FOR most parents whose lives are irreparably blighted by the murder of their child, forgiving the killer and helping to secure his release from prison would almost certainly be the last thing on their minds as they seek to overcome their loss.
But the family of a Scottish schoolboy, murdered in Hong Kong almost two decades ago, have spoken out for the first time about how they not only forgave their son’s killer but wrote to the Hong Kong authorities requesting he be granted his freedom.
Hong Kong justice officials confirmed last night that Won Sam-lung, a former cook, who took part in the brutal murders of expatriate teenagers Kenneth McBride and Nicola Myers in 1985, and the only one who pleaded guilty to the crimes, had been released from prison after 19 years in custody and planned to contact the families of the victims to apologise personally for the pain and suffering he had caused them.
The murders of the promising school pupils at an isolated Hong Kong beauty spot known as Braemar Hill, remain one of the most disturbing crimes in the history of the former British colony.
The two teenagers died after they were abducted, tortured, and Ms Myers raped, by a gang of five local youths as they studied for their exams.
The ferocity of the attack was such that it later emerged that Ms Myers had suffered more than 500 blows to her body during a sexual assault and that more than 100 injuries were inflicted on Mr McBride as he died.
Won Sam-lung, who was only 16 at the time of the murders, walked out of Stanley Prison in Hong Kong yesterday morning after becoming the first of the gang to be set free, claiming he felt "enormous sorrow" and wanted to tell the families how sorry he was.
The killer, who confessed to his role in the gruesome murders, was originally sentenced to be "detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure" for at least 27 years in September 1985, but following a change in Hong Kong’s law Kenneth McBride’s father wrote to the chief executive of the Hong Kong special administrative regional government asking that he be forgiven.
Speaking to The Scotsman last night Kenneth McBride’s parents, who after 20 years in Hong Kong now live near Inverness, revealed that, although they had learned to forgive over their son’s murder, they would be unwilling to meet his killer.
Hugh McBride, an engineer, said: "My wife and I were devastated by our son’s and Nicola’s deaths. We miss them every moment of every day. They live on in our hearts and the grief we feel over their suffering and deaths is part of us, and will be with us always. We have never sought revenge for their deaths, nor have we ever believed in the death penalty."
Mr McBride also showed remarkable forgiveness for his child’s killers. He added: "Although in 1986 the death sentence was passed on three men, we knew that this would be commuted to life imprisonment, and we considered this appropriate. We also considered appropriate the sentence passed on the two who were then under age. We always hoped that all five would live long enough to regret the magnitude of the evil they had done, and to regret their deeds.
"But we would go further than that. We believe in mercy and forgiveness, and we believe that those who understand and regret their evil actions, and seek forgiveness, should be forgiven.
"We believe that Won Sam- lung does understand and regret his actions. We hope that he will live the rest of his life in peace, quietly and constructively, with respect for all his fellow men and women."
Speaking after his release yesterday, Won Sam-lung said he deserved his punishment and had learned a bitter lesson after losing his freedom for so long. He said: "I have brought them enormous sorrow and I know that, in my whole life, I can never compensate them for what they have lost. I’m sorry for them. I’m also thankful for their forgiveness and mercy."
The killer also admitted that he once contemplated suicide while in prison - claiming he had recurring nightmares of the murders- but that these ceased after Mr McBride had written to request his release, he added: "I found it hard to understand being forgiven. It shocked me, but it also told me that love can change a person."
Chris Forse, a former teacher of both Kenneth McBride and Nicola Myers, urged the wider Hong Kong community not to seek reprisals against the convicted killer.
Mr Forse, who has been deputy principal of Island School since 1989, had just begun teaching there when the murders took place.
He said: "When I was first told about the murders I couldn’t really accept what I heard, or even continue with the telephone conversation, that’s what I do remember, putting the phone down and saying ‘sorry I can’t deal with it.’ Ultimately, those in prison for a long period for crimes committed when they were very young should, at some stage, have their cases reviewed."
Of the four other people arrested and convicted for the murders in 1985 three, aged between 20 and 25 at the time, were sentenced to death but this was changed to life imprisonment. They remain in prison.
Another of the killers, Cheung Yau-hang who was 16 at the time, was also sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure and is still in jail. All four are expected to be released in the next three years.