Hong Kong woman confesses to strangling own grandson with backpack strap, but tells court she was suicidal herself

Jasmine Siu

A Hong Kong woman on trial for the murder of her six-year-old grandson on Thursday confessed to strangling the boy in his sleep because she believed he was mentally ill.

Kan Kwai-fong, 54, told the High Court she strangled Endless Cheng Ting-hin with the strap of her backpack and advised rescuers not to save him before he was certified dead at Ruttonjee Hospital in the early hours of March 18, 2018. The cause of death was ligature strangulation, according to a forensic pathologist.

She also admitted telling a neighbour she “really wanted to die with [her] grandson” and claimed to have sought help from a local suicide prevention hotline only for the responder to suggest she either “die with him” or wait for the boy to eventually be taken away from her.

“It increased my hopelessness,” Kan said of the alleged call. “It made me want to die even more.”

In my mind, I had the idea he was mentally ill. So I took the strap and strangled him

Kan Kwai-fong, on trial for the murder of her grandson

Kan said she wrote a suicide note after getting off the phone and bought a knife while she was out with Cheng the following morning, thinking she might kill herself.

On the same day, she checked into the Beverley Hotel in Wan Chai, where she strangled her grandson, whom she described as a “very clever and very handsome”, “lovely boy” who she loved very much.

Kan has pleaded not guilty to murder, suggesting instead she had committed the lesser offence of manslaughter after years of struggling to cope with depression that intensified when she thought of her ex-husband and the challenges of raising Cheng by herself.

She told the jury she once got so upset that she tried to hang herself, a suicide attempt prevented by her younger daughter, who would give birth to Cheng in 2011.

The court heard that Kan gradually became Cheng’s primary carer after his father left before his first birthday and her daughter later moved out.

Six-year-old Endless Cheng was strangled to death in a so-called love hotel in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district on March 18, 2018. Photo: Dickson Lee

Kan took care of her grandson on a daily basis, secured his school placement and played with him when she was not juggling with up to four part-time jobs to make ends meet and pay debts owed by Cheng’s father and her ex-husband, she told the court.

“Life was very hard for me,” she said in tears.

Kan also testified that Cheng was “a little bit different from normal children” and would throw huge tantrums, bang his head against the wall and threaten to strangle her over minor incidents such as being unable to solve maths problems or find a missing puzzle piece.

“I was worried he might have mental illness,” she said.

Grandmother accused of murdering grandson, 6, at love hotel now in hospital

By March 16, Kan said she was feeling “very unwell”, losing sleep and forgetting to take her medication for depression and mood swings.

“There was a tightness, a painful feeling in my chest,” she continued.

She became so unhappy that the following day, she decided to stay at a hotel with Cheng rather than go home.

But in their hotel room, she said, Cheng threw another tantrum, this time over how to play with a new toy she had bought him, and called her “so foolish”.

Kan said she worried about him behaving similarly at school and wanted to strangle him, cutting a strap off of her backpack for that purpose. She briefly abandoned the idea, saying she felt “it would be very brutal to strangle him”.

But as she tried to fall asleep, another thought took hold, she said.

“In my mind, I had the idea he was mentally ill,” she said. “So I took the strap and strangled him.”

Number of child abuse cases in Hong Kong hits 14-year high

By the time she realised what she had done, Kan said, she wanted to kill herself with the knife she had bought. She only did not go through with it because she was worried about the cleaners having to remove her blood – she was a cleaner herself – and the hotel’s possible loss of reputation.

But prosecutor Michael Arthur questioned Kan’s account of the strangulation, arguing she had intended to kill Cheng.

To this, Kan replied: “I would not raise him all these years to kill him.”

Her testimony continues before Madam Justice Esther Toh Lye-ping on Friday.

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.

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