A Hong Kong man on trial for allegedly murdering his five-year-old daughter has denied he intended to cause her grievous bodily harm when punishing her for what he said was lying and a refusal to listen.
Making his first public remarks about the circumstances of her death, the 29-year-old father said the girl was a relatively “stubborn daughter” who was given different kinds of punishment, ranging from standing and copying lines to beatings and being denied food.
“The purpose was for her to listen to what [my wife and I] said,” he told a High Court jury on Monday. “What I want for her is to perform her basic duties: to brush her teeth, to wash her face and also to greet others in the morning.”
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He added later that most of the punishment was meted out “because of [the child] telling lies”.
Prosecutors maintain the father and 30-year-old stepmother indirectly but significantly contributed to their daughter’s death because their prolonged abuse and neglect had considerably weakened her immune system and ability to fight the bacterial infection that ultimately killed her.
The couple have admitted to child cruelty, inflicted on the deceased and her eight-year-old brother over a period of 150 days from August 10, 2017, when they relocated to live with her 56-year-old step-grandmother. But they deny murdering the girl, who died of septicaemia on January 6, 2018.
The father admitted he did not take the girl to the doctor to treat her wounds because he did not want to face abuse charges. He believed that he and his wife, whom he said had studied nursing, could handle the injuries – but he did not know that bacteria entering the bloodstream could lead to death.
He broke into tears as he recounted his last day with his daughter before she collapsed. He said he played with her by throwing her upwards but did not know whether she hit the ceiling, and made her walk in an attempt to treat swelling in her legs.
The father confirmed he was prepared to plead guilty to manslaughter on the basis of gross negligence or unlawful act – a plea that was previously rejected by the prosecution.
Defence counsel Alex Ng said: “There is no dispute that your wife and yourself sometimes did resort to corporal punishment on [the deceased and her brother] in various forms.”
The father said that if the girl’s misbehaviour was minor, she would be asked to stand or copy lines. But if the matter was serious or repeated, it might be handled by beating her with a rattan stick.
“There would not be an indefinite number of strokes,” he said. “I would not hit the kid until the kid could not move.”
If the problem persisted over several days or involved a standoff between his wife and the child – because she was “being stubborn” – he would have a chat with the girl.
The father said it was during these conversations he learned his daughter and son were opposing their stepmother “just for the sake of it”, rather than out of any deep dislike.
The court heard the couple would at times restrain each other: he would ask his wife to stop, calm down and wait for him to handle the situation; while she would gesture for him to stop.
“It would be no use even if you beat [the child] to death now,” he texted her on October 10, 2017. “She would need time to change.”
Three days later he texted her: “Killing [the child] would serve no purpose. I’ll handle it when I’m back tonight.”
In court, he testified: “There are numerous messages on WeChat [where] she [was] telling me not to hit the children.”
The wife’s counsel Caesar Lo later pointed to an example on December 23, when she texted the father about plans to take the girl for an IQ test, saying: “Stop hitting; otherwise can’t see the doctor even after the new year.”
The mother-in-law tried to stop or lecture them on the rare occasions when she witnessed a beating, according to the elder woman’s defence counsel Chase Pun. The father agreed that this happened after he told her not to interrupt his disciplining of the children.
The grandmother has denied all four counts of the cruelty charge.
Murder and manslaughter are punishable by life in prison, while cruelty to child carries a maximum term of 10 years.
None of the defendants or their relatives can be identified due to a gag order from Mr Justice Albert Wong Sung-hau, aimed at protecting the children.
The father’s testimony continues on Tuesday.