Counsellors in Hong Kong should tag along with police when officers are responding to reports of someone attempting to end their life, an NGO has said. It comes after a coroner’s jury ruled that a protester who fell off a shopping mall during the 2019 protests died as a result of misadventure.

Clarence Tsang, executive director of the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, told HKFP on Wednesday that the government could consider creating a mechanism to allow police officers to be accompanied by social workers or counsellors in handling suicide attempts.

Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong
ASamaritan Befrienders Hong Kong banner. File photo: Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong.

Tsang said the force usually only allowed their own negotiators to communicate with the persons who wanted to end their lives. He suggested that other professionals may pitch in to help, depending on the emotions of the person concerned and if they showed any intention of harming others.

“If the situation allows, permitting other professional personnel to intervene is – of course – a good thing,” he said. “[Police] have their negotiating experts, but their aims may be a bit different from a counsellor.”

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 Counselling 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.

Police receive multiple calls about suicide attempts each day – sometimes in the double figures.

‘Yellow jacket’ man

The question of whether a third party should be allowed to intervene in the police handling of suicide attempts was raised during a two-week inquest into the death of Marco Leung. The 35-year-old died after falling from the Pacific Place mall in the early days of the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests.

Leung, who wore a yellow raincoat at the time of his death, became a symbol of the months-long pro-democracy demonstrations and unrest. Thousands of Hongkongers gathered around the Admiralty mall in defiance of the Covid-19 gathering ban last year to pay tribute to him on the one year anniversary of his death.

marco leung pacific place june 15 2020
Photo: Studio Incendo.

On Tuesday, coroner David Ko instructed a jury – consisting of two men and three women – to decide whether Leung’s death was a suicide, an accident or a result of misadventure. According to local media, the panel unanimously ruled the death a misadventure.

In guiding the jurors, Ko said they had to consider whether the protester jumped to avoid getting caught, and because of misjudgement, fell on the pedestrian road instead of the safety cushion.

Intervention efforts

During the inquest, police said that they barred former lawmaker Roy Kwong, who is also a registered social worker, from communicating with Leung out of safety concerns. The force said the decision was “reasonable,” as Leung did not cooperate with the rescue work.

Lawyer Samson Hung, representing the police, said the ex-legislator did not account for the fact that Leung was holding a box cutter and his assistance was based on a “presumption pointing to a good result.”

Marco Leung
Marco Leung protests above Pacific Place in Admiralty on June 15, 2019, with a protest sign calling for the ‘complete withdrawal’ of the extradition bill, the release of arrested people, the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and opposition to the ‘rioter’ characterisation. Leung fell to his death shortly after. Photo: Stand News.

Following a six-hour deliberation, the jury suggested that when police and the Fire Services Department manage cases of attempts to jump from height, the force should take charge in giving directions to avoid confusion, local media reports said.

The fire services unit should also procure more gear for conducting high-angle rescues, the panel said, including purchasing safety cushions that are smaller and more suitable to fit the areas in the city.

Tsang of the suicide prevention organisation agreed that smaller safety mats would fit better on Hong Kong’s narrow roads.

“Especially because many roads in Hong Kong are quite narrow, therefore having different equipment for adapting to different environments is definitely a good thing,” he said.

Correction 10.03.2022: A previous version of this article incorrectly named the executive director of the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong as Clarence Kwok. His name is Clarence Tsang.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.