Men in black steer victims of bus crash away from media

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 October, 2004, 12:00am

Men in black suits yesterday tried to keep the media from talking to victims of Monday's Taiwan bus crash who walked away empty-handed from a meeting with tour organiser Kwan Kin Tours.

The two-hour meeting at the Travel Industry Council's North Point headquarters with a dozen victims of the crash in Jioufen, Taiwan, in which five Hong Kong people died, was called at the council's urging to 'improve communications'. But as victims left the meeting room, at least seven tall men blocked journalists from approaching them.

One pushed a photographer away as they escorted an injured victim from the meeting room and out of the building. The men refused to say why they were outside the meeting.

The council said it did not employ the men. Kwan Kin's general manager Fong Cheuk-yuen said he would 'look into the matter' when asked why the men were there.

Reporters were nevertheless able to talk to one of the victims outside the building when the men in black had left - but a woman intervened to stop the interview.

Describing the meeting as 'useless', Yeung Kang-keung - who said he had several stitches in his leg - said: 'I don't know why they asked us to come. Their words mean nothing. Kwan Kin knows nothing at all.'

Before he could finish speaking he was pulled away by a woman, said by Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung to be a Kwan Kin employee.

Mr Fong said that after taking legal advice Kwan Kin wanted to wait for the investigation report into the crash before making any payouts.

'We're not stalling the compensation process,' he said after the meeting. 'But we want to wait for the investigation report from Taiwan before we decide on the compensation amount.'

He promised payments, in the form of consolation money, would be made by the end of next week. The issue of insurance payments from any claim is expected to be dealt with later.

Mr Fong said the meeting was called after victims and their relatives complained about Kwan Kin's slow response to their inquiries.

Mr Tung said he understood the situation of Kwan Kin, which he believed had decided only at the last minute not to pay compensation at yesterday's meeting. 'As the legal advice stands, paying compensation may imply that you're accepting liability,' he said.

He said he had urged Kwan Kin to call the meeting because he had heard of a 'miscommunication problem' with victims' relatives.