Hong Kong courts

Hong Kong father admits trying to kill his three children and himself with charcoal

Cheung Chu-kong, who claimed he was burdened by debt, told his daughter the burning was for a religious ritual

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 6:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 10:53pm

A Hong Kong father who tried to commit suicide and kill his three children by burning charcoal in their bedroom as they slept told one of them that it was a religious ritual, a court heard on Monday.

Cheung Chu-kong’s claim even fooled his domestic helper, Dewi Setyowati, even though she walked right into the room where the potentially lethal substance was ignited and smelled the smoke.

The three children, all six years old or younger at the time, survived the attack. On Monday, Cheung, 36, pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted murder at the High Court.

Madam Justice Maggie Poon Man-kay sought various reports on Cheung’s mental state and background, as well as the impact the incident had on the older daughter, who was six at the time.

She adjourned sentencing to October 26.

She set aside some time for the daughter, who was in court on Monday, to chat with the father, who had been remanded in custody since last year, and would remain in custody.

According to a written document senior public prosecutor Bobby Cheung Man-kwan submitted to the court, the suicide attempt took place in the early hours of March 21 last year.

Just before the father put his children to bed in their Tsuen Wan home that night, the document read, Dewi overheard him telling the eldest daughter he would be “worshipping god”.

Normally, Cheung slept with the eldest daughter and her younger brother, four, while the youngest son, two, stayed with the helper. But that night Cheung placed the youngest son in his room as well.

The helper heard the youngest one crying later that night and decided to go to Cheung’s room to take him back to her bedroom.

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She recalled the smell of smoke inside his room. “But she thought the smoke was related to god worshipping,” the prosecutor wrote in the court document.

The attempt came to light the next morning, when the man’s business partner told Cheung’s estranged wife that he had not shown up at work. The wife, who had already moved out because of Cheung’s extramarital affairs, went to check on the family.

The older daughter responded to her call, though the mother found she had wet her trousers. The four-year-old son had saliva and white foam near his mouth and was unresponsive, the court heard.

All three children were sent to Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Cheung was arrested later that day. He told police he had tried to kill himself along with his children, under the influence of alcohol and sleeping pills. He admitted buying the charcoal and lighting it in the middle of the night.

The businessman, who ran a logistics service delivering vegetables and other things, told police officers he was in worsening debt because of wages owed to his staff and late payments from clients. He also admitted having an affair, which had driven his wife away.

He said that the day before the incident he was watching a cartoon with his children and saw a character jump into another dimension. His daughter then suggested “going to another world to live a happy life” just like the character, which gave rise to his suicidal plan.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, or someone you know is, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255.