Owner in Hong Kong beauty centre manslaughter case says he thought bacteria tests were enforced

Trial reveals DR Group founder Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing rose from a general practitioner to the head of a healthcare empire

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 4:50pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 10:47pm

A doctor on trial for manslaughter told a Hong Kong court on Wednesday that he firmly believed the blood products from his beauty centre were tested for bacteria before they were used on a woman who later died of blood poisoning.

The High Court heard DR Group founder Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing was not involved in the daily operations of his Hong Kong Mesotherapy Centre in Causeway Bay, where a treatment involving cytokine-induced killer (CIK) cells sent three women to the hospital and resulted in the death of Chan Yuen-lam, 46, after their blood samples became infected by bacteria in October 2012.

The treatment required blood to be taken from a customer, processed to enhance the white blood cells, and then reintroduced into the body.

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Opening the defence case to a nine-member jury, Chow’s lawyer said of his client: “[He] has been waiting eagerly to go to the witness box to tell you the truth.”

“I was just the boss,” Chow testified through an interpreter. “I was not a director of the centre, nor did I work there. In fact I very rarely visit the Mesotherapy Centre.”

Defence counsel Wong Man-kit SC said the case against his client hinges on whether Chow believed bacteria tests would be done or had been done to the CIK product introduced to the deceased.

Prosecutors would have to prove that Chow was aware of a serious and obvious risk of death for the jury to find him guilty.

Wong said his client had “absolutely no reason” to exclude bacteria tests on his products as this would ruin the reputation of his business.

The court was told that since 2009, Chow had been sending emails to staff demanding bacteria tests to be conducted.

Operational guidelines jointly devised by senior doctors and anaesthetists were provided to all nurses and doctors, and the centre was equipped with million-dollar hardware and software to conduct the tests.

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“[Chow] is a medical doctor. Would a medical doctor knowingly allow a blood product, which he knew had not been subjected to bacteria tests, be introduced into the human body? Certainly not,” Wong said. “[Chow] believed bacteria tests would be done, or had already been done.”

Chow also clarified that he never intended to use CIK cells on patients to cure disease or as a form of medication.

His testimony shed light on how he transitioned from being a private clinic doctor in the 1980s to starting his own business in selling skincare products in 1994, which grew into an empire of 38 beauty centres and two laboratories with more than 800 staff under his command.

“People soon discovered our products were good so the sales of products improved and more and more centres were established,” he said.

Chow, 63, along with his employees Dr Mak Wan-ling, 35, and technician Chan Kwun-chung, 32, each deny one count of manslaughter.

The trial continues before Mrs Justice Judianna Barnes.