A TONE of restrained hope was apparent following the first meeting between Hong Kong Government officials and prisoners Paul Au Wing-cheung and Wong Chuen-ming in a Manila jail yesterday. Two senior officials from the Governor's party missed talks with leading Philippines senators in order to tell the pair Chris Patten had raised their case with President Fidel Ramos on Monday. Deputy private secretary Kim Salkeld would not comment after the 40-minute meeting in the office of Muntinlupa national prison Superintendent Juanito Leopando, but collected several letters to deliver to their families in Hong Kong. 'There will be regular visits from the Consul of the British Embassy and we assured Au and Wong that we would be kept informed,' Mr Patten said late yesterday. It was too early to say whether a 'breakthrough' would come from his personal urging for a speedy resolution of the case, he said. Au, 32, a former tour guide, and Wong, 49, a factory worker, are still waiting for a date for their appeal, four years after they were jailed for life for smuggling 34 kilograms of 'ice' into Manila airport. The pair have continuously protested their innocence. 'It would be unfair to raise their hopes without any solid evidence,' Mr Patten said. He said they would continue to keep in touch with the prisoners' families. Minutes after the government aides emerged from the jail, set amid village homes an hour from central Manila, Au told the South China Morning Post he had become saddened and frustrated by waiting years to have his appeal heard, but hoped the top-level meeting would speed the process. 'Mr Salkeld told me the Governor, Mr Patten, had talked to President Ramos yesterday regarding my case and Mr Ramos promised to try to ask the Justice Department to work faster so my appeal will come up soon,' Au said. 'They said that if they cannot get the answer in a short time, they will follow it up. 'I hope it will be, if not before Christmas, then before the Lunar New Year. 'I said I appreciated the help from Mr Patten. Although I cannot be released immediately, at least it is good to bring this to a higher authority. 'I believe that every country's justice system is independent and it is very hard for anybody to interfere. If President Ramos can help it to be heard faster, it will be a great delight.' Au said he wanted to prove his innocence in a court hearing and appreciated the support he was receiving from Hong Kong. 'I always feel worried, upset and frustrated, but time makes me realise I can do nothing in here - just wait.'