Minefield tragedy 'concealed'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 January, 2000, 12:00am

A GROUP of former police officers who suffered horrific injuries when they walked into an unmarked minefield in the New Territories 32 years ago are demanding compensation from the British Army.

The men were stationed in the sensitive border area during the 1967 communist riots when they went into a minefield near the Pak Fa Shan police post.

They were never told landmines had been laid there and official records make no mention of the incident.

The men's call for compensation has surfaced because of the recent forced resignation from the force of Chung Kin-wah, 52, who lost the bottom half of his right leg when he stepped on one of the mines.

Former sergeant Chung was the subject of an Independent Commission Against Corruption probe last year into an alleged bribes-for-promotion scam.

He was never charged but after a subsequent internal police investigation was ordered to resign and lost his pension.

His search for compensation - and answers - over the mine incident has received backing from fellow victims Sin Kwok-yuk, 53, a former police constable now living in the United States, and former inspector Edward Stevenson.

Mr Stevenson lost the bottom half of his right leg when he went to rescue his colleagues.

Three other police officers and two British servicemen were also maimed or injured in the incident on December 4, 1967, and lawyers are trying to contact them.

All the police officers kept their jobs.

The men claim the incident was covered-up. Mr Chung said he was never called to give evidence at a British military board of inquiry and despite being paid compensation of $32,000 from the Hong Kong government and various welfare organisations, it was never explained why they were not told about the mines.

'It was a very sensitive time. I was young and could not afford to lose my job in the force, but now I want to know why I had to spend my life like this,' said Mr Chung.

Mr Sin - who suffered serious wounds to his neck, chest and legs - claims he only got $800 compensation but accepted it because he did not want to cause trouble.

'In the 1960s people were lucky to have a permanent job,' he said.

Mr Stevenson, now living in Britain, said: 'It should never have happened. We assumed any mines would be outside the police post area, not inside.' The mines were planted by the British Army when it took over control of the area from police for a period in 1967 amid fears of an invasion. The incident happened after the situation returned to normal and police moved back.

The Sunday Morning Post has established that official records here and in the Public Records Office in Britain make no mention of the incident. Defence Chief of Staff files on the Far East held in Britain contain nothing.

The files are marked 'retained by the department', meaning they remain secret until the Foreign Office decides to release them.

Mr Chung's barrister, Peter Cosgrove, said: 'When we think of landmines we think of Angola or Vietnam but not the New Territories.

'These men were crippled or injured to varying degrees by anti-personnel weapons. These weapons are abhorred around the world today and were no less evil in 1967.

'They have been shabbily treated and the facts have been covered up. It's time for the SAR to look to the British Government for a full explanation and proper compensation.'