A recent theft charge levied against an elderly woman in Tseung Kwan O has raised concerns that Hong Kong police failed to follow procedural guidelines in processing her case.

According to police records, the woman admitted in May to stealing a packet of fish and sausages from a local ParknShop supermarket—a confession that files state she made in the “local language”, referring to Cantonese. The woman’s granddaughter, only identified as Siu, says that her grandmother cannot communicate in Cantonese and speaks only in the Hakka dialect.

Tseung Kwan O

Siu says that police failed to follow proper procedure in failing to arrange for an interpreter and not informing her family members.

As well as being unable to communicate in Cantonese, Siu told Apple Daily that her grandmother is hard of hearing and has no teeth—further complicating communication. She also suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Her situation was confirmed by a social worker at a local community centre, who said that the 88-year-old has middle stage Alzheimer’s and can only respond with simple sentences or directions.

Siu suspects that her grandmother simply forgot to pay for the items before leaving, and that responding officers cajoled a confession out of her. She claimed that the officers looked down whilst taking notes for the duration of their encounter, either not listening to her explanation or not understanding it.

Siu asked the ParknShop store to provide CCTV footage of the incident but they refused, she said. She described both the supermarket and police as “coldblooded”.

Sham Shui Po ParkNShop
Outside a Sham Shui Po ParkNShop. Photo: Wikicommons.

A police spokesperson told HKFP that, after the woman was caught “stealing food”, officers found that “she could answer questions in simple Cantonese during investigation.”

“Police exercised discretion to the offender on July 11 after considering her age and the nature of the offense,” the police response concludes. “The case was closed on the same day [July 11].”

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others