Prison sentences are a must in fatal Hong Kong beauty blunder case, judge says
Doctor and technician found guilty of manslaughter after using unproven treatment are to be sentenced on Monday, as prosecutors eye retrial for third defendant who jury failed to reach verdict on
A Hong Kong beauty clinic owner and a laboratory technician who offered an experimental cancer therapy that killed a healthy woman five years ago will learn of their punishments on Monday.
But their co-defendant, a doctor who administered the treatment, will have to wait until January to learn whether she will face a retrial, after a jury failed to reach a majority verdict on her manslaughter charge on Tuesday.
Mrs Justice Judianna Barnes Wai-ling indicated that a “custodial sentence is a must in this case”. Hong Kong’s High Court earlier heard how Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing’s DR Group sold injections, prepared by his laboratory technician Chan Kwun-chung, that poisoned the bloodstream of four women in 2012, one of whom died.
Chow and Chan were both found guilty of manslaughter on Tuesday after a 100-day trial. All three defendants had pleaded not guilty to the charge.
“It’s a matter of how long,” the judge said on Wednesday, referring to prison sentences. “The way [the therapy] was launched, absolutely prematurely, when they didn’t know what they were doing, the way they sold it to customers, to me, is an aggravating factor.”
The judge also refused a bail application from Chow which the doctor had filed because he wanted to collect the body of his father, who died last Thursday. Chow said doing so was his duty in Chinese tradition as his father’s only son.
Hong Kong doctor and technician guilty of manslaughter over death at beauty centre from unproven cancer treatment
But Barnes said: “From what I have heard about the defendant in this trial, there is a high likelihood he might not come back.”
Prosecutors indicated they would seek to recover a portion of the trial costs from the convicted pair in respect of “issues unjustifiably contested”. They also revealed their intention to continue their case against Dr Mak Wan-ling, 35, after the jury failed to reach a verdict on her role.
Mak’s case will return to court on January 19.
“Of course, the Department of Justice is intending to seek a retrial,” prosecutor Raymond Leung Wai-man SC said.
The trio on Wednesday returned to the High Court a day after the nine-member jury convicted Chow, 63, and Chan, 32, over the death of Chan Yuen-lam, 46, on October 10, 2012.
The mother of two died of multi-organ failure brought on by the bacteria mycobacterium abscessus, which was found at levels comparable to those seen in “terminally ill Aids patients”, according to doctors.
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Subsequent investigations revealed that the injections used to administer the treatment – sold for HK$59,500 – had never gone through bacteria tests.
“Clearly a grave mistake has been made,” defence counsel Albert Cheung said. “[Chan Kwun-chung] will have to live with the fact that he was responsible for the death of an innocent victim. He will regret it for the rest of his life.”
The convictions were the first of their kind in the city’s vast, largely unregulated industry of beauty treatment clinics. With no precedent for the court to follow, prosecutors drew the judge’s attention to a case in Britain.
In May last year, an Indian restaurant owner there was jailed for six years for manslaughter after a customer died of peanut allergies because the restaurateur had not put in place a system to ensure that peanut oil – a cheaper substitute for almond oil – would not be used in his food, or that customers would be properly warned if it was.
“Basically it’s a matter of consumer safety,” prosecutor Leung said.
The defence agreed that the British case was relevant, but the judge noted that Hong Kong did not have to follow guidelines from that country.
Both Chow and Chan had no prior criminal record.
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In mitigation, defence counsel Wong Man-kit SC said there was no evidence to show Chow had instructed the technician to do away with bacteria tests.
“We urge your lady to sentence on the basis of lack of supervision,” he said.
Wong also noted that DR Group had ceased offering the problematic product since “the unfortunate incident” and had suffered financial losses in the past five years after many years of hard work during which Chow “put a lot of money into the investment”.
“The DR Group has fallen from 60 shops to a small group of companies now,” Wong said.
On technician Chan, defence lawyer Cheung said he was a young man who had made an error in judgment as he was “in over his head”.
“It was not the case that my client had something to gain,” he argued.
“Why not?” the judge replied. “I don’t think it’s an error in judgment. What error?”