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Hong Kong courts

Yip Kai-foon inquest finds Hong Kong prisoners should have access to Chinese medicine

Five jurors at Coroner’s Court find Yip, the city’s former ‘King of Thieves’, died of natural causes after suffering from cancer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 9:57pm

Despite once terrorising Hong Kong as one of its most notorious criminals, “King of Thieves” Yip Kai-foon may have left a legacy of enhanced rights for his former fellow inmates.

His two-day inquest ended on Thursday, with a panel of jurors suggesting Chinese medicine be provided to prisoners as an alternative to the default Western approach.

It came a day after they heard Yip – once a fearsome, AK-47-wielding robber, but left wheelchair-bound and plagued by terminal cancer in his final days – was denied that option while serving his 41-year jail term. Yip had lodged a judicial review to demand such an option, but died on April 19, 2017, aged 55, before the court heard his case.

After two hours of deliberations on Thursday, the five jurors at the Coroner’s Court found Yip died of natural causes. He had suffered from terminal lung cancer that spread to his brain.

“[We] recommend prison hospitals consider providing Chinese medicine [for prisoners],” the foreman of the jury said, a conclusion from a day of testimony by doctors and jail officers summoned to court to retell the events leading up to Yip’s death.

Coroner Ko Wai-hung said he would pass on the recommendation to the Correctional Services Department. A spokesman from the department said it would study the recommendation, but had no further comment to make.

The conclusion of Yip’s inquest put to rest speculation over the death of the mainland Chinese immigrant turned gangster at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam just two years before he was expected to be released on August 19, 2019.

‘King of Thieves’ Yip Kai-foon forced Hong Kong police to change tactics and beef up arms

While it was reported that Yip died of some form of cancer, the inquest shed light on the exact medical conditions that befell the brutal criminal in his last days, and a difficult life behind bars after being shot during a 1996 gun battle with the police, and paralysed.

Originally from Shanwei, Guangdong province, Yip moved to Hong Kong in 1979, and rose to notoriety for holding up jewellery stores in the 1980s. He was jailed for 18 years in 1985, but escaped four years later from Queen Mary Hospital.

In 1996, he was back in the game, but was recaptured after the police shoot-out, followed by a 41-year jail term for a string of charges, including possessing and using firearms, kidnapping and his escape.

During the inquest, the court heard he suffered pain because of the bullet he took in his spine, which caused him to seek help from a psychiatrist. Doctors who testified said he was on painkillers and needed to defecate and urinate through tubes, which left him vulnerable to urinary tract infections.

A tumour was detected in Yip’s right lung in November 2016, which was confirmed to be terminal lung cancer in March the next year.

On Thursday, the jury made another recommendation for the Hospital Authority that doctors at accident and emergency departments who spot suspected tumours should immediately refer the patients to oncology departments.

But the coroner said no evidence showed it was the emergency department that missed the diagnosis. Nonetheless, he said he would convey the message to the authority in an unofficial way.

By the start of April, the cancer had spread to Yip’s brain, which eventually took his life.

He is survived by a wife and a daughter, 25, in mainland China, neither of whom attended his funeral, his brother Yip Kai-yuk wrote in a statement read out in court.

An inquest is mandatory for anyone who dies in jail.