Bag thief jailed for death of teacher

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2011, 12:00am
 

A bag-snatcher whose botched attack last year led to the death of a well-known ballet teacher was jailed for 10 years yesterday.

Wong Pak-hung, 45, unemployed, pleaded guilty in the Court of First Instance to manslaughter in the death of Mimi Chui Moon-fan (pictured), 44, the principal of the Christine Liao School of Ballet, on July 13 last year, and one count of robbery.

Chui was walking up a flight of stairs near the Sau Mau Ping Estate playground on the evening of July 8 when Wong came up behind her and grabbed her handbag. Chui lost her balance and fell, hitting her head on the stairs.

A passer-by found Chui lying on the stairs at 11.30pm, gasping but unresponsive. She was rushed to hospital and died five days later from severe head injuries. She is survived by her husband, a 15-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter.

Appealing for leniency, Wong's lawyer Peter Cahill said his client did not expect the fatal consequences when he robbed Chui.

But Mr Justice Andrew Macrae said Chui's fall and injury were 'hardly unpredictable' given the element of surprise involved. He said Chui was pulled backwards and lost her balance as she walked up the stairs.

'This is a tragic case,' the judge said in passing sentence. 'A life is needlessly lost as a result of your selfishness and greed.

'Lone women walking home late at night deserve the court's protection.' He said unlawful and dangerous acts must be deterred in Hong Kong's crowded environment.

Chui's husband, Leung Yiu-chung, said the sentence was just a number. 'No matter whether it's 20 years in jail or a life sentence, what's lost is lost - it's irreparable,' Leung said.

Christine Liao, the founder of the ballet school and Chui's mentor, lamented the death of a woman who was 'one of the most important and best teachers' ever at the school.

Chui started at the school as an eight-year-old pupil and rose to be in charge of its Sha Tin studio.

Earlier in court, senior public prosecutor Vincent Wong Wing-sum said police tracked down Wong after someone picked up Chui's dumped Octopus card and tried to get a refund at an MTR counter.

Investigators found that the card was picked up on the staircase between the 33rd and 34th floors of Sau Yat House, Sau Mau Ping Estate, two days after Chui was robbed.

After going through surveillance camera footage, police identified suspects including the accused, who lived on the 36th floor of the building.

After Wong was arrested, he told police: 'I only snatched the woman's handbag. I did not know she would fall down and die.'

The court heard that Wong had turned to robbery that night because he had run out of money. It also heard that Wong had a 'bad record' of violence, including three convictions for robbery, one of handling stolen goods and one of assault. He also had a decade-long history of taking Ice.

The judge imposed a six-year sentence for the robbery, reducing it by a third in mitigation. The judge did not specify a jail term for the manslaughter charge, but ordered that Wong serve a total of 10 years behind bars.

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