NEWCASTLE (England), Aug 13 (The Straits Times/ANN): A 51-year-old Singaporean was handed a life sentence on Friday (Aug 12) evening after pleading guilty to smothering his wife to death with a pillow while they were on holiday in Britain.
Judge Paul Sloan told Fong Soong Hert that he must serve 12½ years in a British prison before the possibility of parole. His time spent in custody - 249 days - will be taken into account.
In his closing remarks, Judge Sloan said the tragic incident was "utterly and completely out of character" and that he had no doubt that Fong is "genuinely remorseful" for his actions.
Fong killed his 51-year-old wife, Madam Pek Ying Ling, on Dec 6 last year at the County Aparthotel in Newcastle.
He had initially pleaded guilty to manslaughter but denied the charge of murder.
His trial ended abruptly on Tuesday, the fifth day of the hearing, when he changed his plea to guilty of murder.
The decision came after his attorneys reviewed the evidence and concluded that their original planned defence of "diminished responsibility" was unsustainable.
At the start of Fong's sentencing on Friday morning, his son Aloysius read a moving statement on behalf of his brothers and family in which they pledged ongoing support for their father.
The statement began by remembering their mother, Madam Pek, who had brought emotional and financial stability to the family and was a source of love and inspiration.
She encouraged her family to travel, and shared her passion for new places and cultures, often posting photos of her experiences online for friends and family to see, said Aloysius Fong.
"All of my family is heartbroken and miss her every day," he told the court, adding that he and his brothers are devastated by her death and continue to grieve.
He said the family believes that if Fong had not had a serious fall in Scotland, causing him to suffer from severe pain and headaches, that they would not be "in this situation".
Fong described his parents as "inseparable", saying they adored each other, and that the loss of their mother was a "family tragedy".
"Our dad will always be a part of our future," he told the room, and stressed that "nothing will bring our mum back", before ending by saying they respected the decision of the court.
The couple had been on a months-long holiday in Dubai and Europe, and had travelled from Scotland to Newcastle on Dec 3 to meet up with their son, Alonzo.
Fong had been on several medications to help manage the severe pain from the fall, telling the court: "I felt like my whole body was in pain, my bones would shatter, my head would explode with pain." He also had prescription medication for anxiety, depression and to help him sleep.
On Dec 5, he collapsed at their hotel and had to seek treatment at a hospital.
Upon their return to the hotel, the couple were despondent and talked about changing their travel plans, the court heard. Fong said he could not remember whether it led to a verbal argument, and said he realised his wife was dead only the next morning.
Crown prosecutor Peter Makepeace told the judge that there were two aggravating factors which should lead to a lengthier time before any chance of parole.
The first was the mental and physical suffering of the victim before her death, he said.
The pathologist report said Fong was likely to have knelt on his wife's shoulders to restrain her.
He would have to have held the pillow on her face for several minutes to render her unconscious and then kill her. She was awake and would have tried to struggle.
Makepeace added that it was an act of domestic violence which made the offence more serious, since it was a violation of the trust and security between family members.
He said a mitigating factor was that Fong was in such pain that it was likely to have had an impact on his actions.
In his mitigation, defence lawyer Toby Hebworth described Fong as a man who was "devastated, broken", having killed not just his wife but also his sons' mother.
He said that before the incident, the Fongs were a "close, happy, loving family with two parents devoted to each other and their three sons".
Hebworth said that Fong had no real recollection of what had occurred, and suggested he had intended only to make his wife stop talking and not cause her death.
Before handing down his sentence, Judge Sloan said an offence of domestic violence often follows a history of violence and controlling and abusive behaviour which a sentence should reflect.
However, this case "could not be further removed from the type of situation I just described", said the judge.
He said Fong was a loving and devoted husband, as well as a doting father, whose sons were testimony to the stable and loving environment the couple had provided.
He said that while Fong's pain and exhaustion did not excuse his actions, it does perhaps shed some "considerable light" on why a loving, caring, protective husband could behave so "utterly and completely out of character".
After the sentence was handed down, Detective Chief Inspector Matt Steel thanked the couple's sons for the composure and dignity they had shown, and said the police would continue to support them in any way they could.
He added: "We want to be clear that we will absolutely not tolerate domestic abuse or violence in any form. When incidents of this nature do occur, we are committed to bringing those responsible to justice." - The Straits Times/ANN