Mother of Hong Kong teen who plunged to her death from apartment jailed for overstaying visa

Herminia Garcia, 53, was sent to prison for a year for outstaying her permit to live in the city. Her partner, British businessman Nick Cousins, 58, was given an eight-month suspended sentence.
Herminia Garcia, 53, was sent to prison for a year for outstaying her permit to live in the city. Her partner, British businessman Nick Cousins, 58, was given an eight-month suspended sentence.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - The Filipina mother of a teenager who plunged to her death from an upmarket Hong Kong apartment was jailed on Friday (Oct 9) for a visa violation that surfaced in the wake of the tragedy.

Herminia Garcia, 53, was sent to prison for a year for outstaying her permit to live in the city, despite the defence seeking mitigation in the wake of the "awful" loss of her daughter.

Her partner, British businessman Nick Cousins, 58, was given an eight-month suspended sentence for helping her to breach her conditions of stay and for failing to register their daughters' births.

In emotional scenes at Eastern Magistrates' Court, Garcia was hugged by her tearful surviving young daughter as she was led away.

Cousins and Garcia had both initially been accused of neglect after their 15-year-old daughter fell 21 storeys from the apartment block in Repulse Bay in April.

But the neglect charge against Garcia was eventually dropped and Cousins was never formally charged after an investigation.

Instead, they were charged with visa violations.

It emerged in court on Friday that Garcia had been married to a husband in the Philippines who would not grant her a divorce.

Her right to stay in Hong Kong had ended in 1994, the court heard.

Garcia had pleaded guilty to "breach of condition to stay" and Cousins pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting her.

He also pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to register the births of their two daughters.

Magistrate So Wai Tak said they were "selfish" for flouting the rules.

"The children, though receiving proper education and care, do not have an identity," he said.

He added that Cousins was given a lighter sentence because Garcia had already overstayed her visa by the time they decided to have a long-term relationship.

Defence lawyer Giles Surman said Garcia had wanted to divorce her husband in the Philippines but he had refused to allow it.

Mr Surman also described Cousins as a "wonderful man".

"He admits he has made a serious mistake - he procrastinated in fixing the problem," Mr Surman told the court.

Cousins stepped down in August as managing director of the Hong Kong office of British multinational Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT), one of the world's leading insurance brokers.

Police at the time of their daughter's death said the teenager had been upset about "daily life issues".

Her younger sister was initially taken to a children's home following the incident, but was shortly released back into her family's care.

There was "no suspicious element" to the tragedy, the police added, but they detained both parents on suspicion of neglect.

Garcia is reported to have been working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong from 1990.