Time to close chapter on tragic death

Editorial | Mary Ma 14 Sep 2020

The jury looking into the death of 15-year-old Chan Yin-lam did their best in returning an open verdict in a case that had been a key episode of the anti-government protests.

It's now up to society to judge for themselves.

Should those saying Chan was killed by police now reconsider persisting with the conspiracy?

And should those adamant that she committed suicide now pause for a moment of self-reflection?

They should if they respect the truth. After days of hearings, it is clear that it would be ill advised to continue subscribing to either.

On the final day of the inquest, coroner David Ko Wai-hung ruled out the probability that Chan died by unlawful killing or committed suicide as it was impossible to prover either hypothesis beyond reasonable doubt.

This was despite testimony by renowned forensic pathologist Philip Beh Swan-lip that Chan's death was highly suspicious because she was found naked. He said a diatom test should have been performed to determine whether she died before or after she was in the water.

Instead, Ko directed the jury of five to consider whether or not her death was an accident or to return an open verdict.

About five hours later, the jury unanimously returned an open verdict, saying they were able to agree only that Chan died between September 19 and 20 at an unknown location and that she was naked when entering the water.

They were uncertain if she had taken a taxi to Lohas Park or shown any symptoms of psychosis on September 19 as heard during the inquest.

The verdict was given in English. Its Chinese translation carried the connotation of "suspicious" circumstances in the cause of death, which was not as neutral as "open."

This tempted those depending on the Chinese translation to imagine that foul play might have been involved.

Chan's death struck a raw nerve in society because it happened at the height of anti-government protests amid rumors that some protesters were killed by police and others raped.

Those rumors are still viral despite repeated police denials.

The community had expected the inquest to finally conclude the case that had agitated so many. As inconclusive as the verdict was, the coroner was nonetheless able to rule that it was neither murder nor suicide.

The public can do little at this stage except to let this immensely sad and tragic chapter close - unless fresh evidence emerges to provide leads for further investigation.

Very soon, the coroner's court will convene to decide on the death of university student Chow Tsz-lok who was found unconscious at a Tseung Kwan O carpark and died later in hospital at the height of anti-government protests.

It is likely that public attention will shift from the open verdict on Chan to the inquest into Chow's death.

Perhaps there is another victim to remember - the woman allegedly murdered by her boyfriend during a trip to Taiwan.

A subsequent proposed bill seeking to extradite suspects from the SAR to the mainland, Macau and Taiwan sparked off the most serious unrest in decades.

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