Outraged internet users are demanding answers after an elderly cleaner at pharmaceutical chain Mannings faced theft charges for pocketing a roll of gift stamps, which she claims to have later returned.

Internet users are demanding to know how they calculated the HK$50 value of the stamps, which customers may exchange for gifts. Mannings has claimed the roll of around 600 gift stamps were worth around HK$30,000.

77-year-old Li Suk-hing appeared before the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday on theft charges in relation to the incident last July. Li suffers from poor eyesight, is partially blind and did not wear her glasses the day of the alleged theft. Li said she mistook a roll of gift stamps to be tape and pocketed it, but returned it the next day after realising her mistake.

A Mannings in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikicommons.

However, a security guard at the store insisted it was theft and called the police. The defence later obtained CCTV footage showing that Li had returned the roll.

Li has worked at the branch as a cleaner for over a decade and does not receive social welfare. She had since been asked to leave her three part-time cleaning jobs at Mannings stores.

On Thursday, Mannings published a statement on its Facebook responding to the backlash. “Last July, Mannings received a case of suspected theft in the store, and immediately notified the police as well as provided them with information. The Department of Justice decided to launch a prosecution based on the findings of the police investigation.”

“Mannings has cooperated with the police investigation… As the case is currently undergoing legal proceedings, it is inappropriate to make any comment. Mannings respects Hong Kong’s rule of law and believes the court will make a reasonable verdict based on legal principles after taking into account all factors.”

The post has attracted over 37,000 “angry” reactions from internet users. Many of them have taken to copying and pasting stock paragraphs with the same questions, preceded by the line: “I’ll see how many comments the Mannings PR can delete.”

The netizens were demanding that Mannings answer questions “unrelated to the Department of Justice” – meaning the legal proceedings – including why the company did not go through its CCTV footage and merely believed the security guard in question before reporting the case.

They also asked how Mannings calculated the HK$30,000 value based on 600 gift stamps, and whether they would apologise to Li if she is acquitted. They also asked why they are removing comments critical of the incident.

Writer Tsui Yuen and activist Benson Tsang have also criticised the response in a Stand News op-ed and on social media respectively.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.