Police patrols of cells not good enough, Hong Kong coroner says, as he orders investigation after rape suspect death in custody
- Recommendations offered after five jurors unanimously conclude man arrested in 2017 had committed suicide
A coroner on Monday said there was an unacceptable inadequacy in Hong Kong police patrols as he ordered an investigation into a possible case of forgery after a rape suspect died in custody despite claims he was under continuous supervision.
Coroner Ko Wai-hung’s comments came after five jurors unanimously concluded after five hours of deliberation that Lam Wing-chun, 48, had committed suicide by hanging himself at Sau Mau Ping police station on May 11, 2017. The jurors gave 11 recommendations to prevent a repeat.
These included monitoring detainees’ vital signs with tracking wristbands, providing first aid training to police officers and improving surveillance to include sound and visuals within the detention cells, but not to the extent it would infringe on their privacy while using the toilet.
The case bore a resemblance to that of a 44-year-old sexual assault suspect, who hanged himself with clothes and blankets at North Point police station in July 2016, which prompted police to review management and introduce an electronic system to record police patrols.
“Two similar incidents within a year reflects an inadequacy in police patrol,” Ko said, concluding the nine-day inquest. “I think that is not acceptable.”
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, vice-chairman of the Legislative Council’s security panel, said the case revealed that police had been careless and disorganised in patrol, as though they had no regard for the system designed to ensure the detainees’ safety.
“The DOJ and police have to thoroughly investigate the possibility of criminality,” he said.
The force said it would study the recommendations and follow up accordingly.
The court previously heard Lam, a delivery worker, was arrested on May 10, 2017, accused of raping and robbing a woman near Kowloon Bay MTR station two days earlier.
He was held at Sau Mau Ping police station that night pending questioning. But in the morning of May 11, police found he had hanged himself with a computer cable in one of the station’s detention cells.
Surveillance footage played in court appeared to have captured Lam successfully getting a cable from a computer outside his cell, without any police supervision, just after 12.30am that day.
The footage also revealed multiple officers had missed patrols to Lam’s cell, despite the log book recording their visits.
Two officers attributed their absence to a stomach ache and headache respectively, while another claimed he received satisfactory responses when he called out to Lam and other detainees by name.
On Monday, Ko ordered the case to be transferred to police and the Department of Justice to investigate whether there was a case of using or making false instruments.
He also ordered the investigators to report back on the progress of the follow-up probe into the North Point death and the present case.
Meanwhile, the jurors recommended police update their current log books to include signatures and warnings against forgery.
They also called for an amendment to the Police General Orders to clarify the timing and conditions for a patrol, and a biometric authentication system to log officers’ visits.
As to the design of the detention cells, they recommended the Architectural Services Department to establish a unified standard in suicide prevention.
Hong Kong prisons are set to test a “smart prison” project – initiated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address last month – to install a new closed-circuit television system with a video analytics function to detect erratic motions and suicide attempts.