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Crime in Hong Kong

This case caused a judge to urge more help for Hong Kong’s marginalised

After jailing 37-year-old for break-ins at several buildings including a temple, Judge Ernest Lin says ‘imprisonment only postpones the problem’ of criminal cycle

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 2:31pm

Shek Yau is 37 years old, unemployed and mentally disabled. He has had 23 previous convictions, and on Friday morning he went back to prison.

He had broken into buildings, including a temple, causing damage and stealing ornaments.

The case prompted Deputy District Judge Ernest Lin Kam-hung to urge the Hong Kong government to pay attention to Shek’s plight, as an example of someone who has failed to get the help he needs to cope with life.

The judge was sentencing Shek to 26 months in prison on five charges of arson, burglary and criminal damage, which the defendant admitted.

Most of the previous raps involved offences of dishonesty, including 17 of burglary.

The court heard Shek lived with his younger sister in a public housing flat. His sister is also his guardian, but she has her own mental disabilities. Both of their parents are dead.

Shek has relied on government welfare payments since quitting his job at a sheltered workshop because, he said, he was being bullied. Without that job, he had little to occupy his time, but got no extra counselling from his designated social worker.

He was in court because, in October last year, he twice smashed the locks to an ancestral hall in Tai Po and stole two candle holders. In the same week, he broke into a nearby temple to steal seven photographs, and damaged a pane of glass.

Months later, he wandered into a bus drivers’ rest kiosk and cooked paper in the microwave.

Sentencing reports revealed that Shek committed multiple offences because he was motivated by greed.

Judge Lin highlighted that Shek’s habit of hoarding meant there were various items clogging the entrance and corridors in his flat. He said that could be a fire hazard, as the siblings regularly burn incense to pay respects to their ancestors.

The Housing Department ignored the hazard, the District Court heard.

Lin said Hong Kong is a rich society with the capacity to help Shek before his life gets any worse, and urged the government and community to pay particular attention to the case.

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“The court has limited capacity. We can only mete out punishment in accordance with the extent of culpability after a crime is committed,” he said.

Sentencing reports recommended against probation, and a court-ordered psychiatric assessment found Shek did not suffer from any mental illness, so Lin said imprisonment was the only option.

But he noted that punishment may not be effective if the offender does not understand the consequences of his behaviour. He said Shek might continue in his ways, posing a risk to others, if he does not receive the appropriate supervision and counselling after release to break the cycle.

“Imprisonment only postpones the problem,” the judge said. “The law is just the last line of defence; it does not solve all problems.”