Release of killer marks end of era

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

All the young murderers detained at Her Majesty's pleasure are free after the last underage killer was released in December, marking the end of an issue left over from the colonial era.

Lam King-wa, who was convicted of murder after a gang fight in May 1989, was released from Ma Po Ping Prison on Lantau four months ago after having served two-thirds of his fixed sentence of 27 years. He was 16 at the time of the murder.

He is the last of the 14 young murderers detained at the Chief Executive's discretion - an indefinite sentence known before 1997 as 'at Her Majesty's pleasure' - who have won freedom since the handover.

Cheung Yau-hang, one of the five killers involved in the horrific Braemar Hill killings in April 1985, was freed at the end of 2007.

Legislator Leung Yiu-chung, who launched a campaign before the handover to fight for a definite sentence for prisoners convicted of murder when they were under 18, said Mr Cheung had been hired as an inspection worker at a public utility.

Mr Cheung and Won Sam-lung, both 16 at the time of the murders of Island School students Nicola Myers and Kenneth McBride, were sentenced in 1987 to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, and were held at the Chief Executive's discretion after the handover.

The murders of Myers, 18, and McBride, 17, stunned the city with their brutality. She was raped and sustained 500 knife wounds, while he was strangled and had 100 injuries.

Mr Cheung was handed a 35-year fixed sentence in 2005 by Mr Justice Pang Kin-kee in the Court of First Instance. Mr Won received a sentence of 28 years and three months in August 2004. He was released a month later after having served two-thirds of the term. Mr Won was offered a job as a clerk at a law firm after his release.

Chris Forse, a former teacher to McBride and Myers at Island School where they studied before they were murdered on Braemar Hill in 1985, believes Mr Cheung should be given a chance to become a good and law-abiding citizen after his release.

Mr Leung said he was pleased to see all the young murderers had left jail. 'They should be punished for their serious crimes but I feel it was a bit late for them to get their fixed terms and leave jail,' he said.

Mr Leung has employed four of the former inmates as his assistants at the Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre, though one of them quit recently. Keith Kwan, 36, has been at the centre, a grass-roots rights group, since winning his freedom in November 2007.

'I feel grateful for the eventual release of all of us,' Mr Kwan said. 'I also appreciate the sympathy of many members of the public for our battle for definite sentences.

'They are willing to give us a chance to reintegrate into society despite the mistakes we made in our teens.'

Mr Kwan was convicted of murder after a gang fight in 1990 when he was 17 and was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. In November 2004 Mr Justice Pang gave him a fixed term of 27 years.

Most of the young murderers have taken up low-income jobs after their release but one is currently unemployed.

'I must express gratitude to Mr Leung for his support, without which we wouldn't have been able to win definite sentences and rehabilitate ourselves,' Mr Kwan said.

In December 1997, the 14 young murderers were given minimum terms of 15 to 30 years on the recommendation of Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, but with no maximum term, so in effect they remained in indefinite detention. In September 2002, the Court of First Instance ruled that the power to fix sentences should rest with the courts.

A new beginning

The saga of the prisoners detained

1985
Cheung Yau-hang and Won Sam-lung are detained at Her Majesty?s pleasure after being convicted of murdering Kenneth McBride and Nicola Myers (pictured) on Braemar Hill

1997
Legislator Leung Yiu-chung launches campaign for fixed sentences for the young killers

December 1997
Fourteen young killers receive minimum terms of 15-30 years on recommendation of Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, but no maximum term

May 2001
From the Queen to the Chief Executive, a film telling the stories of 14 young prisoners detained at the Chief Executive?s discretion, is released in Hong Kong

2001
Young murderers Lai Hung-wai and Yau Kwong-man seek judicial review of system under which they were first detained at Her Majesty?s pleasure, and then at Chief Executive?s discretion after 1997

September 2002
Court of First Instance rules power to fix sentences should rest with courts

July 2004
Legislative Council passes legislation giving Secretary for Justice six months to apply for minimum sentences and empowers judge to set minimum sentence or change indefinite sentence to fixed term for juvenile murderers; Justice Pang Kin-kee gives fixed sentences to young killers

2004
Won Sam-lung is released

2007
Cheung Yau-hang leaves jail

December 2008
Lam King-wa becomes last of the young prisoners held at the Chief Executive?s discretion to leave jail