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Settlement in Hong Kong case

Harinder Veriah, wife of journalist Martin Jacques, died in Hong Kong in 2000

Posted on 31 March 2010

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority has now agreed to pay a substantial sum in final settlement of the action brought by Martin Jacques and his 11 year-old son Ravi over the death of his wife Harinder Veriah.

Martin Jacques is a Guardian columnist and author of When China Rules the World. He is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. His life was shattered when his wife died in the Ruttonjee Hospital, Hong Kong after she suffered an epileptic fit. An inquest into Hari’s death in Hong Kong recorded a verdict of death by natural causes but the St Pancras coroner, Dr Stephen Chan, recorded an open verdict at an inquest held in London in 2002. Martin has always maintained that his wife received negligent treatment at the Ruttonjee Hospital, largely because of racism.

Hari’s story

Hari, who was a Malaysian of Indian descent, and Martin moved to Hong Kong with their young son in 1998. Hari was a lawyer and at the time of her death was working for the law firm Lovells. As soon as she moved to the city Hari found that she was subject to overt racism from the Chinese population that she had not experienced either in London or Kuala Lumpur.

The Ruttonjee Hospital

After suffering from an epileptic fit on New Year’s Day 2000 Hari was taken to Tang Shiu King Hospital after which she was transferred to the Ruttonjee Hospital where she died after suffering another fit on 2 January. When Martin went to visit her on the evening of January 1st she told Martin that she was “bottom of the pile” here. Despite Martin’s requests for information from doctors at the hospital he was unable to extract any useful information from the duty doctor who merely said that Hari was not his patient and that she was being sent for a chest x-ray and tests. On 2nd January, early in the morning, Martin was called by the hospital to say that Hari had suffered a second fit. She died shortly after this.

At the London inquest into her death the coroner read evidence from Dr Wong Ming-ho of the Ruttonjee Hospital, given at the Hong Kong inquest, that said Ms Veriah had been given Valium after a second fit but had remained unconscious. Two pathologists, one from Hong Kong and one from Britain, could not find anything wrong with Hari, and were unable to give a cause of death. One theory was she may have had a reaction to Valium. Professor Joe Collier of St George's Hospital, Tooting said a drug that could reverse the effects of Valium was not given.

The St Pancras coroner, Dr Stephen Chan, recording an open verdict, said: "There is a question to be addressed as to the level of care in those last 20 minutes and, indeed, the management and level of care given ... in the brief stay in hospital."

When Martin Jacques returned to the UK he eventually managed to get hold of her hospital records. What he read convinced him that Hari suffered a respiratory depression following her first epileptic fit and that she was not monitored or treated properly.

Anti-racist legislation in Hong Kong

The case has received extensive publicity in the UK and in Hong Kong and has helped to expose the ugly truth that racism in Hong Kong is a serious problem. In 2008 the Hong Kong government introduced an anti-racism bill which marked an important milestone in the relationship between the predominantly Chinese population and its minority citizens. "Discrimination, harassment and vilification on the ground of race" is now illegal in Hong Kong although the Hong Kong government is largely exempt from the law’s provisions.

Leigh Day and Martin Jacques

Frances Swaine, partner and head of the human rights department at Leigh Day, has represented Martin for over 10 years as he has pressed for answers about his wife’s death. She welcomes the announcement of the settlement relating to Hari’s tragic and unnecessary death saying:

“This case has been an arduous and demanding one from the start. I am relieved that this settlement means that Martin and his son Ravi can now be released from the pressures that accompany any court case and move on in their lives.

Martin Jacques said:

“The settlement demonstrated that the Hospital Authority was neither willing nor able to defend their treatment of my wife. Hari’s death was entirely unnecessary and utterly avoidable. The hospital succeeded in turning what is a relatively commonplace event in the lives of many into a human catastrophe.”

For more information please contact Frances Swaine on 020 7650 1200.

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