A Hong Kong woman on trial for neglecting her step-grandchildren was a “loving and caring” grandparent who did not know the full extent of the abuse that was happening in her flat until one of them died, a court heard on Thursday.
Defence counsel Chase Pun also argued that the 56-year-old accounting clerk had never used a rattan stick to hit the five-year-old girl, as well as her brother, eight, as alleged by the prosecution. Pun questioned if the two children were truly in her care at the time.
Closing the case on Thursday, Pun told the jury: “If you do not think she has custody of the children, you should find this loving and caring grandmother not guilty on all four charges.”
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The woman has pleaded not guilty to four counts of cruelty to a child in her “custody, charge or care”, an offence punishable by 10 years in prison.
Two of those counts alleged wilful ill-treatment of the girl and her brother, while the remaining charges centred on wilful neglect in a manner likely to cause both children unnecessary suffering or injury.
The children’s 29-year-old father and 30-year-old stepmother have admitted to similar charges of child cruelty over a period of 150 days, from August 10, 2017, when they relocated to live with the step-grandmother.
But the parents denied murdering the girl, who died of septicaemia on the following January 6.
It was not disputed that the step-grandmother worked from Monday to Saturday, usually leaving home at around noon and returning at about 9.30pm. She would usually be sleeping in the morning when the children left home for school at 7am.
The High Court also heard that she had frequently visited her mother who was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2017 and hospitalised on three occasions from August 22 to her death on November 19 of the same year.
Pun said his client spent limited time at home in those months, as can be confirmed by her building’s security camera footage and her seven-year-old granddaughter, who testified in court.
He said there were only “few occasions” when the woman was present while her stepchildren were hit by their parents, adding that she would at times interfere, even after the father had requested her not to interrupt him.
On one occasion, Pun said the step-grandmother was struck by the man with a rattan stick when she stretched out her leg to stop him from further beating his son.
The step-grandmother was also said to have pushed her daughter into the kitchen to stop her from hitting the five-year-old girl.
“I was so angry that my entire body was shaking,” her daughter later texted a friend. “Luckily my mum held me down.”
Pun also noted there was no evidence that the step-grandmother knew the children were starving, as she was not involved in this punishment of denying food.
While he accepted that she did hit the children on occasion, he argued that did not amount to ill-treatment or cruelty, as she would only slap their palms.
He also noted that the boy had never complained about being assaulted by the step-grandmother to the teachers and social worker who noticed his injuries, or to police in hospital.
The counsel said the step-grandmother loved and treated all three children “in the same way”, buying them toys and taking them to the museum, parks and shopping centre.
“You can see all their happy faces in the photos,” he said, referring to the defence exhibits.
None of the defendants or their relatives can be identified because of a gag order from Mr Justice Albert Wong Sung-hau, aimed at protecting the children.
The judge will direct the jury and sum up the case next Wednesday.