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DH admits shaking baby after derailed holiday plan

18 June 2019

By Vir B. Lumicao
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The Filipina helper pleaded guilty to the offence at West Kowloon Court

A 34-year-old Filipina helper has admitted that she swung her 10-month-old male ward fiercely for several seconds in February out of anger because her employer had reneged on a promise to allow her to go on holiday in the Philippines.

Joan F. Velasquez pleaded guilty today, June 18, in West Kowloon Court to a charge of ill-treating the baby. The mother of three fought back tears as the charge was read to her before Magistrate Ada Yim.

The defendant, who had been out on bail since Mar 12, was ordered taken into custody by Yim pending sentencing on Jul 2.
Velasquez was hired by Lai Shuk-fan in December 2017 to work for her family in their flat at The Bellagio, a residential tower on Castle Peak Road in Tsuen Wan.

Shortly after 5pm on Feb 2 this year, Velasquez was in the sitting room with the baby in her arms when Lai asked her a question from the kitchen. The maid did not answer, causing Lai to reprimand her before returning to the kitchen.

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Two days later, Lai reviewed CCTV footage taken in the living room and saw that after being reprimanded, Velasquez suddenly swung the baby she was carrying fiercely to one side for 10 seconds without securing his neck and his head tilted backwards. Then she swung him right to left, and up and down five times, also without supporting his neck.

The employer immediately confronted Velasquez after watching the CCTV footage, but the defendant denied she had ill-treated the baby, and claimed she was merely playing with him.

The next day, Feb 5, Lai reported the case to the Tsuen Wan police and Velasquez was arrested for common assault. The baby, meanwhile, was sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for medical examination.
Dr Lam Cheuk-san of the hospital’s pediatric ward said in a medical report the baby was admitted to the emergency department for repeated vomiting and suspected shaken baby syndrome.

His findings showed there was no external wound, bruise or evidence of physical injury, and the ophthalmologist assessment was normal without evidence of shaken baby syndrome. The chest and abdomen x-rays were clear, and a CT scan of the head showed no brain injury.

But a pathologist, Dr Foo Ka-chun, opined that the baby’s neck muscles were very weak and offered little resistance to movement of the head.

Taking off from this expert opinion that the baby’s neck muscles were not fully developed, Dr Lam concluded that his being swung fiercely by the maid might lead to possible injuries, including a sprained neck.

It could also cause him to vomit, faint, lose appetite or impair his consciousness. The baby could also suffer from cerebral hemorrhage and bleeding of the retina. In the worst case, the victim could suffer shaken baby syndrome.

At her next court appearance on March 12, Velasquez was granted bail and was told to go back to court on May 7. At the hearing on this date, the charge against her was amended to “ill-treatment by those in charge of a child”.

In mitigation, the defense lawyer said Velasquez, who has two sons aged 10 and 2 and a daughter aged 8, had worked as domestic helper for two years in Kuwait and just over a year with Lai.  She said her client pleaded guilty and was remorseful.

The lawyer also said Lai had allowed Velasquez to go home for a holiday, but cancelled it after the maid had already booked her flight for Feb 13. She admitted she took out her anger on the baby.

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