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Hong Kong courts

Policeman caused Hong Kong taxi driver’s fatal spinal injury, doctor tells court

Expert opinion comes from Hospital Authority orthopaedic specialist who said victim’s neck had been pulled and twisted when officer lifted him from ground

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 8:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 11:14pm

A leading orthopaedic told the Coroner’s Court on Friday it was his expert opinion that a Hong Kong policeman caused a spinal injury that led to the death of a 65-year-old taxi driver in 2012.

The officer was accused of injuring driver Chan Fai-wong when he put an arm around the man’s neck and lifted him from the ground while trying to pull him up into a police car during an arrest on November 11, 2012.

Chan was sent to hospital an hour later, with the ambulance driver recalling that he kept crying: “It hurts ... it really hurts.”

He died a month later on December 12, 2012, from complications that arose from a cervical dislocation.

The Hospital Authority’s Dr Lee Yuen-lun, tasked to examine the cause of the injury, said Chan’s neck had been pulled and twisted when an officer lifted him from the ground and turned him 90 degrees in the air with an arm around his neck.

That movement was enough to cause a serious spinal injury
Dr Lee Yuen-lun, Hospital Authority

“That movement was enough to cause a serious spinal injury,” Lee said, referring to the security footage of the arrest.

The officer in question, Constable Lam Wai-wing, confessed in court last week he had applied unlawful force but said that it only came as a result of Chan’s vigorous struggle.

Lam also testified that Chan did not complain of any neck pain at the scene.

Counsel Samson Hung, for the Hong Kong Police Force, questioned if Lee considered that Chan might have been injured at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where he first reported experiencing neck pain on November 13.

But Lee noted he had never seen a patient suffer such a serious neck injury under the authority’s care in more than three decades of practice.

“It’s a very serious guess,” the doctor said.

Another counsel, Priscilia Lam, representing Chan’s arresting officer, Ma Chun-hong, asked if the neck injury could have been exacerbated by the use of a halo traction that displaced his intervertebral disk and resulted in spinal cord compression.

“There are other causes of death,” she argued.

‘Reasonable force used’ on cab driver who died after headlock arrest

But the Hospital Authority’s counsel, Alfred Fung, voiced objections and pointed out an attending doctor had already commented that Chan would not recover from his initial injury.

Coroner Ada Yim Shun-yee ruled: “There shall be no more questions in this area.”

Lee said he maintained the same conclusion he first drew in 2013, despite further evidence heard during the inquest.

He explained that Chan’s spine could not have been injured before November 11, given that he had been driving before he called police to settle a dispute with his Japanese passenger.

Lee also observed that Chan walked with a normal gait and was able to put up a forcible struggle when he refused to board the police car, meaning he had not been seriously injured during his physical altercation with the passenger.

But the doctor said Chan appeared weak after the neck manoeuvre, as the video showed he subsequently needed support to sit and stand, which suggested he had been injured.

Inquest begins into death of taxi driver who was put in headlock by police

Ambulance driver Wong Chung-kin said Chan had complained with a pained expression and a “lethargic” voice that he was beaten by police.

But Wong agreed to a suggestion by officer Lam’s counsel, Josephine Tjia, that he did not see the alleged police assault.

The inquest continues on Monday.