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Hong Kong courts

Drowning of young Hong Kong woman at poolside party with ‘unlimited amount of wine’ in 2014 ruled an accident

The five-member jury at the Coroner’s Court told the Hong Kong Yacht Club, where the incident took place, to have signs warning people not to drink and enter the pool and improve first aid training for staff

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 7:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 10:57pm

The mother of a young woman who drowned at an alcohol-fuelled poolside party three years ago burst into tears on Thursday, after the Coroner’s Court ruled that her daughter’s death was an accident.

The woman, Rainko Tai Sze-man, 21, was found at the bottom of the swimming pool at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in Causeway Bay, in the early hours of August 17, 2014.

Previous news reports said she was attending a party organised by the Hong Kong Dragons Australian Rules Football Club.

The court heard that a witness had last seen the woman in the shallow area of the pool, holding on to the side of it, some 20 minutes before she was discovered by a lifeguard in the deeper end of the pool. The lifeguard found Tai eight minutes after the party ended at 1am.

Tai was rushed to Ruttonjee Hospital where she died a day later of multiple organ failure.

How she drowned remained a mystery, prompting the Coroner’s Court to probe her death through an inquest, which started this week and lasted for four days.

On Thursday, after listening to multiple testimonies, the foreman of a five-member jury concluded: “It was under quiet circumstances, and the influence of alcohol that she accidentally drowned without any screaming or struggle.”

Tai’s condition, they found, was consistent with injuries sustained from drowning.

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The five jurors returned an unanimous verdict, concluding she died of an accident, as opposed to an open verdict, which is what they would have chosen if there was insufficient evidence for them to reach a conclusion.

Tai’s mother wiped her face with tissue paper as she grieved in the area reserved for the family. “There isn’t much we wish to say,” Tai’s father said, leaving court with his wife and son.

Coroner Ko Wai-hung expressed his sympathy, saying he wished for the family to get over their pain. “I understand that the court might not be able to get to the bottom of the truth at the time of Sze-man’s death. It tried its best to find the most answers it could,” he said.

Witnesses who testified earlier said that the party, which began on August 16, was filled with loud music and guests were provided with an unlimited amount of wine.

An expert witness told the court earlier that the alcohol concentration in Tai’s blood had reached a high 34.2 mmol/L.

While serving staff testified that they had repeatedly told the organisers, including one Christopher Burke, to turn down the music and shoo those who had consumed alcohol away from the pool, party-goers said otherwise, claiming no one had stopped them from using the pool.

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There were also criticisms of the lifeguard on duty, who reportedly could not use the automated external defibrillator.

On Thursday, the jury recommended that the club put up clear signs in noticeable spots in the future to warn people not to go into the pool after consuming alcohol, with closed circuit televisions set up.

They also urged the club to step up annual first aid training for staff and familiarise them with where they could access certain equipment.

The yacht club, the football club and Burke are facing a separate damages claim from the manager of Tai’s estate.