Catholic principal guilty of slander

Judge rules school head broke a commandment and must face his God for defaming a teacher. He was ordered to pay damages and apologise

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 5:30am

A judge has ruled that the head of a top Catholic school broke one of the Ten Commandments after finding he slandered a teacher.

District Judge Wong Hing-chun wrote in a 24-page judgment that George Tam Siu-ping, principal of the Hong Kong Wah Yan College had breached a commandment and must "face his God and conscience for speaking evil falsely of his neighbour".

The case was brought by Shiu Hon-po, a former English teacher at the college, who claimed Tam had defamed him at a school management meeting in 2004.

Wong found Shiu had successfully discharged the burden of proof that Tam had acted with malice when he endorsed a complaint filed by a parent which the court heard had already been investigated and found groundless.

Wong ordered Tam, the first non-priest principal of the school, to issue an apology and pay compensation. Tam had denied the allegation and gave a series of excuses for the court.

He blamed poor English for mistakenly stating the complaint was "valid" when he only intended to say it was "real". The school, which was founded 93 years ago, teaches in English.

He went on to say he was in a state of "semi-consciousness" and also in a "semi-coma" in the meeting. And then he said he was too busy to start picking fights with staff at the Wan Chai school.

Wong found it was not a case of the "wrong choice of word having considered the context", and his voice on a recording of the meeting "did not appear to belong to someone in a semi-conscious state". She added: "His use of English may not be refined, his grammar may not be perfect, but he was eloquent, and his voice clear and firm."

The contents of the letter of apology are to be agreed by lawyers for both parties and must include an admission that his criticism of Shui was fabricated.

Tam also has to pay Shiu, who taught at the school from 1991 until his retirement in 2010, HK$7,620 to cover medical expenses. Shiu had demanded HK$200,000 in damages.

Tam said through a public relations officer for the school that he respected the ruling but could make no further comment until he had spoken to his lawyers.

The school management committee issued a statement in support of the headmaster. It said: "Mr Tam has been one of the most dedicated educators serving both Wah Yan College Hong Kong and the education sector in Hong Kong."