Elderly Hong Kong woman wins compensation after rural leader, property agent try to push her off own farmland
Judge rebukes 'contemptuous' village leader and property agent for bullying 85-year-old who had farmed the fields for over six decades
A rural leader and a property agent who dumped waste on an old woman’s farmland to drive her off were branded “contemptuous of the law” on Friday and ordered to pay her HK$1.41 million in compensation.
Hau Chi-keung, chairman of the Sheung Shui Rural Committee, and Man Chun-shing were taken to court by Lau Oi-kiu, 85, for evicting her from the land in Ho Sheung Heung, Sheung Shui, in 2009.
In a High Court judgment, Deputy Judge Paul Lam Ting-kwok said Hau and Man had adopted a “catch me if you can if you dare” approach as they continued their campaign even after government authorities had stepped in.
“[Hau and Man] behaved in an utmost high-handed and outrageous manner,” the judge wrote.
“Although they knew that Lau, an old lady, had been farming on the [land] for decades, they disregarded her rights and interests completely.
“It is most disturbing that they did not shy away or stop the wrongful acts even though various government authorities had intervened.”
Lau said she was not happy with the result.
“The one million dollars is not a big amount. I wanted to have the fields back to plant the things I want,” she said.
She returned to the fields to take a walk yesterday but met Hau along a narrow road. The pair began to quarrel and Hau called police after accusing Lau of pointing a finger in his face during their heated exchange.
Police arrested Lau for investigation last night.
Hau insisted he was the innocent party in the dumping saga.
“Who is the weak person? Who is the one who is being bullied? It’s obvious.”
He said all he had done was to help the government to identify the owners of the land and that he might appeal against the judgment.
The court was told Lau was not the registered owner of the land but had farmed there "for more than 60 years". The judgment stated Lau had been farming there for 53 years, since 1962.
The lands' registered owner is Cheung Ho Wa Tong, said to be a family estate. Man claimed he had rented the land for the purpose of subletting.
Hau and another man bought three pieces of land near Lau’s fields for HK$5 million in 2005.
Lau and her two sons claimed that Hau and Man asked them not to farm and began threatening them in March 2009. The threats continued even after they had made reports to various government departments, and the first waste was dumped on her land in May that year.
Large amounts of waste were dumped on her land from then on, Lau said.
Two months later, workers using dump trucks covered her land with soil. They said they were working under the instructions of village head “Keung Gor”.
Lau then filed the lawsuit to claim HK$1.3 million and for the court to return the property to her for farming.
Hau said he knew nothing about this incident or who built a pool and wall around Lau’s land.
Man claimed all liability but disputed the amount of compensation.
The judge described Hau as a “poor witness” and found “[Hau] said what he liked to say instead of answering questions”.
He said Hau on the one hand claimed he was “selfless, altruistic and an enthusiastic head of the village”. But on the other he became “indifferent and ignorant” when it came to the wrongful acts.
The judge said Hau had an interest in a village house nearby and he found his apparent ignorance about construction near the fields “an attempt to conceal his involvement”.
He said there was insufficient evidence for him to decide Hau’s precise role in the scheme. “Nonetheless, the findings that I have made against Hau are sufficient to render Hau liable.”
Awarding damages was a last resort to punish them for their outrageous conduct, he said.
As Lau was not the owner of the land, the judge found it should be for the government authority to decide whether to exercise its statutory power to issue a notice for the land against a particular person.
A possible option is for Lau to ask the Planning Department to issue a statutory notice against Hau and Man against using the land.
After considering Lau’s age, her suffering and the fact that she could no longer get her land back, he awarded her HK$1.4 million, including HK$288,000 for losing the use of the lands.