Tear-gas victims win twin apology

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 March, 1997, 12:00am

Senior Correctional Services and police officers apologised yesterday after it was confirmed their tear-gas drills last month at Castle Peak Firing Range left dozens of people nearby unwell.

Both forces agreed to suspend tear-gas drills at the site until a review of the use of the range was completed.

While some Yuen Long District Board members said the victims should be compensated, the forces said any compensation would have to be decided by the Legal Department.

The board members also asked that the Environmental Protection Department set up a taskforce to find out the causes of five other gas incidents in the area since March last year.

The department's investigation report released yesterday found the air samples collected during the gas attack around 2 pm on February 26 in Tin Shui Wai contained tear-gas.

About 10,000 people were evacuated from the area while 42 pupils and a 50-year-old man suffering from eye, nose and throat irritation were sent to hospital for treatment.

Dozens of villagers nearby also suffered similar symptoms.

The Police Tactical Unit fired 243 rounds of tear-gas between 9.30 am and 12.30 pm at the range - about 5.5 kilometres southwest of Tin Shui Wai.

The Correctional Services Department fired 610 rounds of tear-gas between 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm during their anti-riot drill.

The Royal Observatory found that at 1.30 pm the wind was blowing southwest at a speed of 12 km/h.

Commissioner of Correctional Services Raymond Lai Ming-kee said he had personally written to the eight schools whose pupils were affected by the tear-gas, expressing deep regret over the incident.

'We regret the anguish and distress inadvertently caused as a result of our action at the firing range,' Mr Lai said.

He said residents nearby could be assured that all precautionary measures would be taken before the next exercise took place.

Commandant of the Police Tactical Unit Chief Superintendent Yam Tat-wing said: 'We would like to offer an apology and express our regret to the people affected by the tear-gas.' District board member Chow Wing-kan said he doubted the need to fire more than 800 rounds of tear-gas at a cost of at least $400,000, but both forces said the quantity was needed for an effective drill.