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Former British marine accused of spying for Hong Kong found dead in U.K. park by passerby

New Hong Kong law cracks down on dissent
Hong Kong passes new security law to crack down on dissent 04:36

A former member of the U.K.'s Royal Marines who was charged with assisting Hong Kong authorities with gathering intelligence in the United Kingdom has died in unexplained circumstances, British police said Tuesday.

Matthew Trickett, 37, was one of three men charged earlier this month with agreeing to engage in information gathering, surveillance and acts of deception that were likely to materially assist the Hong Kong intelligence service from late 2023 to May 2. Prosecutors also alleged that the men forced entry into a U.K. residential address on May 1.

The men had all been bailed and were next due to appear at London's Central Criminal Court for a hearing on Friday. They haven't yet entered pleas.

Thames Valley Police said Trickett was found dead in a park in Maidenhead, west of London, on Sunday afternoon after a report from a member of the public. The police said an investigation was ongoing into the "unexplained death."

Hong Kong spies court case
Police are seen on May 21, 2024, next to a forensics tent in Maidenhead, England, where Matthew Trickett was found dead. He had been accused of assisting the Hong Kong intelligence service.  Jonathan Brady/PA Images/Getty

"His family have been informed and they are being supported by officers," police said in a statement. "We would kindly ask that their privacy is respected at this difficult time."  

British media reports said Trickett was formerly a Royal Marine. He was also formerly employed by the U.K. Border Force at Heathrow Airport, before joining Home Office Immigration Enforcement on February 21, 2024, the U.K.'s PA news agency reported. He was also the director of MTR Consultancy, a security firm formed in April 2021.

He was charged along with Chi Leung (Peter) Wai, 38, and Chung Biu Yuen, 63. The men appeared at a brief court hearing to confirm their identities on May 13.

The three were charged with assisting a foreign intelligence service and with foreign interference, in violation of the 2023 National Security Act.

Pictures of Chi Leung Wai, Chung Biu Yuen, and Matthew
Pictures of Chi Leung Wai, Chung Biu Yuen, and Matthew Trickett, the men charged with alleged spying, are seen during a demonstration outside the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London. Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The act came into force in December and is designed to bolster U.K. national security against "hostile activity" targeting the country's democratic institutions, economy and values.

Police said earlier the "foreign intelligence service" in question was Hong Kong's.

Hong Kong authorities have confirmed that Yuen was the office manager of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London.

Trickett's lawyer, Julian Hayes, said he was "shocked" at Tuesday's news and was supporting Trickett's family. He declined to comment, because investigations were ongoing.

A police cordon remained in place in Grenfell Park in Maidenhead late Tuesday, with several officers stationed next to a black forensics tent close to a playground.

"Groundless and slanderous" accusations

Chinese authorities in both the U.K. and Hong Kong have decried the charges, saying they were the latest in a series of "groundless and slanderous" accusations by U.K. government authorities against China.

Hong Kong's government demanded that the U.K. provide full details on the allegations and protect the rights of the office manager of the trade office.

The spying charges came amid simmering tensions between Britain and China. U.K. officials have been increasingly vocal in warning about security threats from Beijing, and recently accused China of being behind a string of cyberespionage operations targeting politicians and Britain's election watchdog.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said Britain is facing an increasingly dangerous future because of threats from an "axis of authoritarian states," including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

In a separate and ongoing court case, two men, including a parliamentary researcher, were recently charged with spying for China. Christopher Cash and Christopher Berry were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act by providing information or documents that could be "useful to an enemy" — China — and "prejudicial to the safety or interests" of the U.K. between late 2021 and February 2023.

Hong Kong passes new security law to crack down on dissent 04:36

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese control as a semiautonomous territory in 1997. More than 100,000 Hong Kongers have moved to the U.K. since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law triggered by the huge anti-government protests in the city in 2019. Britain's government has established a fast-track immigration route for the migrants, many of whom want to settle in the U.K. because of dwindling civil liberties in their home city.

Rights groups have warned that Hong Kongers who have moved to Britain continue to face "transnational repression" by supporters of the Chinese government.

AFP contributed to this report.

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