Trial over deadly building collapse

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am


A repairman hired to tear down structures in an ageing To Kwa Wan tenement block did not use any stabilising structures on the day of its deadly collapse, although he had proposed buying such items, a court heard yesterday.

Chu Wai-wing (pictured), 74, had started work to remove an external wall and an illegal structure on the ground floor of 45J Ma Tau Wai Road on January 29, 2010, when the building collapsed, killing four people.

Chu is charged under the Buildings Ordinance with carrying out work likely to cause injury to people and damage to property. He faces up to three years in prison and a HK$1 million fine.

He is the only person facing criminal prosecution after the Coroner's Court found last year that the deaths were accidental and his role in the tragedy was minor.

Chu had been hired by the tenement's owner, Chak Oi-luen, to do repairs on the 55-year-old block since 2005, Kowloon City Court heard.

He had long noticed faults such as rotting columns and concrete peeling off ceilings, said prosecutor Bruce Tse Chee-ho, for the Buildings Department.

Hired to tear down an illegal structure in January 2010, Chu proposed buying I-shaped steel bars to support the building during his work, according to a quotation invoice he issued to Chak.

'But when the defendant started work, and even when the block was collapsing, no such steel bars had been sent to the scene,' Tse said.

An expert witness for the prosecution would testify that the tenement, although lacking in repairs, had been stable. 'If the defendant had done some preventive work properly, such as installing the steel bars, the block's factor of safety would not have dropped to an unacceptable level.'

Outside court, Chu said he was not worried. 'I was only clearing the scene and had not started work yet.'

The trial is due to last 20 days with the prosecution calling 22 witnesses, including three buildings officers, six former tenants and a building expert. The defence will also call an expert.

Magistrate Abu Bakar bin Wahab said the prosecution must prove that someone who could reasonably carry out demolition work would agree that Chu's behaviour was likely to cause injury and damage. He also said the defence should not argue that Chu had been ignorant of the consequences.

At an inquiry last year, Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu said no one should be held criminally responsible. Chan agreed with two expert witnesses that Chu had played only a minor role, describing his action as 'the last straw that broke the camel's back'. He also said both the owner and buildings officials had at least done something, although inadequate, to address the building's problems.