A coroner has said the police and Department of Justice should investigate if falsified documents were found to be involved in a case of a suspect’s suicide in police custody.

A five-member jury ruled that Lam Wing-chun – who was being held under suspicion of robbery and rape – committed suicide by using a computer network cable. The incident took place last May at the Sau Mau Ping police station.

During the hearing, the Coroner’s Court was told that the records of police officers checking Lam’s cell did not match with the records of the surveillance camera. In total, there were 17 suspected falsified logs suggesting that officers had checked the holding cell, when evidence suggests they did not.

Suspect Lam Wing-chun.

The jurors made 11 suggestions, such as urging the police to improve counter-suicide facilities in police station holding cells; the installation of surveillance cameras in cells; as well as the use of biometric key card systems to prevent falsified record entry. They also suggested that a warning about the potential criminal liability of falsifying records should be added to log books.

Coroner David Ko said it was “unacceptable” that Lam’s case was the second one within a year whereby detainees had been found dead in their cells. The other case was in July 2016 when a suspect took his own life at the North Point Police Station.

Ko said there were loopholes in the police mechanisms for conducting regular checks of the cells.

‘Ignoring the system’

The Coroner’s Court will refer the case to the police and the Department of Justice to investigate whether someone used false documents in the case.

Ko also asked the police and the Department of Justice to explain the progress of the investigations into the two suicide cases.

computer network cable Lam Wing-chun
The computer network cable that Lam Wing-chun used to hang himself.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To said the hearings showed that the system for checking police holding cells was “lax.”

“The system is designed for the safety of detainees. But it seems our police officers have been ignoring the system, or implementing the system irresponsibly,” To said.

He said the Legislative Council had suggested installing electronic devices to monitor holding cells, but it had yet to be implemented after two years: “The government has not been acting on it.”

To urged the police and the Department of Justice to investigate the case thoroughly.

If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084. See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.