A Hong Kong nursery school teacher broke down in court on Tuesday as she recalled her final days with a five-year-old pupil who was allegedly murdered by her parents.
The teacher described the deceased as a playful “little girl who liked to laugh a lot” and was eager to serve, willing to help others and keen to answer questions, even when she did not know the answers.
“She was like this throughout K2 before she moved,” the witness said of the girl, who belonged to the first class the woman had taught at the kindergarten.
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The High Court previously heard the child’s family moved from her paternal grandmother’s home to live with her step-grandmother on August 10, 2017, which, according to the prosecution, marked the beginning of her abuse at the hands of her family.
The girl’s 29-year-old father and 30-year-old stepmother have admitted to child cruelty inflicted upon her and her eight-year-old brother over a period of 150 days starting from that date, but both have denied murdering her. The step-grandmother, 56, has denied all four counts of the cruelty charge.
Acting senior public prosecutor Jackie Lai Jing-kei said the girl was absent from school for 10 days the month the family moved, after taking just one day off in the entirety of the previous academic year.
Her K2 teacher – whom the Post is not naming due to a gag order aimed at protecting the identities of the children – was visibly distressed when asked to confirm this attendance record, replying in a small voice after a long pause: “I remember this.”
Her response prompted Lai and Mr Justice Albert Wong Sung-hau to ask whether she was able to continue with her testimony.
“I would like to have a break,” she said, before bursting into tears.
It was not disputed that the girl’s teachers and principal found her crying and sporting different injuries on six occasions from early September 2017, when she started K3.
For instance, on September 5, the witness found the girl’s entire right thumb and the surrounding palm area red and swollen and that there were multiple marks from beatings – one as long as 8cm – on her right forearm, back, right thigh and buttocks.
The court heard the teachers talked to the girl’s stepmother the next day and the parent promised not to apply corporal punishment again.
A week later, the child returned to the nursery with bruises on her head, rashes on her face and abrasions on her lips. A tooth was also loose.
Then, on September 25, the principal noticed her right face was swollen with a large patch of bruises, measuring 10cm by 10cm, while the witness found the area near the sole of her right foot was red and swollen, without examining her entire body.
When asked about those injuries, the stepmother said the redness on the foot was accidentally caused by the father when he hit a rattan stick against the floor to scare the girl for being unresponsive and made another promise to no longer use corporal punishment.
“I was in doubt,” the teacher said of the explanation.
The girl was last seen at school on October 27, 2017. The teacher noted she did not seek attention or throw tantrums that day, and that her emotional state was “not particularly bad”.
Lai asked: “Did you see her ever again?”
“I did not see her ever since,” the teacher replied, her voice breaking.
The child was formally removed from the school’s rolls in the first week of December 2017. She died of septicaemia on January 6, 2018, with her autopsy revealing 133 injuries on her body.
Prosecutors have said her parents had indirectly but significantly contributed to her death because their prolonged abuse and neglect had considerably weakened her immunity against the bacterial infection that ultimately killed her.
The court on Tuesday also heard from the child’s K1 teacher, who similarly observed that she had changed since her family’s relocation.
“Previously [she] was very eager to put up her hand to tell us where she had been [over the weekend or holiday],” this teacher testified. “But after the move, she didn’t like to talk much.”
The teacher also noticed a change in the child’s appetite for breakfast at school from September 2017, noting that she constantly asked for more food when she had used to eat just one bowl of noodles or oatmeal.
“At times she even asked for three bowls [of noodles],” she added.
The witness said the girl was “a very cheerful kid” who did not even cry when she first attended the nursery and had adapted very quickly to school life, without any problems in self-care or personal hygiene.
“She was a very normal kid,” she continued.
The Post has withheld the name of the second teacher as well in light of the gag order from the judge. The same order also precludes the naming of the defendants and their relatives.
The jury trial continues on Wednesday.
This article Hong Kong nursery school teacher breaks down in court while testifying in 5-year-old girl’s murder trial first appeared on South China Morning Post