Case four: Shaowei He

Shaowei He’s body was found in the yard at the back of the Kings Chef Chinese takeaway in Rotherham on the morning of 23 March 2006. The ambulance service had been called by her husband Lun Xi Tan who said there was a body in the garden. When they arrived, the ambulance service staff found that rigor mortis had already set in. They also found Su Hua Liu, Tan’s pregnant girlfriend, upstairs with a superficial and self-inflicted knife wound to her wrist.

What happened

Shaowei He was around 25-years-old at the time of her death. Acquaintances described her as ‘childlike’. From the evidence of those who knew her, she appears to have had a learning difficulty although the level of her impairment was never formally assessed. She came to this country from China in March 2005 having been given leave to enter the UK as Tan’s spouse in January 2005.

A post-mortem established that Shaowei He had extensive bruising all over her body; old knife wounds to her hands which were probably defensive injuries; and a deep stab wound to her right elbow which had clearly never received medical attention and showed signs of infection. Police found evidence that she was being made to sleep in an outside store. They also found copper piping, a broken broom and a piece of wood with nails embedded into it which had all been used to beat Shaowei He. According to the police case summary, ‘her injuries can only be described as horrific and clearly this woman had been tortured’. The cause of death was haemorrhage and shock due to multiple blunt traumas.

Lun Xi Tan pleaded guilty to causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult and was sentenced to six years. Su Hua Liu was charged with murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and grievous bodily harm. She was sentenced to 14 years

The response

Shaowei He had limited contact with public authorities following her arrival from China on 21 February 2006. Two environmental health officers paid a routine visit to the takeaway and noticed that Shaowei He had burns on her hands and a badly bruised eye. The injuries were ‘severe enough that both discussed the matter after they left the premises’ but did not raise the matter with anyone. This suggests that they lacked a clear understanding of what action they could or should take, for example making a safeguarding referral.

Lun Xi Tan’s former wife, who left him in April 2005, said that that he had been violent towards her from time to time. She had met Shaowei He at the takeaway but was not allowed to speak to her other than to show her how to help in the kitchen. On the day she moved out, the girlfriend Su Hua Liu moved in.

Other employees at the takeaway said that on her arrival in the UK Shaowei He had been happy and had taken pride in her appearance. However, from February 2006 onwards they began to notice bruising and other injuries. Her hands and face were swollen (probably as a result of bleeding into the tissue). On one occasion she had her head wrapped in a tea towel and was bleeding but her husband said that she had fallen over and hit her head on the toilet. Employees raised concerns with her husband on a number of occasions but did not contact the police or social services.

Following Shaowei He’s death, a number of neighbours also reported that they had witnessed her being treated badly and having black eyes and other injuries.

Prosecution

When arrested, Lun Xi Tan claimed that he had married Shaowei He in China but that when they arrived in England she said she wanted a divorce. He said it had cost him £10,000 to bring Shaowei He to England and she agreed to work for two years with no wages to pay him back. He said that his girlfriend, Su Hua Liu, was the aggressor and when asked why he hadn’t intervened to stop severe beatings which he’d witnessed, he said that she had a crazy temper and that he didn’t want to physically intervene because he didn’t want to harm his unborn child.

When Su Hua Liu was interviewed she confirmed hitting Shaowei He on a number of occasions with various implements. She claims that she only did so after Shaowei He had hit her in the stomach after finding out about her pregnancy. However the midwives and doctors treating Su Hua Liu during her pregnancy said that she had made no reference to being assaulted until after she was arrested in connection with Shaowei He’s death.

Su Hua Liu was charged with murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and also guilty to a charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm. She was sentenced to nine years for manslaughter and a concurrent five years for Grievous Bodily Harm. Lun Xi Tan pleaded guilty to causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable person (an offence created by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004). A ‘not guilty’ verdict was entered against the charge of manslaughter against Lun Xi Tan on the direction of the judge. He was sentenced to six years.

They appealed against the sentences. The Court of Appeal said the applications to appeal ‘lack any scintilla of merit and are refused’. The Court of Appeal judgment said the sentences were ‘richly deserved’ and ‘the facts of the case must turn the stomach of any humane person’. The case was not prosecuted as a disability hate crime.

There has been a general lack of recognition and recording of disability-related harassment by South Yorkshire police. In 2009, only four disability-related hate crimes were recorded by South Yorkshire police. The Chief constable, Meredydd Hughes, acknowledged that many incidents could be going unrecorded. He said that disability-related crime had traditionally not been considered a priority, although this was beginning to change: ‘within the police in South Yorkshire, the single biggest diversity issue is about racially motivated crime. Against that, disability-related crime is virtually invisible.’

Review process

 No serious case review was undertaken in this case so the agencies involved did not take the opportunity to identify what lessons could be learned from Shaowei He's death.

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