Rape suspect’s death in custody demands a thorough investigation

The circumstances surrounding the suspects death in a police cell point to security loopholes and human negligence. A comprehensive inquiry and overhaul of relevant rules and procedures are needed to prevent a recurrence

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 1:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 1:17am

Questions are to be expected when a suspect dies in police custody. In the case of Lam Wing-chun, who allegedly hanged himself in a cell after being arrested in a high-profile rape and robbery case, there are unusual details that point to security loopholes and human negligence. A comprehensive investigation and overhaul of the relevant rules and procedures are needed to prevent a recurrence.

Exactly what went wrong will be a matter for the coroner’s court to find out. According to a police source, the 48-year-old man might have snatched a computer cable without being noticed while he was being interrogated at Sau Mau Ping police station. There were suggestions that he sought to hang himself from a sprinkler, triggering a fire alarm at 3am on Thursday. After being removed to another cell, he was found hanged at about 9am, shortly after a routine inspection, according to media reports.

As a matter of procedure, all suspects undergo a body search before confinement to prevent assaults and self-injury. There are also regular cell inspections by duty officers. It is therefore baffling that Lam could take his life under such circumstances.

Hong Kong police reminded to stay alert to suicidal detainees after rape suspect’s death

The explanation by police chief Stephen Lo Wai-chung on Thursday did little to clear the air. Understandably, he cannot divulge too much detail ahead of the inquest. But the force has rightly responded to public concerns by tasking the crime unit of another region to take over the investigation. Hopefully, this will instil confidence in a fair and thorough investigation.

The details of the alleged rape and robbery were widely discussed on social media, not least because it happened under a footbridge outside a busy train station in Kowloon Bay shortly after midnight on Monday. That the suspect was jobless, with at least 20 criminal convictions and was caught after he tried to withdraw money from the bank account of the 22-year-old victim has no doubt coloured people’s perceptions further. Sensational as it is, the nature of the case does not alter the need for a fair and thorough investigation.