Mum on neglect charge over girl's death gets bail

HONG KONG - The Philippine mother of a teenager who plunged to her death from an upmarket Hong Kong apartment was released on bail yesterday after being charged with neglect, as her lawyer told of the "unravelling" of their happy family life.

Herminia Garcia emerged from court with her British partner, businessman Nick Cousins, who was also arrested after the 15-year-old's fatal 21-storey fall early on Tuesday morning.

Although police said there was "no suspicious element" to the tragedy, they detained the teenager's parents on suspicion of "ill-treatment or neglect of a child or a young person".

Cousins, 58, is managing director of the Hong Kong office of British multinational Jardine Lloyd Thompson, one of the world's leading insurance brokers.

He is on bail and has not been charged with any offence, while Garcia, who goes by the name Grace, was charged with neglect. The 53-year-old was also charged with overstaying her visa, while Cousins is being investigated for aiding or abetting the overstay. The couple are not married.

Garcia is a former domestic helper, according to the local media. The couple also have a younger daughter.

The charge sheet said that Garcia's treatment of an unnamed 14-year-old "Child X" was likely to cause "unnecessary suffering".

Garcia's lawyer, Christopher Morley, told the court how Garcia had lived a "happy normal life with her de facto husband" before her daughter's death, which led to the "unravelling situation" for the family.

"This woman is grieving from the loss of her beloved daughter. If she is remanded in custody, she will be denied the support of her family," he said.

Mr Morley also countered local media reports that the teenager and her younger sister had never been to school, saying that they had "received a proper education" at what he described as a learning centre.

The South China Morning Post reported that the girls' births had never been registered, despite attempts by the immigration department to track them.

The younger sister was initially taken to a children's home, and the police are seeking a protection order for her. She was released back into her family's care late on Wednesday.

Garcia had worked as a domestic helper in Hong Kong from 1990 and began living with Cousins in 1994, the newspaper said.