[This article contains images some readers may find distressing] A Hong Kong kindergarten attended by a five-year-old who reportedly died after being found unconscious at home was aware of multiple bruises suffered by the girl months before her tragic death, according to photos taken by teachers and obtained by FactWire.
On 6 January, Chan Sui-lam was rushed to hospital covered in bruises but was declared dead on arrival.
Her 26-year-old father and 27-year-old stepmother were arrested and subsequently charged with murder two days later.
Vivian Yu Mei-ying, principal of Fu Tai Lutheran Day Nursery in Tuen Mun, told reporters at the time that the kindergarten did not find any injuries on the girl before Sui-lam quit the school in late October.
However, dozens of images obtained by FactWire have raised questions over that claim and whether more could have been done to prevent the tragedy.
The two sets of photos, including 19 images taken on 5 September and seven on 25 September, show a number of bruises all over her body, including on both of her arms, hands, legs and feet.
The first set of photos includes one showing a badly swollen right palm, while photos in the second set show bruise marks across her right cheek and a scabbed wound on her left.
Multiple sources have verified the photos and confirmed they were taken by teachers at the kindergarten. One whistleblower told FactWire that Yu, the principal, explicitly told teachers to photograph the bruises when they were first spotted.
The source added that teachers had later submitted a report, which was signed by Yu and accompanied with photographs, documenting the details of Sui-lam’s injuries found on 5 and 25 September.
Injuries found on other occasions, include red marks and peeling skin on her ear, were not included in the report, said another source.
Sui-lam had stopped attending school on 27 October and was officially withdrawn from the kindergarten in December. Her case was also reported to the preschool’s supervisor around that time, according to a source close to the operator Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service.
But speaking to reporters two days after her death, Yu insisted the school had found no injuries on the girl and therefore never filed any injury report with the Education Bureau nor the Social Welfare Department.
She added that teachers would have noticed the bruises because pupils were wearing short-sleeve uniforms in September.
Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service said in a press release on 10 January that it took allegations that the school was previously alerted of the situation very seriously and had opened an investigation to look into the matter.
‘The service has promised it would invite the relevant departments and independent parties to join in the investigation whenever appropriate,’ the statement said.
The organisation has yet to release findings from its internal probe.
Yu has just returned to work last Wednesday after taking a leave of absence after the incident. She did not respond to any questions about Sui-lam’s case at the kindergarten yesterday.
The Reverend Daniel Li Yat-shing, the kindergarten’s supervisor and first vice-president of the Lutheran Church Hong Kong Synod, also declined to comment on whether the church knew about the injuries before the girl’s death, citing ongoing legal proceedings.
In an email response on Tuesday morning, a spokesperson for Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service said: ‘The service would like to express our sorrow and sympathy at the passing of a pupil from Fu Tai Lutheran Day Nursery. We have collected information about her situation at school before her death and have handed that information to the police.
‘Based on legal advice, we would not take any actions that may affect the ongoing court proceedings.’
The church currently runs 12 kindergartens and nurseries, six primary schools, 13 secondary schools, two special schools, two international schools and one seminary across Hong Kong, with a total of near 20,000 students.
The girl’s father Chan Hoi-ping, 26, and stepmother Wong Hiu-tung, 27, have been in custody on a murder charge since 8 January.
The case has been adjourned by the Tuen Mun Magistrates’ Court to 17 April after hearings on 9 January and 6 March.