The Death of a 15-year-old (Part 2): Side B of Chan Yin-lam’s case

Please read the first part of the story, ‘The Death of a 15 year-old (Part 1): Did the 11-day Trial Dig Out the Truth about the Death of Chan Yin-lam?’

Going back in time to the day 14 October 2019 at the Hong Kong Design Institute in Tiu Keng Leng.

‘Play the footage!’ ‘Come out and tell us the truth!’ Lots of HKDI students and journalists surrounded several members of staff and demanded the Institute to disclose the CCTV footage. 

‘I demand to know the truth!’ A female student shouted vehemently, as if almost crying, ‘How can you expect us to believe you!’

‘We have already shown you all the footage,’ the somewhat chubby staff at the Institute spoke with a microphone. Hong Kong was still hot in October, he was sweating and sounded rather helpless.

The crowd was not satisfied with his answer, and commotion began again. ‘We want the whole CCTV footage! This one must be the edited version!’ ‘Have you sold your conscience?’

The staff were drowned by the angry voices.

In a year’s time, we are already here, at the Coroner’s Court.

The court was quiet, a few CCTV clips were shown on the screen: pause, rewind, slow motion. You could see a girl wearing a black sling top and loose-fitting trousers lingering on the campus of the Design Institute and the Metro Town Shopping Arcade, looked around, and eventually disappeared from the CCTV  at Shin Ming Estate.

One could see that everyone—the jury, the public, the journalists—was staring at the screen with bated breath. Everyone was waiting for an answer to come out from these videos.

Originally scheduled for 11 days, the whole hearing was done in 12 days’ time. According to the normal procedure of the Coroner’s inquest, the victim’s family and the jury have the right to interrogate the witnesses. Throughout the period, the five-person jury did not hesitate to ask witnesses questions. Some members of the jury even uncovered some clues that the police did not think about, which surprised the netizens. For example, Lee Ho-kit, the police officer handling serious crimes (Hong Kong Island East), was summoned three times to give testimony. Tsang Hoi-kei, the officer of the Coroner’s inquest, mentioned that this is an unusual practice. 

A girl who was not well-known before, Chan came under public spotlight after her death. Over the past year, everyone—those who knew her and those who did not— wanted to find out about the truth through different means, while some even bare the risk of being arrested in order to mourn her death. At the end, her case was concluded with ‘an uncertain cause of death’. For those who tried to get closer to the truth, what continues to haunt their minds? The ‘truth’ presented at the court hearing was different from what some people expected. How do they comprehend this ‘truth’?

Hundreds of people mourned the death of Chan Yin-lam at the HKDI on 11 October 2019.

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Family being railed at outside the court

After the first day of the hearing, over 10 members of the public hailed abuse at Ho Pui-Yee and Ho Yun-loi as soon as they stepped out of the court, and they went on to surround Ho’s taxi. ‘She’s a fake mother!’ ‘Fuck your whole family!’ ‘Liar!’ ‘To hell with your whole family, you venal!’

The police officer next to Ho Pui-Yee separated her from the angry crowd, while the two moved slowly to the car. One could see Ho Pui-Yee in the crowd, as she searched around her, looking so anxious as if she was about to cry.

On the second day of the hearing, the court allowed the family to enter through a special entrance. Later, the police arrested two people and charged them for “disruption of social order in public spaces”, preventing further threats from the crowd outside the court. 

Since last year, a photo has been widely circulated. The photo showed a dead person with long hair, his face is very pale and eyes open. There were rumours online saying that the woman in the photo was Chan’s mother Ho Pui-Yee, and claimed that she was murdered.  

Despite the fact that some District councillors claimed to have seen the dead body, and even with a mortuary make-up artist claiming that the victim in the photo was a man, there were still some people who believed that Chan’s mother had died, and that the one appears in the hearing was a replacement. After all, what is the meaning of the court hearing if some of the witnesses were fake?Those who railed at Ho Pui-Yee outside the court claimed that, even if Chan’s birth certificate was included as an exhibit at the court, they could not trust what was said unless they could see it with their own eyes.

‘We know that she is not the mother for sure from the photos! The mother interviewed by TVB was different from the woman who came to the hearing. Most likely, Chan’s real mother was already dead!’ Ms Cheung [Remarks 1] said with anger. A woman next to her was even more emotional, stared at the reporters and said: ‘It’s all fake! Haven’t you watched TVB? They already said that the mother and the uncle are both dead!’ She asked: ‘How come we will end up with two actresses?’

While TVB news didn’t really mention that Chan’s mother and her uncle were dead, the rumours online claimed that Chan’s uncle disappeared right after the incident. However, as the uncle was never summoned as a witness in the Coroner’s hearing, nobody can verify this hypothesis.

Firmly believing that Chan’s mother was not the one interviewed by TVB, Ms Cheung declared that she would never believe the ridiculous scene in the hearing, even though she also saw Chan’s grandfather, her cousin and Chan’s social worker testifying at the court hearing herself. ‘I simply won’t believe it. I think everything is just made up.’

As the first witness, Ho Pui-Yee recalled Chan’s life, including how Chan had started living with her grandfather since she was three. Chan maintained a good relationship with her mother, although sometimes they would argue because of Chan’s absence from school. Ho also revealed that Chan was admitted to girls’ home several times because she ran away from home multiple times and assault a police officer once. She was admitted to the hospital in August due to emotional instability, and told her mother the first time that she heard a man’s voice talking to her in her head.

On one hand, her grandfather, Ho Yun-loi, and Tong Wing-yan, the case worker all admitted that there was at least more than once when Chan seemed emotionally unstable or looked strange. However, Cheung was convinced that it would be impossible to prove anything now that the victim is already dead. ‘They all said that she had a disturbed state of mind and emotional problem. What do you think? Now that she’s dead, they can say whatever thay want."

‘We are very angry because nowadays there are so many things that you cannot express with words.”

Ho Pui-yee left the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court after attending the hearing.

Ah Wing, a fresh graduate from HKDI, was one of the protestors surrounding the principal last October, urging the school to explain the case of Chan. He also went with other classmates to put promotional materials in Tiu Keng Leng, calling for people to provide more information on Chan's case. As such, Wing certainly put in a lot of efforts urging for a full investigation of Chan’s death. 

‘Actually, the people in our school were very emotional at the time. Many people confronted the principal. They also demanded for the disclosure of CCTV footage. Later, some people resorted to vandalism. We were quite shocked by these indeed. Because we were only from IVE background, we were not influential enough in the higher education sector. Many of our students wanted to find out the truth, a valid explanation, for Chan’s death, so all of us worked hard to get it. We feel that if a student around us experienced something bad like this, would I be the next one?’

Ah Wing could not go to the hearing because of work. Instead, he followed up with the news about the hearing every day.  He confessed that he is not confident that the ‘truth’ about the cause of her death would be found.

Compared to Ms Cheung, who was very emotional, Ah Wing was much calmer in talking about it. ‘At that time, I went to see the CCTV footage disclosed by the school right away. Lots of people already claimed that the girl shown on the CCTV was just an actress, and pointed out some discrepancies. For example, there seemed a different number of straps for the black top she was wearing. They said that it must be the police who edited the clip. How can we be sure that the police didn’t do that?

The authority of the judicial system rested on public trust. For Ah Wing, this kind of trust has already demolished.

‘I feel that the Coroner’s hearing is only a show,’ he said. ‘Thinking about how little credibility the police and our government have, isn’t it possible that they would have some dirty tricks?’

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If there were a Side B…

A 15-year-old girl ends up whose body found floating in the sea, and whose cause of death was unknown. Other than the fact that she used to be a diving athlete, and that she was a supporter of the social movement, what do we know about her? The public hardly knows anything about her when she was alive.

Combining the accounts of her family, the social worker from the Social Welfare Services Department and the girls’ home, Chan’s classmate Chiu Kwan-yee, and also Chan’s boyfriend, Ng Shiu-kong, we know that Chan was admitted six times into the girls’ home from 2018 to 2019. Other than the time when she was a subject to a criminal allegation in August 2019, in which she allegedly assaulted a female police officer at Tong Fuk Correctional Institution, the other five times she was being admitted into the girls’ home because she went missing and later she was found by the police. The court then issued a protection order for Chan to be looked after at the girls’ home. Her case worker, Tong Wing-yan, pointed out that it was her family who reported her missing to the police for those five times, so the actual times she ran away from home could be more.

Several witnesses described Chan as a cheerful and lively girl. She was very courteous, but she was also easily provoked and could become annoyed quite easily. Tong was assigned to Chan’s case from 2018 for the reason that Chan was often absent from school and ran away from home. According to Tong, Chan gave up diving after a leg injury incident, and from then on she was unwilling to go to school, and started running away from home. Chan changed schools three times during F1 and F2 because she did not get on well with the teachers and students there.

However, Chan applied for the Design Institute, and later got an offer to study there. Chan’s mother and the social worker all claimed that she was very happy there because it was a choice she made herself.

This time, Chan was very different when she came back. Her whole person had changed  completely. [Remark 2] … She was very clear about what she wanted. She wanted to go and study at VTC. Actually we never pressured her to study at a normal grammar school, it was just that we did not want her to go to Lan Kwai Fong every night. 

She said: ‘You know what, I no longer wanted to pass my time that way. When I worked as a night club girl, I earned thousands of dollars every night, and I could afford a taxi ride going to and from work. But I have had enough of those. I just want to be a normal person.’

She said that this time it wasn’t me or her mother who forced her to study. Rather, it was a choice she made. She applied for the school and managed to get an offer, and so she was very happy about it.

—account provided by Tong Wing-Yan, the case social worker, 24 August 2020

Tong Wing-yan, Chan’s case social worker

Chan was last seen publicly on 19 September 2019. It was also her fourth day of school at the Institute. Earlier, she was charged for assaulting the police and kept at the girls’ home, and was only released on 12 September. Therefore, she started school half a month later than her fellow classmates.

Ho Pui-yee, Chan’s mother and Ho Yun-loi, Chan’s grandfather, Ng Siu-kong, her boyfriend, as well as Ng’s father and others all claimed that Chan started behaving strangely since August, including talking to herself, looking confused. She even talked to stranger in a restaurant and put up a scene when she was restrained at the hospital.

But these claims were criticised by many netizens for ‘murdering’ Chan on moral grounds, as they saw it as a way to rationalise Chan’s death.

Kam Wing and Ah B, who worked in the retail industry and had to stop working because of the pandemic, came to audit the court hearing from the first day. They always sat on the front row and could be seen taking notes. On the last day of hearing, the jury decided on an uncertain cause of death in just four hours. Kam Wing felt that this was unsurprising, although she was also sad about the result. 

‘Although we sort of expected this deliberation, but when the jury announced it, we were very sad about it. Despite the testimony from so many witnesses in these 3 weeks, we don’t get a full picture of what happened, or to bring forth a sense of justice. There are too many loose ends in the story, and too many coincidences...’

As core members of the anti-legislation movement, Kam Wing and Ah B also went to Tseung Kwan O to pay tribute to Chan and Chow Tsz-lok, the student at HKUST who passed away in the social movement. The two of them remarked that, before the hearing, they already believed in the various conspiracy theories behind the cases, which assumed that someone was pretending to be Chan’s mother. They are not sure if behind “Chan Yin Lam” this name, has plots “other than being killed by the popo”. 

‘Before the hearing, we had the same speculation: perhaps the photos had affected us. As the communist party is so terrible, who knows what’s next? Perhaps all of these were actors,’ Kam said.

‘But after hearing her mother’s testimony, we think that she is Chan’s real mother. Because her emotions and expressions when she talked about her daughter… all these can’t fool people.’

Ah B also had similar reflection: ‘Although we do not know Chan, after hearing the case, we realise that she was just a normal girl, but suffered from a difficult family background.’ 

‘How people see her and who she actually was can be very different. So we started suspecting that we assumed too many things about her?’

During the hearing, a massive amount of information was tabled, and as netizens were not at the hearing, they had limited access to all the information. For example, some netizens doubted why the staff at Tiu Keng Leng MTR station and at the Hong Kong Design Institute claimed they had picked up Chan’s phone, without realising that Chan had two mobile phones, according to Chan’s mother and her friend Chiu Kwan-yee.

Ah B said, sometimes he could see that there were posts on LIHKG about unfounded rumours, he also wanted to write posts in response to those, to clarify the truths, but he refrained from doing this.

‘I also wanted to post something, but I am afraid that some people would say we are pro-government if you say that there is nothing suspicious about her death! That they will call us all kinds of names: communist dog, blue ribbon dog, media framing, breaking up the movement, etc.,’ she said.

In face of a totalitarian regime, those in authority will always try to manipulate people’s opinions, and may even try to rewrite history or to cover up the truth. When there is an imbalance of power, those without power will have to fight very hard to pursue the truth. But the biggest dilemma is, when the evidence points to an unexpected turn of development, should the protestors accept it as well? At least, there are some rumours being circulated in the community that deviate from the truth?

If we treasure the value of truth.

‘Some witnesses raised the question of her mental health, her use of cannabis and her family background. Some people started criticising whether the court wanted to create an impression of Chan as a person who had mental illness, and wanted to conclude that she committed suicide. Actually, we also thought so before we attended the hearing.’

‘Many people already believed in that version, or they already had an assumption that it was the police who killed her. Actually, we thought so before the hearing. Even if the police killed someone, we are only using this case as another way to accuse how evil and how corrupt they are. But if the result of the hearing is the truth, then even if it isn’t the same as what we think, then should we not admit it ourselves? Of course, I think that many people cannot accept it.’

‘After the first two to three days of the hearing, I started to realise the outcome might not be what the pro-democracy camp wanted,’ Ah B said.

Kam Wing and Ah B (pseudonyms)

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Raising the alarm at girls’ home

Ko Wai-hung, the Coroner, pointed out to the jury on the first day of hearing that, the role of the inquest was only to deliberate on the facts: whether the victim’s death was  natural causes, suicide, lawful or unlawful killing, or open verdict. However, he also reminded the jury that because there was no evidence from the court to verify that Chan was assaulted, and that since Chan’s behaviour before she disappeared did not match the behaviours of a person about to commit suicide, they ruled out the possibility of ‘killing’ and ‘suicide’. The jury then had to decide if she died in an accident. If not, then her death will be an ‘open verdict’.

Ko reminded the jury of the limited power of the Coroner’ court, and that they do not have the power to investigate any criminal or civil litigation. If the coroner’s court suspects that someone has committed a criminal offence, then it will be handed over to a criminal court to deal with it.

The court could only handle the direct causes leading to the death, and could not handle causes that made her death inevitable. Chan’s mother, her grandfather, the social worker, Ng Shiu-kong and Ng’s father claimed that Chan showed unusual behaviours since August last year. For example, on 12 August 2019, Chan went to visit her boyfriend at Tong Fuk Correctional Institution, and was unwilling to leave after her visit. Ng’s father went to pick her up, and he described her as looking emotionally unstable, and that she started talking to strangers in a restaurant. That evening, Chan even spent the night sleeping rough outside Tong Fuk. On 13 August, Chan left Tong Fuk for Tung Chung but then she returned there suddenly, without paying the fare, and later she was charged for assaulting a female police officer. Chan’s mother and the social worker described that Chan seemed very excited that night at the police station, and was seen walking to and fro as well as talking to herself. She seemed to be unable to communicate with others in the normal way.

Ho Mei-yee, a psychiatrist, was invited to testify to give expert evidence. She told the court that, given the information she has, she was convinced that Chan’s mental state worsened from August 2019, and these could be signs of an early stage of psychosis.

Chan was charged for assaulting the police, while Chan’s mother felt she was unable to restrain Chan’s unusual behaviours and refused to bail her out. Instead, her mother requested that the police send her to hospital.

Ho Mei-yee, a psychiatrist, spoke as an expert witness on 3 September 2020.

Two days later, on 15 August, the police again brought Chan to Tuen Mun Children’s and Juvenile Home. Wong Yin-lai, the assistant social welfare officer at the girls’ home, pointed out at the court that Chan seemed emotionally unstable that day, laughing and crying at times. On 17 August, Chan tore up the guidelines of the girls’ home, saying that they were rubbish, but then she soon returned to a calmer state. On 18 August, Chan was again unstable and kept pressing the alarm.

On 19 August—four days after in solitary confinement—Wong said that Chan became increasingly confused, laughing and crying intermittently, and tearing up the foam pillow into three pieces, with one landing into the toilet bowl. She also tore up books and swore.

Wong pointed out that at that time, the staff considered this as vandalism and so they called the police. However, Chan became even more emotional when she saw the police, and she swore at them, plunging her head against the glass window for at least seven times. In the end, the staff brought Chan to the hospital.

When questioned, Wong confessed that, according to the legal regulations, the girls’ home has to segregate people who were involved in criminal litigation. As there was only Chan who faced such charges, Chan was kept in solitary confinement. She was at the girls’ home for a whole month, and so other than the time she spent at hospital, Chan did not get in touch with the other girls. 

In the court hearing, Wong related that Chan said she was ‘afraid’ and ‘terrified of being left alone’ after the stay at the girls’ home that time, and mentioned that she ‘heard people talking’ when she was in solitary confinement, which caused her severe headaches.

Wong also said that, on the first day of Chan’s solitary confinement, Chan wanted to press the alarm button, but she accidentally pressed the ‘help’ button. Wong was convinced that this meant Chan was mentally confused.

Tsang Hoi-kei, the investigation officer of the coroner’s hearing, asked: if Wong knew why she pressed the wrong button. Why was it that she did not want to call for help?

Wong said that this was a case noted down by the staff in the notebook, but the staff did not provide a reason.

In March and August 2019, Chan was sent to the hospital from the girls’ home three times. During that period, three psychiatrists at the Castle Peak Hospital came to diagnose her. On 13 March, Chan became emotionally unstable for the fifth time, using a plastic bag that was torn apart to stifle herself, and was sent to the girls’ home. She was sent to the ER at Tuen Mun Hospital. This time, she was seen by Au Yeung Wing-yin, a doctor who has worked at Castle Peak Hospital since 2016. .Through observation and conversation with Chan, Au Yeung diagnosed that Chan’s behaviours were caused by drastic stress, and for the first time. Chan was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

On 19 August 2019, Chan was sent to hospital again, and was diagnosed by Yeung Yu-hang and Chung Ka-wing at the Castle Peak Hospital. The two of them diagnosed her to have ODD. As a doctor with over 10 years of experience, Yeung pointed out in his medical report that Chan did not suffer from psychosis.

However, Ko, the Coroner, asked Yeung if he felt that Chan’s ODD was severe? Yeung said that he could not determine the severity of her case.

As I did not have enough information at that time, and I could not find her mother. My diagnosis relied on some information I have read and my discussion with the social worker.

- Yeung Yu-hang,  25 August 2020

Ho Pui-yee, Chan’s mother, rarely raised questions. On the day when the CCTV footage from the Institute was shown, on days when accounts were given by police officer witnesses, and the witnesses came forth to mention their discovery of the body, she was not there. However, Chung Ka-wing, the doctor present, said that she did not arrange for medical follow-up consultation in August because both the patient and the patient’s mother denied the need to do so. Ho asked to say something, and she seemed to surpress her emotion, and pointed out in a trembling voice:

I want to add that, in March, when Chan was admitted into the girls’ home, I refused to let her have a medical follow-up consultation. This is because she told the doctor that she did not have any suicidal thoughts. That’s why I thought she did not need another check-up.

But when the doctor called me in August, saying that Chan refused to see the psychiatrists, the doctor was not asking me whether I refused to let my daughter come for a check-up. 

At that time, I immediately said to the doctor, my daughter often said that there was a man’s voice telling her things. But the doctor said that they already gave her some medication, and that she was fine. They said that she was just being rebellious. I believed that the doctors were being professional, and so I believed in them.

- account from Ho Pui-yee at the court, 26 August 2020

Hiding the plastic bag

After all, it seems as if we cannot be sure if Chan has any mental illness or not, and that it is not helping us to find the truth. If she did have mental illness, does it mean that all the unresolved questions can be covered by that? If not, does the incident reveal that there had been some neglected duties? Should anyone be held accountable for this?

According to her family, Chan repeatedly talked about a voice talking to her, and that she felt confused. Her temperament had changed. Ho Mei-yee, an expert witness, felt that those who suffered from psychosis will have strange actions or develop motor coordination difficulties. She was also convinced that Chan might forget how to swim.

On the other hand, the three psychiatrists only diagnosed Chan with ODD, and did not give her any medication or force her to stay at the hospital. While Chan once tried to stifle herself with a plastic bag, but Wong Yin-lai, the assistant officer at the girls’ home, felt that Chan was only putting up an act of resistance, because she did not want to stay at the girls’ home, and that it did not mean that she was suicidal. ‘Because the security at the hospital is more relaxed, some girls in the past had used this as a method to escape.’

Tsang asked Wong Yin-lai, whether the girls’ home had done any follow-up work after Chan’s attempt to commit suicide with a plastic bag in March?

Wong pointed out that the staff at the girls’ home would change the way they worked: after handing back their personal belongings in a plastic bag, the staff would collect the plastic bags from them, so as to prevent them from committing suicide with the plastic bags. The girls’ home also sought help from the police, asking the police to escort girls to leave the hospital, so as to prevent them from escaping.

Nevertheless, she admitted that the staff did not arrange for counselling support to follow up on Chan’s condition.

Wong Yin-lai, assistant social welfare officer from Social Welfare Services Department, Tuen Mun Children’s and Juvenile Home

As someone who works in the tourism industry, Cathy was recently on holiday, and so she decided to go to the hearing every day. She describes herself as someone who trusts the doctors and professionals very much. ‘But I have been here for so many days, and I still feel that there are so many unresolved questions.’

Cathy thought that the biggest question was why Chan was seen bare feet in the end? Why would her belongings be scattered across different places? She felt that it did not matter so much whether she had mental illness or not.

‘I never thought about it before, but then she was in and out of the girls’ home for so many times…and since her mental health was never very balanced from the beginning….I can totally understand that. After all, she came from a complicated family background,’ Cathy said.

‘Several witnesses have insisted that she was different because she had mental health issues. But then I feel that she is not so different. After all, she was just 15, in a rather rebellious stage in life, and so she would sometimes get hysterical or throw things. Also, it seems that she only became like this whenever something happened to her. To me, her behaviours seem quite reasonable.’

Adopting the language used in pathology cannot help us understand fully people’s life situations. Summarising the exhibits presented at the hearing, Ho Pui-Yee studied until Form 3, and then she gave birth to Chan at the age of 18 or 19. Later, together with her daughter, she left her boyfriend because he had drug addiction and was violent to her. They lived with Ho’s father for a short time, and then the mother moved away. So in fact Chan was raised by her grandfather and her uncle, and would on average see her mother once a week. Several witnesses also revealed that in recent few years, when something happened to Chan and she called her mother, there were occasions when her mother was not able to come to her help because she was at work.

Chan Yin-lam grew up in a broken family. Tong Wing-yan, the social worker for the case, said that Chan’s rebelliousness could be related to her attachment problem to a certain extent. [Remarks 3] 

She really wanted a closer relationship with her mother, and while you could say that they were very good friends, but both of them had a similar temperament: they would get emotional and quarrel quite easily. So Chan actually became quite independent from an early age, and would only like to share good news rather than bad news. She was very cheerful and she liked to show us that she could handle her own problems. 

But then there were moments when her feelings were hurt. At the boarding school, she used to have a very good friend, but then later they fell apart, criticising each other for stealing money. Nevertheless, she suffered most emotionally because of her relationship with her mother. She loved her mother, and so when her mother was unhappy, she would be unhappy too.

—witness account from Tong Wing-yan, case social worker, 24 August 2020

As she reached this part, Ho Pui-Yee was seen wiping away her tears from the spectator’s row.

Sadly, these drawbacks could not be mended through her relationships with other people. For example, her boyfriend Ng Shiu-kong was serving his sentence at Tong Fuk Correctional Institution because of drug-related offence. The two of them could only communicate with letters and the brief visits at the jail.

Tsang Hoi-kei: do you remember when did Chan visit you for the first time?

Ng Shiu-kong: I couldn’t remember if it was her mother’s birthday? Chan seemed to have said so, as she had dinner with her mother. 

Tsang: do you remember when is Chan’s birthday?

Ng (scratched his head): I can’t remember, really can’t remember.

Tsang: actually she came to visit you for the first time on her birthday.

- witness account from Ng Shiu-kong, 26 August 2020

Marginalised in society, Chan could not be saved despite her family and friends, the social welfare service and healthcare systems. She was last seen on CCTV at around 6.36pm that day, when the CCTV camera on the 9th floor of the podium of Design Institute captured her walking past, barefoot, until 7.11pm when she walked past the CCTV at Shin Ming Estate. Earlier, Chan was seen lingering on the campus, the MTR Station and on the shopping mall for at least half an hour, in the busy streets, but no one talked to her.

Chan’s photo with her boyfriend Ng Shiu-kong uploaded on Instagram

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In this hearing, the jury included two men and three women. The second juror was a tall and slender man who wore a dark jumper and dark-rimmed glasses, and a black rucksack. He seemed rather sober. But whenever the court presented a new witness, he would not hesitate to interrogate the witness on the most minute detail. For example, it is through this jury member’s question that one could derive the leaflet published by Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG)—which went missing after Chan’s disappearance—was actually from their centre in Lohas Park. However, as this was discovered after one year, the police could no longer trace this clue.

On the seventh day of the hearing, the coroner summoned Lee Ho-kit, the police officer, to bear witness and to convey the findings regarding the HKFYG. Suddenly, this jury member asked: was there CCTV footage from the Design Institute that showed the movements between the second floor and ninth floor? It was when Chan moved from the 9th floor to the second floor that the rope around her neck and the leaflet went missing. What actually happened during that time? 

Ko Wai-hung, who was quite patient throughout, could not help but give the following advice:

If we were to go on like this, then our hearing will never end. I know that you all want to find out why some items went missing. If there were such CCTV footage, then maybe they could resolve your questions and the public’s concerns.

However, if we were to start finding new evidence at this point, it will take a long time, and it may end up being useless too. I am inclined not to delay this hearing for too long.

— Ko Wai-hung, coroner,1 September 2020

But then juror no. 2 continued to say, perhaps we can still try?

‘I would really like to know under what conditions did she abandon these belongings? Why did she leave without bringing those? At that time, what was her mental state?’ He spoke softly but insistently.

The taxi driver, Chow Tai-loi, reported to the police last October, saying that he drove Chan to Lohas Park. He was summoned as a witness, and declared that his knowledge of Chan was only limited to those 10 minutes when she was on the taxi, but despite the brief time, his account provided much information. He said that when he saw the report of her death, he decided to speak the truth.

If he knew her for only ten minutes, why would he care so much about her?After leaving the court, Chow was pursued by the reporters who all wanted to contact him for a follow-up interview, but he turned down these requests, saying:

‘I only hope that, if she was murdered, at least they can hunt down the murderer. If it were a suicide, then at least it can set her mother’s heart to rest, and to clarify things. This may bring some justice to us.’

Among the witnesses Chow was the person who last saw Chan. ‘Of course I also feel sad but there’s no other way. If I knew what would happen, then maybe I should have stopped her.’

On 28 August 2020, Chow Tai-loi, a taxi driver, gave his eye-witness account.

Over the past year, the online chat forum LIHKG was flooded with posts on the investigation of Chan’s case, including many that analysed the CCTV footage, the maps and the time sequence of events. They either prompted more questions or helped to gather the evidence.

After hearing the witness account by Chow Tai-loi, the taxi driver, Ah B and Kam Wing paid a visit to the route Chan took before she disappeared, hoping to verify the witness account. They also took photos en-route and searched for any CCTVs along the way that might have captured where she went, but sadly found nothing new. 

That day, the two of them went to the waterfront at Hemera, Lohas Park and pondered about the case.

‘We kept thinking, when she went by taxi to the waterfront, was she hoping to take a leisure walk? Why would she go to the waterfront and then take off her clothes, and even fell into the water?’

‘That day we went to that place at around 5pm to 6pm, before it got dark. We saw people walking their dogs and some who were running or cycling. So we could see people along the way. But then it was a Sunday, so we don’t know if it is rather dark or remote on a weekday evening.’

‘I tried to step out of the pavement, and the surface was quite uneven. That evening, when Chan walked along there, how could she have managed barefoot? This makes me wonder…’

Having listened to the witness accounts and evidence, Ah B and Kam Wing still couldn’t believe that Chan committed suicide, because the autopsy could not prove that she was drowned, nor could it explain why her body was naked when it was found. They thought that even if Chan suffered from mental health or if she was emotionally disturbed, it does not explain why she wanted to commit suicide.

‘She seemed quite a cheerful person. She wanted to turn over a new leaf. She was expecting more things to happen, and waiting for the school term to begin her studies. She was also waiting for her boyfriend to come out (from the jail), so I don’t think she possibly planned a suicide,’ Kam said.

At the time of our interview, no decision was made at the Coroner’s hearing, and the two of them speculated that the jury would decide that the cause of death was uncertain or that it was an accident. They were willing to accept these rulings, but their minds were still full of unresolved questions.

Maybe the truth could only be approximated.

‘Some people even consider it useless to investigate any further until Hong Kong can be recovered through revolution. But I think sometimes it is hard to arrive at an objective truth at a convenient time. ‘

‘She is such a kind, polite 15-year-old girl, and was seen taking photos with friends just two days ago. And then her body was found dead and floating in the sea. We have to accept the ruling in the context of these evidences. But we are still bothered by these questions that will never be resolved.’

Ah B


【Remark 1】respecting the wishes of the interviewees, we have used pseudonyms (e.g.  Ms Cheung, Ah Wing, Kam Wing, Ah B, Cathy) in the article.

【Remark 2】According to the accounts provided by witnesses, Chan ran away from home in March 2019, but she was later found and sent back to the girls’ home. During that time, she tried to use a plastic bag to commit suicide but was sent to the hospital. Later, she attempted to run away from the hospital. Chan disappeared for more than a month before she went back home. Her mother and the social worker pointed out that Chan worked in the night club when she disappeared. 

【Remark 3】Some psychiatrist experts advocated that a young child must develop a close relationship with at least one primary carer, otherwise, he or she will suffer from psychological or emotional impairment.