Case of Pinoy nurse accused of murder shocks community in UK

By Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Apr 03 2014 10:01 AM | Updated as of Apr 04 2014 07:31 PM

Filipino nurse Victorino Chua

MANCHESTER - Filipino nurse Victorino Chua made his first appearance at Manchester Crown Court via a video link from prison on Tuesday, April 1, for the preliminary hearing of charges against him in connection with the alleged murders of three hospital patients in 2011.

Chua, 48, was first arrested in 2012 on suspicion of multiple murders by poisoning at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, where he lived and worked, but was later released on bail.

Two years later, on Friday, March 28, he was rearrested and consequently charged with three counts of murder along with 32 other offences of grievous bodily harm.

At the preliminary hearing at Manchester Crown Court on Tuesday, the prosecution emphasized the “complexity” and “scale” of the case, revealing it involves 20,000 pages of evidence and 600 witnesses.

Chua, who appeared via a video link from Manchester Prison, spoke only to confirm his identity, and to confirm he understood the case details set out at the preliminary hearing.

Local community in shock

Chua is a naturalized British citizen and has been in the UK for over a decade according to media reports. Many Filipinos from the small town of Stockport in Greater Manchester claim to know the man behind the headlines.

ABS-CBN Europe spoke to several Filipinos from the local area, but most of whom refused to comment publicly due to fear of getting involved with the controversial case.

Some of them expressed concerns over the impact of this case on the community, while others empathize with the plight of their fellow countryman and wish to send their moral support.

Susan Wood, former president of Filipino Anglo Club Manchester, said that many Filipinos are in “shock” over the rapid developments of the case, particularly because of Chua’s connection to the Philippines.

“We can’t believe it,” she said. “We’re sad, and maybe a little ashamed, that a fellow Filipino has been involved in such a case. It could be bad for our reputation as a community. Most people think of us as hard-working and very caring.”

But she also want to send her support for Chua, saying: “It’s the first thing we think of as a Filipino, to give moral support. And we have faith in the British justice system, that a man is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”

The owner of a Filipino store in Stockport, Imelda Coe, knew Chua as a regular customer. And like many Filipinos in the local area, she “cannot believe” what she hears in the news.

“He comes here maybe twice a month,” she said. “He buys dried fish, sandwich fillings, and things like that. The last time I saw him, a few weeks ago, he asked about renting a room in the area. So I put him in touch with a local landlady. Then after that, I just saw him on TV.”

Coe introduced Chua to Myrna Fox, a retail worker who also lets a room in the house she shares with her teenage son. She told ABS-CBN Europe of her initial hesitation to take on the accused nurse as a tenant, adding she was also shocked by the case.

“I’m a bit reluctant because of the news, but then again I thought to myself, innocent until proven guilty. So I thought as a Christian and as a fellow countryman I need to help him,” she said.

Fox eventually agreed to let a room to Chua for a month after meeting him in person, but he didn’t make the move due to his rearrest last week. The landlady revealed that a few days after speaking to Chua, the police visited her property to confirm details of her arrangements with the suspect.

“They came here, the police, a lady and a man,” she recalled. “They asked about the rental agreement, and if I was aware of the case. They also gave me their names and numbers in case something bad happens. But since then, [Chua] never came.”

The Filipina landlady, who has been in the UK since 1992, also added that a few days after Chua’s rearrest, which made national headlines, her front door was “smashed” by an unknown perpetrator.

“Suddenly in the evening, somebody smashed my front door. We lived here for 17 years and we’ve never been broken into or harassed like that. I don’t know if it’s coincidence,” she said.

Reputation of Filipino nurses

For Marivic Azarias, a Filipino nurse from a private hospital near Manchester, the case of Chua has been “traumatic” and “shocking”.

“I feel for him,” she said. “It’s quite a big news here [in the UK], and especially here in northwest England, where there are only few Filipinos. When I heard it on Sky News I felt sad because he is a kababayan.”

As a fellow nurse, however, she believes the case should not affect Filipinos in the profession due to the “good reputation” they have already built in the country.

Nevertheless, the Philippine Nurses Association in UK (PNA-UK), which claims to have approximately a thousand members, has issued a statement condemning any criminal acts against patients.

“We unconditionally condemn such acts and would like to reiterate the high quality of nursing care provided for by Filipino nurses as evidenced in and experienced by the greater public and by those employed in the healthcare sector,” said Michael Duque, President of PNA-UK.

He added: “This exceptional incident has fueled an already sensitive atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion and caution which only served to further divide the local community to which hundreds of Filipinos and other nationals live to co-exist.”

Due process in British courts

In light of the high profile case against Chua, the Philippine Embassy in London also issued a statement commending the work of Filipino health workers in the UK.

“Filipino nurses have excellent reputation and track record in the UK. The case of Mr. Chua is an isolated incident and does not reflect the quality of the level of training of Filipino nurses in the UK. The Embassy also continuously receives news of the excellence of the quality of work of Filipino nurses and health workers in the United Kingdom,” the statement said.

The embassy also emphasized that while Chua received his training as a nurse in the Philippines, he is now a naturalized British citizen and “will receive due process in the British courts for the crimes he allegedly committed.”

Chua is expected to enter a plea on July 4, while the trial is expected to commence a few months later in January 2015, with a likely duration of three to four months.