A retired police officer convicted of common assault over a fight that left a van driver dead has been sentenced to seven days in prison, but walked free on Thursday because of time served on remand.

tuen mun law court
Tuen Mun Law Courts Building. File photo: Wikicommons.

Kwong Tak-wing – who saw his initial manslaughter charge downgraded twice – walked out of Tuen Mun Magistrates’ Court on Thursday. The 58-year-old had already been detained for 52 days.

The incident occurred outside Siu Hong MTR station in November 2021, when Kwong and his wife got into an altercation with a van driver over a parking space, The Witness reported.

Judge Tobias Cheng said the death of Berry Chan, the driver, was not caused by Kwong. He cited a forensic scientist saying that Chan had suffered a “heart attack” believed to have originated from emotional stress and physical exertion during the argument.

Outside the court building, Chan’s widow was in tears as she criticised the sentence for being too light. She called the verdict unfair, adding that Kwong had never apologised or compensated her.

From manslaughter to common assault

During a court mention last September, the prosecution revised Kwong’s manslaughter accusation to the lighter charge of assault occasioning bodily harm. The manslaughter charge against his wife was also dropped.

Department of Justice
Hong Kong Department of Justice. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

On Thursday, however, Kwong was acquitted of assault over a lack of evidence that he had intended to cause substantial injuries to Chan. He was instead found guilty of the lighter charge of common assault after the court determined that he had intentionally pushed Chan in the chest.

According to local media, the court heard earlier that an altercation broke out after Chan parked his vehicle next to the car belonging to Kwong and his wife, blocking its exit. Kwong allegedly wrestled with Chan before Chan fell to the ground. He was declared dead in the hospital later that day.

Cheng agreed with the prosecution’s statement that Kwong was not under threat in any way and could have just driven away. But instead, he chose to get out of his car and point and yell at Chan.

The judge added that Kwong could have been acting out of self-defence when he used his left elbow to push Chan away.

‘That was a human life’

The defence argued that the attack in this case should be considered extremely mild, and that Kwong had already been remanded for 52 days after initially being charged with manslaughter.

Cheng, who said the incident was over a trivial matter, told Kwong that there was “no need for you and your wife to act so aggressively.”

The Judiciary. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

But he added that Chan’s death was not caused by Kwong’s actions, and that Kwong had only pushed him once. “[I] cannot see what actual harm the attack caused to the victim,” Cheng said.

Appearing emotional, Chan’s widow told reporters outside the court that her husband did not have heart disease.

“It’s not fair at all, such a light sentence. That was a human life,” she said as she broke down in tears.

Offenders found guilty of manslaughter face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Meanwhile, the maximum penalty for assault occasioning bodily harm and common assault is three years and one year, respectively.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.