Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The End
"So your reason for living and working here is over?'' a newsroom wag just cracked. Yes, the Annie Pang inquest is over. Here's the main story for anyone out there with insominia problems. Me? I think a stiff drink or four is in order, but I've no one to share and shmooze with about it. Hong Kong may be "Asia's World City" but at heart it's just another lonely town. Just ask Annie.
Accidental death or misadventure.
After deliberating for about four and a half hours Tuesday that's how Annie Pang died, according to the four woman, one man jury who heard evidence in the coroner's inquest which consumed 19 court days.
Whether she may have overdosed on sleeping pills (an empty blister pack of 100 was found on top of the trash and below her detached skull in her bedroom rubbish bin) or choked to death while vomiting or met her end after 31 years through some other accidental way, will never be clear.
Coroner Colin Mackintosh had earlier said that the law will only allow the jury to decide that the circumstances of Pang's death in the summer of 1995 in a Waterloo Road flat owned by her ex-lover lawyer John Fang were due to ``natural causes, accident or misadventure,'' or to render an ``open verdict'' -- which included all possibilities, including murder and suicide, but no single, definitive cause.
He had ruled out murder and suicide as specific causes due to insufficient evidence during the inquest which last seven days longer than originally scheduled.
Pang's family which had enlisted the pro bono services of solicitor and former Hong Kong film starlet Mary Jean Reimer -- who acted under the name Yung Ching-ching in 1980s epics such as Little Dragon Maiden and Holy Flame of the Martial World -- was unhappy with the verdict. In a post-verdict press conference two sisters, Pang Ngor Vee and Pang Po-yuk said they and their mother vowed to continue pressing for more information in a case that was officially closed in March 2001 and first came to lurid light in October 1999 when Pang's decapitated skeletal remains were found in a Yau Ma Tei apartment owned by Fang, brother of former chief secretary of administration Anson Chan.
It was determined by a pathologist that Pang lost her head after the tissues attaching it to her shoulders decayed after she died in about July 1995 alone, unmissed and slumped against a pink litter bin in a messy flat so small that it didn't contain a proper kitchen -- only a gas burner atop a washing machine in the bathroom.
Reimer repeatedly and unsuccessfully ``chased shadows,'' in the words of Mackintosh, in often wildly speculative attempts to tie Fang and others in Pang's sad, sordid world of drug addicts and small-time boyfriends to her death.Mackintosh patiently reined Reimer in daily and even occasionally rephrased her questions for her in an attempt to steer the non-criminal proceedings toward what he called an ``open and thorough'' result.
``No one is on trial, facing charges or being condemned, directly or indirectly,'' Mackintosh said during his instructions to the jury.
Pang's sisters and mother however clung to their belief that Annie -- from whom they were largely estranged during the last years of her life -- was not the heavily indebted, sexually promiscuous, near-suicidal drug and gambling addict described in court. They have maintained that she met her end at the behest of Fang whom they also believed tried to cover up his relationship with her following her death.
Supported by legislator Leung Yiu-chung at the press conference, the sisters repeated points that Reimer had tried to use as legal launching pads, including why a discarded condom found in the infamous litter bin wasn't tested for DNA, why a set of keys photographed by police at the flat were lost by police and minor inconsistencies in witnesses' memories who often tried to recall events and details stretching back more than 11 years.
``Words can't express how I feel at the moment,'' Pang Ngor Vee, Annie's elder sister, said. ``The verdict does not reflect the truth.''
It wasn't all harsh words, however. In a back-handed compliment, the sisters and Leung said the inquest was ``useful to reveal the extent of police investigation inadequacies'' and that it gave them more leads to pursue.
Pang's sisters reopened the case with a petition to the police and the Legislative Council in June 2005, which led to another inquiry. At the time they said they feared for their safety as a result of reopening the case. In September 2005, the coroner's office and the police concluded again that a public inquest was unnecessary. However Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross SC made the first application in the history of the SAR for the Court of First Instance to order an inquest because ``it is in the public interest that evidence is presented and tested in light of suspicious circumstances.''
Pang's love affair with the married, older Fang began when she was about 19. The apartment in which she died was one of several he installed her in throughout their tumultuous relationship. Athough their relationship declined and she took a series of boyfriends, Fang also transferred more than HK$58,000 to an account accessible to Pang a few months before her estimated time of death in mid-July, 1995.
While Mackintosh said that the inquest had ``robbed [Pang] of her dignity'' he told jurors that he was ``sure that you will join me in expressing condolences to the family of Annie Pang.''
But even with an official cause of death to consider there was uncertainity as to how to formally describe Pang's profession at the time of her death. Media reports referred to her as a model, though except for many photographs it appeared that her catwalk career was limited at best.
Reimer once described her as ``quite wealthy'' and emphasized Pang's also brief stints as an insurance agent and stock and property speculator. There was also Annie Pang the pet store owner and dog breeder. Tax correspondence found in her deserted, dusty flat said she was unemployed.
``Choose whatever you think is appropriate,'' Mackintosh told the jury.
In the end, aspiring model, dog breeder, insurance agent and jilted lover of John Fang, Annie Pang Chor-ying, date of birth 25 November 1965, who died due to accident or misadventure at flat 1-A, 15th floor, Wah-Tak building, Kowloon, on or about July 1995 was listed as ``unemployed.''
Man, British Politics suck.
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