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Afterwards

Vicky’s sister Irene left Hong Kong last Saturday, after collecting the remainder of Vicky’s effects from the North Lantau Police station on Friday afternoon. Accompanying her were members of the Justice for Vicky concern group and Mr Gil Salceda, Head of the Assistance to Nationals Section at the Philippine Consulate. Mr Salceda also attended every session of the inquest, and deserves special recognition for his care and concern since April.

We would like to thank everyone who has left messages on this blog, and all of you who showed your support in other ways. The voyage has been long and we didn’t expect the destination at which we arrived, but everything we did was worthwhile.

Soon we will decide whether to continue with this blog under a new name and document the many elisions of justice that domestic helpers face in Hong Kong, transfer all of the material to a new blog, or transfer it to the administrator’s personal blog, which also documents the travails of migrant workers, amongst other things.

In the meantime, thank you for reading what we have offered. Spare a thought for Vicky when you can, and for all people who have no-one to turn to in times of need.

Now that the jury has given its finding, we would like to offer a few comments about the inquest. Most important, the Coroner acted impeccably throughout, directing the proceedings with equanimity and offering the jury very specific directions about how it should go about its decision.

Particular attention was given to weighing the evidence and determining whether the witnesses were credible. Despite what the South China Morning Post has been reporting, most of the evidence given was very run of the mill, going to establish Vicky’s character in a positive light. Two specifically negative assessments came from Vicky’s supposed ‘best friend’ in Hong Kong and ‘boyfriend’ in the Philippines (in the later case through the interpreter who spoke to him over the phone).

These assessments seem to have persuaded the jury to make a leap of logic from a woman in Discovery Bay who was suffering from headaches, was clearly overworked and perhaps having some associated, and no doubt stress-related, mental difficulties to a suicide on the other side of Lantau island.

The jury, it must be said, had a difficult task in determining Vicky’s actions when they had next to no material evidence to consider. The inquest was essentially a rehash of the various statements made to the police from April to around June. However, the level of English comprehension expected of them was much higher than the norm in Hong Kong (blog administrator Mike Poole is a managing editor and writer for Chinese speaking people who use English as a second language, so this a professional assessment). There were also numerous references to Filipino cultural phenomena left unexplained, such as the penchant for labeling denominations separate religions and an entire corpus of folklore from southern Luzon remarked upon as though its implications were obvious.

This was compounded by the lawyer for Vicky’s employers, who encouraged the jury to take the view that Vicky’s seemingly unstable mental state should be their major consideration, despite evidence from his own clients that they had noticed nothing unusual about the woman in the days leading up to her death. Essentially, the lawyer acted as a prosecution counsel, as though Vicky’s character were on trial.

Given these aspects of the inquest, and the fact that Vicky’s sister Irene had no legal representation to counter their effects, the finding of suicide – rather than the proffered alternative of an open finding – is not entirely surprising. It is, however, disturbing because the overwhelming majority of the evidence presented was inconclusive, and suicide should be a finding backed by probative facts.

The one jury member who voted against the finding should be congratulated for elevating logic over supposition. Nevertheless, the process has run to its conclusion. In that sense we have ensured that natural justice, which is otherwise know as procedural justice, has been served. There is no appeal mechanism to push the case further, so we have to be satisfied with the fact that we pushed it thus far, when all indications were nothing would be made of it at all.

Tomorrow, most members of the Justice for Vicky concern group will meet again to discuss what we have learned, how we fared and what we can do in future. Tonight we will think of Vicky’s death as an ever unsolved mystery.

Finding Given – Suicide

The jury has given its finding at Vicky’s inquest. After accepting directions from the Coroner to weigh the evidence, in a 4-1 majority decision they found that Vicky committed suicide.

SCMP Wrong Again

The South China Morning Post has again reported incorrectly on Vicky’s inquest. Despite the headline on page 3 of the City section today, Vicky did not ‘visit’ a ‘witch doctor’ (otherwise known as a ‘quack’) about her headaches. A friend, supposedly a ‘boyfriend’, did on her behalf, taking a picture of Vicky with him.

So much for attention to detail from the SCMP‘s subeditors.

The witness mentioned in the article who made the claim that Vicky was “out of her mind” shifted uneasily in her seat when Irene, Vicky’s sister, questioned her about this, kept looking down and moved her gaze from side to side. She also raised her voice defensively when questioned about how she knew that Vicky did not have good relations with her family. Her claim was that Vicky told her so.

In other words, she was presenting hearsay evidence.

A final point about the article is that it relies on the insinuation that Vicky was in debt at the time of her death. The 4 loans she was reported to have taken out were all repaid in full and on time. One of the final witness to speak was the proprietor of the business from which she took the loans, who mentioned this. The SCMP conveniently failed to follow suit.

The article’s author, Chandra Wong, should be ashamed of herself. She should also be forced to admit she didn’t even bother to attend the morning session of the inquest, when she was presumably sitting in on another trial in the same building (the report on that trial appeared beside the report on Vicky’s inquest). If she had, she would have heard the bulk of the detail of the supposed ‘visit’ to the ‘witch doctor’ read out by Judiciary interpretor who spoke to Vicky’s supposed ‘boyfriend’ in the Philippines, and less salacious testimony presented in person by other witnesses.

Throughout this case, the SCMP has been chasing a story quite at odds with the available evidence. It will be very interested to see what it makes of the finding tomorrow. We will report that finding here as soon as it becomes available today.

Click here to read the article in full (saved as a PDF file).

Inquest Winding Up

The third day of Vicky’s inquest heard testimony from 4 witnesses, including the proprietor of the company from which she borrowed and paid back money, the judiciary interpreter who spoke to persons of interest in the Philippines, and the police investigators.

The witness whose testimony carried over from yesterday repeated an assertion that she had made in her statement to the police – that she thought Vicky was loosing her mind. When questioned by Vicky’s sister Irene about this she became defensive and stressed that it was her interpretation of the situation only.

The judiciary interpreter read the statement of Vicky’s supposed ‘boyfriend’ in the Philippines, who claimed that the woman had tried to have constant headaches cured by a ‘quack doctor’, who insisted that Vicky’s former boyfriend was trying to ‘bewitch’ her and that she was, somehow, ‘queen of the dwarves’, amongst other things.

Although such assertions would be dismissed as hearsay in other courts, they could point towards Vicky’s state of mind at the time of her death in the Coroner’s Court. The employer’s lawyer stressed their importance in his final comments to the jury. What the jury actually makes of them will be resolved tomorrow morning, when a finding is scheduled to be handed down.

We will report the finding as soon as it is handed down


Second Day of Inquest

The second day of the inquest into Vicky’s death saw evidence given by another 8 witnesses. The doctor who performed the autopsy explained the state of the body and confirmed once more that Vicky died by drowning.

The final witness for the day ranged over wider ground, speaking of Vicky’s previous ‘boyfriends’, that the woman had been suffering recurrent headaches at some stage – but not immediately before – she died, Vicky’s use of ‘holy oil’ and matters relating to whether or not long-service leave would be taken.

This evidence has already been given to the police during their investigation, and the long-service issue has been dealt with through the Labour Department mediation process.  Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what the South China Morning Post makes of it tomorrow.

The final witness will speak again tomorrow, and two more witnesses will be called.

NOTE FROM THE BLOG ADMINISTRATOR: As the Thorough Investigation page on this blog might contain speculation capable of influencing those directly involved in the inquest hearings, I’ve removed it until the jury hands down its finding about Vicky.

Inquest Underway

The inquest into Vicky’s death began yesterday, with the composition of a 5 member (3 woman, 2 man) jury and the calling of 11 witnesses. Vicky’s sister Irene was given the chance to question her sister’s former employers, who were in court and represented by a lawyer.

No new evidence was given, as can be expected, and reports in the South China Morning Post of Vicky receiving a ‘love’ letter the day before she disappeared are reiterations of information obtained by the police during their investigation.

The inquest continues today, with more witnesses being called. Given that there are a total of 27 witnesses, the hearing could finish ahead of the projected one-week time frame, but other matters could yet prolong the proceedings.

We will report later today on any matters of interest arising from the current session.

Addendum - further to an earlier comment, the text message mentioned in today’s issue of the South China Morning Post was one of those that it earlier claimed to have included ‘cult-like references’.  The North Lantau police have already investigated the matter.

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