Case of fatal inaction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 February, 1993, 12:00am

DO the police consider that a successful prosecution is a higher priority than the protection of public safety? That is the question, posed in this column on Monday, which remained unanswered by the statement issued by the force's public relations bureau on the road-racing incident which cost two lives at the weekend. In seeking to defend the conduct of their officers, the statement made a number of factual points which are not in dispute, and were correctly stated in our news reports.

Where we part company from the police is on fundamental matters of opinion. We stick to our view that it is not in the public interest to allow two four-tonne trucks and four cars to travel at high speed around the centre of Kowloon for 30 minutes without intervening.

A squad of 40 police, the great majority in plain clothes, watched while this spectacle unfolded in front of cheering crowds. All of this took place shortly after 2am in one of Hongkong's busiest tourist districts.

In the hope of securing a prosecution on more serious charges, the police refrained from pulling up the vehicles, thus revealing their presence, but opted instead to carry on timing and video-recording them from secret vantage points as they completed several circuits. That was a calculated risk which backfired badly, in that a truck careered into the spectators, with tragic results.

People who stand on street corners watching such events are also taking a risk, but this newspaper will take a lot of persuading that the police are not failing in their duty if they choose not to protect foolish members of the public from obvious danger.

By waiting to collect further evidence, the police made a misjudgement. They are not to blame for the deaths and injuries, but they could have acted to prevent them happening.

We believe that the public expects the police not to stand by and watch when a crime is being committed, even if it is only speeding or dangerous driving. Better that than having to consider a possible case of manslaughter.