The death of a Hong Kong man who fell from scaffolding outside a local shopping mall in the early days of 2019’s anti-government protests was ruled a result of misadventure by an inquest jury on Tuesday.
Marco Leung Ling-kit – better known as “raincoat man” for what he was wearing at the time – fell 17 metres (56 feet) to his death on the night of June 15, 2019, five hours after climbing a temporary work platform outside the Pacific Place shopping centre in Admiralty to hang a banner protesting against the city’s now-withdrawn extradition bill.
After his death, Leung, a 35-year-old investment broker, became an icon of the anti-government movement sparked by the introduction of the bill. A rally the next day drew an estimated 2 million people, which would make it the largest turnout since the city’s handover from Britain to China in 1997.
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The five-member jury comprising two men and three women returned the unanimous verdict after four hours of closed-door deliberations at the Coroner’s Court.
The decision indicates they believed Leung had intended to land on an inflatable cushion set up by firefighters but missed.
Among their recommendations was that police lead similar rescue attempts in the future after the inquiry revealed confusion existed between officers and firefighters over which disciplinary force should be in charge.
Jurors previously heard that Leung was standing on scaffolding suspended from the mall’s fourth floor at around 4pm on the day in question. He was said to have been carrying a boxcutter and to have threatened to cut his own throat when people attempted to approach him.
Police declined offers from a former opposition lawmaker and members of the public to help talk the protester down, saying the move would be too risky. Police negotiators were unable to break the stalemate after hours of dialogue.
Firefighters who were on standby rushed towards Leung at around 9pm after he “suddenly” climbed over the platform’s railing, but he was said to have been “uncooperative” and “vigorously” resisted rescue. He fell four floors, missing the inflatable cushion, and was certified dead in hospital.
During the 10-day inquest, firefighters admitted they did not move the cushion closer as the pavement was not wide enough to accommodate its size, which could not be adjusted.
The panel suggested the Fire Services Department buy additional equipment such as nets and massive blankets, as well as various sized air cushions.
The construction company responsible for managing the scaffolding was also advised to take steps to prevent unauthorised entry to its working sites.
In his closing remarks, Coroner David Ko Wai-hung expressed regret over the length of time between Leung’s death and the inquest, blaming “systemic constraints” such as a lack of coroners and the court’s inability to compel a party to submit evidence.
“It is best to commence an inquiry as soon as possible,” he said. “Any delay is undesirable and unfair to all parties involved.”
Ko also offered condolences to Leung’s family members, who left the city two months after his death and were absent from the inquiry.
Court evidence suggested the protester had looked for places to take his own life two days before the tragedy, with mobile phone records revealing he had searched for keywords such as “jumping in Mong Kok” and “jumping in Admiralty”.
Police found a notebook in his backpack in which he appeared to have expressed dejection about current affairs and repeated his political demands. It was also found that Leung had bought life insurance and made arrangements for his own cremation.
Ko had said the jury should return a verdict of death by suicide if they found it relatively likely that Leung had intended to end his life the moment he tipped himself over the scaffold.
A verdict of death by accident would mean he had wished to be saved but failed to grab the structure due to fatigue, the coroner said.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who is, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.
This article Hong Kong protests: inquest jury rules death of ‘raincoat man’ a result of misadventure first appeared on South China Morning Post