An elderly cleaner at Mannings was found not guilty of theft after she pocketed a roll of gift stamps last July. The case ignited outrage online, with Facebook users and public figures criticising the pharmaceutical chain over their treatment of the 77-year-old.

The defendant, Li Suk-hing, claimed at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court last week that she was partially blind and did not wear her glasses the day of the alleged theft. Li said she mistook a roll of gift stamps for a roll of tape and pocketed it, but returned it the next day after realising her mistake.

mannings gift stamps
Li Suk-hing.

However, a security guard searched her bag before she left work later the same day, and called the police, claiming to have found a roll of gift stamps and 10 other gift stamps scattered around the bag. The defence later obtained CCTV footage showing that Li had returned the roll.

Mannings claimed the roll of around 600 gift stamps was worth around HK$30,000. Gift stamps are stickers that can be exchanged for gifts at the store once customers have collected a given amount. However, the magistrate said the value of the stamps was not important to the case.

According to Apple Daily, the magistrate Peony Wong Nga-yan said Li was obviously lying about her poor vision as it could be seen on the CCTV footage reviewed by the court that her actions were nimble and that she could see small objects.

Li had worked at the branch as a cleaner for over a decade and does not receive social welfare. She was previously asked to leave her three part-time cleaning jobs at Mannings stores as a result of the incident. She was employed through an agency.

mannings gift stamps
Gift stamps and pamphlets showing the products that can be redeemed with them. Photo: HK Carousell.

Wong also said that it was unclear how the gift stamps were returned to their original place, noting it was possible that the cleaning company which employed Li had notified her. Li also said she was “very scared” during her police interview – during which she admitted to the theft – calling her willingness at the time into question.

Although Wong said the defendant’s actions were “very, very suspicious,” she said it could not be proven that the defendant had committed a crime beyond doubt. Therefore, she gave the defendant the benefit of the doubt and acquitted her, reported Headline Daily.

During the trial, the defence argued that Li did not “appropriate the property with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of it,” as she returned the gift stamps in the morning.

The 10 stamps found in Li’s possession will be returned to her.

‘We are sorry’

Helen Li, CEO of the pharmacy chain, apologised for putting Li through the legal process after the verdict.

“After the hearing last week, we conducted a further internal review of the incident and recognised that we had failed to take into account a number of important extenuating circumstances when our initial report was made to the Police.”

Photo: Mannings press release.

Mannings faced widespread criticism from the public, with many questioning why the company did not go through its CCTV footage and merely believed the security guard in question before reporting the case.

“We fully respect the court verdict today, and we are sorry that we triggered the criminal proceedings prematurely before we had fully understood and considered all the facts.”

Li added that the company has requested a meeting with Li to offer their personal apologies and to try to assist her.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.