British academic who went missing for weeks confirmed to have been killed in China: Hong Kong police

HONG KONG (REUTERS/AFP) - A 60-year-old British man who went missing for several weeks in late March, was confirmed to have been killed in China, the Hong Kong police said in a statement after being notified by the Chinese authorities.

Mr Hilary St John Bower, who had worked as an English language instructor at the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, had been dead for more than a week by the time he was reported missing on March 30, according to a police statement.

Local media reported that he had been murdered, but the Hong Kong police would confirm only that he had been killed.

"The victim was killed on the evening of March 22 in mainland China," the Hong Kong police said, after receiving notice from their Chinese counterparts.

He was last seen on March 21, the Hong Kong police said, adding that he had crossed from Hong Kong into the mainland.

Local reports said Mr Bower was last spotted at a land border checkpoint.

The police statement included no specifics, however, on how he was killed, a possible motive, or why it had taken so long to confirm Mr Bower's death.

A police source told AFP it was "possibly a murder" but there had been no confirmation from mainland counterparts.

The Hong Kong media reported that Mr Bower had a long-time girlfriend and a son in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, and had often travelled between the two places.

The Chinese Public Security Bureau in Shenzhen said they had no information on the case when contacted by Reuters.

His girlfriend reported him missing at a police station in Hong Kong on March 30, the police statement said.

The Polytechnic University also gave no immediate response to inquiries about Mr Bower.

A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: "We are providing assistance to the family of a British national reported missing in southern China and are urgently seeking further information from local authorities."

The Hong Kong police are now seeking further details from the Chinese authorities and investigations are continuing.

A friend of Mr Bower criticised the police on both sides of the border for their handling of the case.

Mr Richard Charles described them as "shoddy and shambolic", the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

"I find it unbelievable that Hilary's friends and colleagues have had to find out from the media about this. We are in shock and are extremely upset," said Mr Charles.

Mr Charles also said he believed there may be a link between Mr Bower's disappearance and a recent property sale for which Mr Bower was due to receive HK$9 million (S$1.56 million), the SCMP reported.

Mr Bower had taught at the Polytechnic University since 1996, according to his profile on the university website. He had previously taught in China, South Korea, Thailand, Spain and Kuwait.

Murders of foreigners are extremely rare in China, though the murder in 2011 of another British man, Mr Neil Heywood, triggered one of the country's biggest political scandals in decades.

The wife of former top Chinese leader Bo Xilai was later convicted as Heywood's killer, leading to Bo's downfall and sentencing to life in prison in 2013 for corruption.