Slowly Turn the Wheels of Justice

14 August 2008

Police Report Issued on Vicky Flores Death

Almost four months after Vicenta ‘Vicky’ Flores – a Filipino domestic helper in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong – fled her employers’ home and drowned under mysterious circumstances, the regional police have finalised their investigation. Today’s print edition of the South China Morning Post reports that the North Lantau police issued a report on the case “this week”, without specifying a day or any other details.

Vicky’s disappearance and death have been a very serious issue here in Discovery Bay, not only because the loss of life is tragic and the community has been diminished by her passing, but also because the government reaction to it has revealed a distinct lack of enthusiasm in dealing with people from other cultures, and an inability to communicate meaningfully with minority ethnic communities.

Following standard procedure, the police report has been forwarded to the Coroner, who will consider whether an inquest is necessary. Given that the police refused to investigate the circumstances of Vicky’s employment and focused on ludicrous insinuations of “cult-like” connections, a re-investigation of the situation through the Coroner’s Court will be most welcome.

Around a month ago the Justice for Vicky Flores concern group, of which I’m a member, received independent advice that an inquest would be likely due to the publicity and genuine concern surrounding the case. This was complemented more recently by an indication from the Lantau District Police Commander that “a death inquest is very likely to be held”. Of course, that in no way guarantees an inquest, which will bring much needed transparency to the case in an open court, but it’s promising given the latest news.

Dealing with the police in Hong Kong isn’t an easy task, despite a wealth of propaganda that suggests a mission to serve and protect. For the sake of Vicky’s family – especially her sister Irene, who has struggled through a mountain of difficulty both here in Hong Kong and at home in the Philippines to make sense of the situation – any news of the police finding and a prompt indication of an inquest date will be vital.

In a humane society, people care for people, even foreigners.

Wrong Arm of the Law

14 June 2008

Remedial Reading for a Would-Be Sleuth

Cycle (TC 5), by Irena Kittenclaw, with Creative Commons licenceJustice is a complex issue, covered over with perceptions and shot through with assumptions – many of which are surprisingly wide of the mark. In the move from being just, or morally right, to dispensing justice, an elite intercedes and begins to make decisions on what is usual, what is fair, what seems out of place. Like any apparatus of power, the legal system is a step aside from society, with its own, often fragmented, understanding of how people live, prosper, decline and die.

The new micoreviews in the toolbar at the right are part of my reaction to that disassociation – the hesitant beginning of an inquiry into what makes justice just, and the ways in which it can err.

A crucial element in that inquiry is the disappearance and death of Vicky Flores here in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong. The police inquiry into the case is currently plodding towards a conclusion that the dead woman was irrational, prone to dabbling in the occult and by implication – though never explicitly stated – a likely candidate for suicide. But gathering together the scant documentary evidence of police conduct so far, and keeping in mind what they have said publicly, the investigation seems strangely curtailed. Why focus on the possible activities of a dead woman when her home and work life (she was a live-in domestic helper) are by and large ignored?

Detective_Tales_Dec48, by PopKulture, with Creative Commons licenceWith that sort of oversight in mind I began reading about police investigation and the English legal system, which is the basis for Hong Kong’s own. And where else to turn for a soft introduction but to that perennial super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes?

That decision was a little less whimsical than it might seem, because E. J. Wagner has written an eminently readable history of forensic investigation using Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character as a foil. Wagner’s Science of Sherlock Holmes picks out episodes in Conan Doyle’s tales of mystery to trace the history of forensic investigation as it emerged in Victorian England, all the while highlighting the benefits and limits of precision detective work.

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Remembering Vicky

19 April 2008

Task Group and Blog Established

Morning Glow, by dailyjoe, with Creative Commons licenceFollowing my post yesterday on the untimely death of Vicky Flores here in Hong Kong, I have a little more information to share. Discovery Bay residents and representatives of Filipino migrant groups met earlier today to talk about what we could to do encourage a proper investigation of the case, and to make sure that people hear about what’s going on. We’ve established a dedicated blog, A Death in Hong Kong, to cover our activities and to collect and collate information on how and why Vicky disappeared.

Here’s the first post in full.

Vicenta Flores, or Vicky as most people knew her, disappeared from Discovery Bay on Lantau island in Hong Kong on or around 7 April 2008. Her body was found in Tung Chung harbour on the far side of the island on 11 April. Since that time there has been little media coverage of the situation, conflicting reports from the police about how their investigation is being conducted and growing community concern that justice may not prevail.

Following a meeting on 19 April, members of the Discovery Bay community in association with Filipino migrant organisations established this blog to air our concerns about the circumstances surrounding Vicky’s death and the lack of transparency in ongoing investigations. We also plan to collect and collate any relevant information that should be considered in determining how and why Vicky went missing.

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A Death in Hong Kong

18 April 2008

The Troubling Fate of Vicenta Flores

Vicenta Flores, RIPA death is always a tragedy. Often it hits family and friends bitterly hard, and sometimes even whole societies. Then there are deaths that people want to avoid, that societies don’t really want to know about. Vicenta Flores died in Hong Kong just over a week ago, and according to the coroner’s office the case is closed. Or it might be, we’re not sure. The police have finalised investigations, or they haven’t – that’s uncertain too. The only thing definite is that we’re all supposed to forget about it.

But that’s not going to happen.

Big cities continually offer up their dead, from age, from illness, from misadventure. That’s the cycle of urban life, the wheel on which so many of us spin. In a sense death has become anonymous, but not in this case. Why? Because Vicenta Flores, Vicky to her friends, had lived for 12 years in Discovery Bay on Hong Kong’s Lantau island – a small community of 16,000 people hemmed in by the sea on one side and a mountain range on the other. It’s where I live. People know each other here, and many people knew Vicky.

Here’s a short video that my wife shot of a candle-lit vigil and walk held for Vicky last night. This is not a community that doesn’t mourn its own. But curiously enough, the South China Morning Post claimed in its print edition this morning that only 50 or 60 people attended. Count them as they walk past – I’m sure you’ll see more.

So the shock of finding that Vicky Flores had died last week really has been palpable. And this isn’t an easily troubled community – it might appear laid back, and it is operated by a resort developer, but it’s home to corporate lawyers, bankers, flight crew and a full gamut of other harried professionals. Not the sort of people who jump at shadows.

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