A Coroner’s Court jury in Hong Kong has returned an inconclusive verdict on the death of 15-year-old girl Chan Yin-lam whose naked body was found floating in Yau Tong last September.
After 32 witnesses testified in 11 days, all five jurors agreed on Friday that there was insufficient evidence to find the cause of Chan’s death because the body had decomposed. Earlier, Magistrate Ko Wai-hung directed the jury to consider whether Chan died in an accident or they should return an open verdict.
Ko said there was not enough evidence for the court to conclude, without reasonable doubt, Chan was killed unlawfully or had committed suicide.
Chan’s death was controversial because she had taken part in the anti-extradition protests in June and August last year. Some people believed that Chan was murdered and thrown into the water while the police said she had committed suicide at the Tseung Kwan O Waterfront Park.
Her death and that of Chow Tsz-lok, a 22-year-old university student who was seriously injured in a protest and died last November, had fueled the anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year. Until now, people continue to mourn their deaths by holding memorial services on the streets of Tseung Kwan O once a month.
Chan’s death drew public attention after the Apple Daily reported on October 11, 2019 that Chan, a strong swimmer and diver, was found dead near Devil’s Peak on September 22, three days after she was last seen in the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI) in Tseung Kwan O.
HKDI unveiled CCTV footage which showed that Chan was wandering on the campus on the afternoon of September 19. However, footages that could show how Chan left her belongings, shoes and a black rope in HKDI were missing.
Police said they had ruled out foul play in Chan’s death as she was captured by HKDI’s CCTV walking barefoot toward the Tseung Kwan O Waterfront Park. Media reports later showed that it was nearly impossible that Chan could walk barefoot to the park, take off her clothes and jump into the sea without being seen by pedestrians.
On October 17, Chan’s mother, Ho Pui-yee, told TVB she watched all the CCTV footage provided by the police and believed that Chan had committed suicide. She said Chan told her in August 2019 that she heard voices and could not sleep well.
However, Chan’s friends told media that it was unlikely that Chan had killed herself as she had never shown such an attempt.
Police gave the court CCTV footage from September 19 and said Chan left the HKDI and entered the Tiu Keng Leng MTR station at 6:59pm and then went into the Metro Town Shopping Arcade and walked toward Shin Ming Estate. Police said Chan was last seen at 7:10pm as she walked toward Choi Ming Street, which is in the opposite direction of the waterfront park.
A taxi driver surnamed Chow testified that Chan boarded his taxi on King Ling Road at around 7pm on September 19 and demanded to go to the construction site near Lohas Park station. However, neither Chow nor police could provide video to prove that Chan had been there.
A witness surnamed Chan, an HKDI student, told the court that he saw Chan in the Tiu Keng Leng MTR station at 7:20pm and then walk towards the Metro Town Shopping Arcade. A police officer said Chan could have re-entered the MTR station but police did not have footage.
Philip Beh Swan-lip, a forensic pathologist, said in court that Chan’s death was highly suspicious as she was found naked. Beh said a diatom test should have been done to determine whether Chan had died before or after she was in the water. However, such a test was not done.
Psychiatrist Robyn Ho Mei-yee said Chan could have developed a psychosis from last August, given that her relatives said she had incoherent speech and a confused mind. However, medical reports showed that Chan was diagnosed only with oppositional defiant disorder.
According to the post-mortem report, no drug or chloroform was identified in Chan’s body. No evidence showed that Chan had been raped or injured before her death.
The jury of two men and three women agreed that Chan died between September 19 and 20 at an unknown time and place. They said it was unclear whether Chan had taken a taxi to Lohas Park or shown any symptom of psychosis on September 19. They believed that Chan was naked when entering the water.