit user ‘medardboss’ went round the world.
Mr Phujaras insisted his children had been wrongly accused and had not been brought up to steal.
He told MailOnline: “The afternoon when the village chief came to me explaining what had happened, I felt very sad. Why would someone post something about my girls and not go to the police first?.
“People in the village don’t believe the kid could do such a thing, they are too young and don’t have the skill to do it.”
His wife said she had not slept or eaten in two days after people told her about the viral photo.
“After I heard the news about my children, I got very upset and I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.
“I got so stressed and I haven’t eaten for two days and I feel very sad. Why are they doing this to my children?”
Asked what his daughter would say to the tourist, Mr Phjaras said: “If she had a chance to speak with the tourist, she would ask them why you not tell the police in the first place and I also have a heart, I also have a feeling.” he said.
“She feel very sad about the news, she really want to meet the British tourist.” The nationality of the tourist is not yet known.
Mr Phujaras said he wanted to know how the tourists would feel if their children were made out to be thieves on the basis of a photograph.
“If it were their children how do they think, the picture of their children are spread all over the world,” he said.
Police said the parents would have even considered filing a defamation lawsuit had the tourists still been in Thailand.
The dispute over the missing watch began when a Reddit user called medardboss posted the photo of the woman standing with the two girls on an online thread entitled “mildly interesting”.
Other details included the fact that the man who took the photograph said he and his girlfriend had had quite a bit to drink before going to the temple.
Medardboss then claimed later that the watch had been found and the woman contacted the “mildly interesting” thread to say the pictures had been used without her permission.
By then, thousands of people had responded to the thread, with some Reddit users sharing their own pictures of the two girls from their own trips.
Some commented on what they called the girls’ technique, noting they touched their target in several places ‘so she didn’t notice her watch being snatched’.
One user wrote he had “dodged a bullet” as he decided not to pose with the girls while others speculated that the family were poor and used the girls to steal to make a living.
After local police became involved and interviewed the Kanlayanee – who wants to run an ice-cream shop – and Thidaret – who would like to be a teacher – the parents denounced the theft allegations.
A village elder called Methaphan Fuengfukitchakarn travelled with the family to the police station to vouch for their good character.
He told police the family were well respected in the village and the girls should not be judged by the photo.
Police chief Anek Chaiwong said the tourists had not filed an official complaint following the watch ‘theft’.
He said: “The parents of the kids are very concerned and said they would have filed a complaint against the false accusation were the farang (tourists) still here in Thailand.”
The girls’ parents explained that they were happy to take money as gifts from tourists while posing for their photos and the money was used to help pay for food, clothing and education.
The girls would visit the temple after school on weekdays and at weekends, but he said they would not beg but rely on the generosity of visitors who wanted to take photos of them wearing traditional Thai costumes.