Hong Kong headmaster blames his bad English for defamation lawsuit

Shiu Hon-po claims Tam deliberately defamed him by endorsing groundless complaint filed by parent

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 8:56am

A headmaster being sued for defamation told a court yesterday that his colleague had mistaken his bad English for slander.

The District Court appearance of George Tam Siu-ping - who is due to retire as principal of the 93-year-old Wah Yan College after about 17 years - proved a school scandal significant enough to draw former pupils to the public gallery.

Shiu Hon-po, a now-retired teacher at the elite Roman Catholic secondary school on Hong Kong Island - which teaches in English - claims that Tam deliberately defamed him by endorsing a groundless complaint filed by a parent.

Tam denies the allegation but admits he mistakenly described the complaint as "valid" when he only intended to say it was "real". Shiu is suing for damages of HK$200,000 and an apology.

"The litigation is due to a misunderstanding," his lawyers said.

Tam's lawyers presented transcripts of their client's conversations which pinpointed examples of his misuse of English. They showed him in one speech using the word "invest" for "investigate", and "divert" for "disclose".

After listening to the examples, District Court Judge Wong Hing-chun said that it was common for a person who did not speak English well to make some mistakes in an unscripted speech.

The case is now pending her judgment.

The court had previously heard that Tam failed the equivalent A-level English language exam in 1970. He passed the subject the following year.

He then went on to study at Northcote College of Education and has a master's degree from the University of Hong Kong.

The court heard earlier that Tam has breathing difficulties and serious shortsightedness.

His lawyers say those conditions could have hampered the principal during school meetings and when handling complaints.