Hong Kong father who tried to kill his three children by burning charcoal jailed for eight years
- Cheung Chu-kong bought the charcoal and took pills and alcohol ahead of the murder-suicide attempt last year
- Judge took into account attestations from Cheung’s ex-wife but said there was no justification for trying to take a child’s life
A father who tried to kill his three children by burning charcoal while they slept was sentenced to eight years in jail on Friday after being reminded by a judge that their still being alive was down to “sheer luck”.
High Court Judge Madam Maggie Poon Man-kay said that although she accepted that Cheung Chu-kong was ordinarily a good father – as attested by his ex-wife and six-year-old daughter – the man had obviously planned the attempted murder in advance just because he was in debt.
“Whatever the predicament an adult faces, there is no justification for taking their children’s lives,” she said, adding that she needed to impose a deterrent sentence.
Cheung, who pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted murder in September, had bought charcoal hours before the murder-suicide attempt, which took place in the early hours of March 21 last year. The incident almost cost the lives of his daughter and two sons, the latter of whom were then aged four and two.
Later that morning, having been told Cheung was missing from work, his estranged wife, who had left him because of his infidelity, arrived back at their home in Tsuen Wan and discovered all four family members before they died.
Sentencing Cheung on Friday, Poon began her remarks with a quote from Sigmund Freud, the celebrated Austrian psychoanalyst. “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection,” she recited.
She then reminded Cheung – a struggling businessman who was in debt after his delivery business had failed – that the children’s survival was nothing more than sheer luck thanks to his ex-wife’s timely arrival on the scene.
The judge took into account letters Cheung’s ex-wife had written, praising Cheung as a good father, and one written by his daughter, who said she missed her father so much that she would hug the letter he sent her.
But Poon added Cheung’s criminality was not to be taken lightly. Going out of his way to buy charcoal and taking pills and alcohol before the attempted murder amounted to aggravating factors and showed it was premeditated.
“The court is the last line of defence for the defenceless children,” she said. “No parent has the right to decide whether their children live or die.”
When the children’s mother arrived the following morning, the daughter responded to her call, but the four-year-old son had saliva and white foam around his mouth and was unresponsive, the court heard.
All three children were brought to Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. They each recovered, as did Cheung, and have not suffered any long-term effects.
Before sending Cheung away, the judge, who was told that his ex-wife still wanted him to be the children’s father, urged him to improve himself during his time in prison.
“It is only by becoming a better man that he can protect his children and provide guidance along the way,” she said.