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Hong Kong courts

Neglected 7-year-old child may not live past 20, Hong Kong court hears

Judge likens case to child cruelty and expresses doubt over mitigation claims

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 4:35pm

A Hong Kong father whose seven-year-old daughter nearly died of neglect apologised on Thursday after a doctor revealed the child might not live past the age of 20.

“I was wrong,” Rocky Ling Yiu-chung said in a handwritten letter. “I am very regretful. I apologise to everyone, in particular to [the victim] Lam Lam.”

Ling, 52, and his ex-wife, Mandy Wong Wing-man, 42, are due to be sentenced at the High Court on Friday.

The estranged couple have been in jail since last Wednesday after a seven-member jury unanimously found Wong guilty of neglecting Suki Ling Yun-lam and two other counts of perverting the course of justice, one of which she was convicted for along with her ex-husband.

The court previously heard the horrific case came to light on July 18, 2015, when Suki was carried to hospital in a state of cardiac arrest, with gangrenous wounds covering her emaciated and malnourished body.

But it took investigators months to find out who was responsible, having been fed lies by both Ling and Wong.

Child neglect is punishable by 10 years in jail. There is no ceiling in Hong Kong to the punishment for perverting the course of justice.

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Mr Justice Kevin Zervos on Thursday likened the case to child cruelty after hearing Suki’s latest medical report from Caritas Medical Centre, where she has been a long-term resident since June 2016.

“She’s destined for an early death,” he said.

She’s destined for an early death
Mr Justice Kevin Zervos, High Court judge

Dr Lau Wai-ling said the child had profound mental retardation and permanent movement disorders affecting all four limbs.

“Since admission she has been minimally conscious with limited response to external stimuli,” the doctor wrote. “She is totally dependent on daily activities and nutrition is only maintained by gastrostomy feeding.”

The doctor also gave the opinion the girl would have poor prospects of recovery “with minimal rehabilitation potential”. It was said she would be prone to repeated episodes of aspiration pneumonia – swallowing food and liquids into her lungs – and other life-threatening complications such as sepsis or those from flu.

“According to our clinical experience, [the] majority of children with similar conditions cannot survive beyond [the] second decade of life,” the report said. “Sudden unexpected death is also not uncommon.”

Judge tells jury in Hong Kong girl’s neglect trial not to let emotion play a part

In mitigation, Wong’s defence counsel, Leung Chun-keung, acknowledged the girl had suffered serious wounds that should have been given medical attention. But he urged the court to consider the neglect “unintentional”.

“There is no physical abuse,” the lawyer added.

But the judge questioned what difference there was, explaining that neglect was just as serious when a carer breached her duty of care to her child.

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“Your mitigation, with respect, Mr Leung, is a submission of aggravation,” Zervos said. “Her child is withering away and she did nothing. I cannot think of anything worse than that.”

Meanwhile, defence counsel James McGowan, for Ling, reminded the court of the dilemma his client faced, claiming he had repeatedly expressed concern about the children should their mother be taken away.

Yet Zervos noted that Ling had never shown concern for his four children before Suki was taken to hospital, with his family kept in the dark about her very existence.

“If he’s so concerned about Yun-lam, why would he lie about it?” he asked. “He was failing even farther as a father.”