A Hong Kong mother’s fight for the truth behind girl’s death on mainland China
Law Hoi-yan, 18, a student at a private boarding school in Nanning, Guangxi Province, was found dead near a residential estate
A Hong Kong mother embroiled in a row with a mainland Chinese school over the mysterious death of her daughter, 18, three years ago has vowed to pursue justice as far as the highest court in Beijing.
Ling Lai-hung, 49, a fishing boat worker, revealed her story on Wednesday after the High Court of Guangxi Province refused to grant her a retrial in September.
“I sent my spirited girl to the school and now I am left with nothing but a jar of ashes. I can’t and I won’t accept this,” the tearful mother said.
More than three years since the tragedy on Mid-Autumn Festival, Ling said she was still haunted by photos from the case showing her daughter Law Hoi-yan lying in a pool of blood.
On September 8, 2014, Ling received a call from mainland police who told her that her daughter was found dead in a neighbourhood 50km from her school on the mainland.
Ling arrived that night in the provincial capital of Nanning, where just 10 days earlier Law had enrolled at a private boarding school.
Three days after the incident, police told Ling that her daughter was not murdered but had died from a fall from the 23rd floor of a residential building. Ling then signed a death certificate and a cremation notice was issued by authorities, closing the case.
“I regret not having an autopsy. I thought she was miserable enough,” Ling said. But scepticism crept in not long after.
Law’s roommate told Ling’s lawyer that a day before the incident, the deputy school head Zhou Jianren had gone out of campus with her, Law and another student. On that trip, Law bought some medical ointment and returned looking unhappy that night.
Ling asked the school for surveillance footage but was told that the system had broken down.
She next approached Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong for help but claimed she was told not to make the case high profile.
She then sought help from Cheng Yiu-tong, a local deputy of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature. She was told that her case had been transferred back to mainland authorities.
In November, Ling took her case to a mainland court and sued the school and the estate management company of the neighbourhood where her daughter had been found dead.
The mother demanded compensation of 3.09 million yuan (HK$3.6 million).
Ling argued that both the school and the estate company failed to provide surveillance footage for investigation, and the school did not fulfil its duty to stop Law from leaving campus on a school day.
“Zhou Jianren had promised that my daughter couldn’t go out without my consent,” Ling said.
Ling lost the court case in 2014. She appealed in 2016 but also lost as the Guangxi court categorised Law as an adult and said she should have been responsible for her own actions.
Law Fung-ping, Ling’s sister-in-law, said they had not been in touch with Zhou Jianren since the court battle, but his older brother Zhou Jianjun – the head of the school – offered to refund Law’s tuition fees in exchange for them dropping the case. School fees cost 22,000 yuan (HK$25,900) a year.
“It was the day before our appeal. Of course we never accepted the money. We wanted the truth,” Law Fung-ping said.
In September 2017, the High Court of Guangxi rejected Ling’s application for a retrial.
Franklin Chen Nansha, a Shenzhen-based senior partner of international law firm Dentons, said Ling could apply to the Supreme People’s Court on the mainland for a retrial or lodge a protest to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
Ling could also ask the Guangxi provincial police to look into the case again or the Nanning Municipal Procuratorate to examine the original investigative process, according to Chen.
“None of the ways would be easy because the case was closed within three days [of Law’s death] and no vital evidence was collected, such as a record of whom the girl had communicated with as well as other surveillance footage where her body was found,” he said.
The Post called Zhou Jianren’s office and spoke to a female staff member who admitted that he was sitting next to the phone, but the line was then cut and no further contact was possible.
A police spokesman in Hong Kong said Ling could report the case to them but it was unclear if any help would be offered.
The liaison office could not be reached for comment.