Probe into police custody suicide should be conducted by independent watchdog, says Hong Kong community group

Society for Community Organisation makes proposal after suspect in rape case killed himself inside a cell in Sau Mau Ping police station

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 6:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 9:16pm

Suicides in Hong Kong police cells should be investigated by an independent watchdog instead of the force and the suicide risk of detainees should be assessed, a community group has said in the wake of a recent death.

A man arrested on suspicion of raping and robbing a 22-year-old student in Kowloon Bay took his own life in Sau Mau Ping police station earlier this month. He hanged himself with a computer cable obtained in the station.

The incident is being investigated by a regional crime unit from a different part of the city.

Questioning the independence and credibility of the probe, the Society for Community Organisation said the Independent Police Complaints Council – a statutory body – should instead conduct the review.

“Independent investigation can enhance credibility, with a full review of any deficiency in policy or procedure,” community organiser Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong said, adding that all cases in Britain involving death or serious injury in custody were referred to the police watchdog.

Rape suspect’s death in custody demands a thorough investigation

The group also suggested that a risk assessment should be carried out of all detainees, with a care plan being prepared for those who are considered vulnerable.

“People arrested for violent or sexual offences and those with mental problems are among groups with a higher risk of self-harm,” community organiser Annie Lin said, adding that different levels of observation should be arranged for different detainees.

Lin said closed-circuit television cameras should be installed and officers should carry out frequent physical checks of higher-risk detainees.

Addressing the police stance that the use of CCTV cameras in cells would infringe privacy, Lin said a balance was needed.

“In the UK, the police let detainees know they are being filmed, and the toilet area is shielded,” Lin said.

The police said they would conduct a comprehensive investigation to find out if negligence was involved in the Sau Mau Ping case and if security measures could be improved

There have been three cases of suspects committing suicide in police cells over the past four years.

On a case in 2015, a coroner recommended that more CCTV cameras should be used and the camera angle should be adjusted to facilitate surveillance.