50 held in triad face-off at mortuary

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2005, 12:00am

Rival gangsters were preparing to fight for the right to prey on grieving relatives, say police

Police arrested 50 men yesterday as two suspected triad gangs massed at a new mortuary, ready to fight for the right to prey on grieving relatives.

The men, suspected to belong to rival factions of the Wo Shing Wo triad society, were caught at the main entrance and in the car park of the public mortuary in Kwai Chung at about 9.30 am.

Police said the gangs were believed to have arrived for a showdown over which would control the lucrative trade of touting for funeral business. They were arrested before trouble broke out, a detective said.

The mortuary in Kwa Hei Street, which was partly opened in July - two months early - because of a pile-up of bodies at other mortuaries, went into full operation yesterday.

At the same time the Kowloon Public Mortuary in Hunghom, which is only to be used as a back-up in future, was emptied.

Police said one of the gangs had been brought in by an alleged triad-run agency that had been soliciting funeral business at the Kowloon Mortuary and wanted to do the same thing at the new facility. 'Another gang, which is active in the Kwai Chung district, was trying to grab their share of the cake,' a police source said.

Acting Superintendent Ng Kwok-keung, of the New Territories South regional crime unit, said police intelligence officers had discovered the two gangs were likely to clash.

About 60 anti-triad officers were sent to the mortuary about 7am, two hours before it was due to open.

Officers made the arrests shortly after the gangs arrived by taxis and private car at 9.30am. The suspects were arrested for unlawful assembly.

'We will not tolerate any triad-related activities. Our uniformed officers and detectives will be present at the new mortuary to monitor the situation and take enforcement action if necessary,' Mr Ng said.

Touting is big business at mortuaries. Every weekday morning, agents from various companies gather to find clients when relatives of the dead come to identify corpses. They arrange funeral parlours, offer ritual ceremonies for relatives of the dead and help them buy coffins and flowers.

Sources said triads had been attracted to the business because of the big profits involved.

The Department of Health said that with the opening of the mortuary, which has space for 220 bodies, the Hunghom facility, which can hold 72, would be reserved for back-up use.

There were 102 bodies yesterday at the new $160 million mortuary, which has a special room for keeping decomposed bodies and two autopsy rooms.

Last night the 50 triad suspects were still being held for questioning and no charges had been laid.