Hawker dies after river leap to avoid raid

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am

Witnesses say officers did not help soon enough; food and hygiene chief orders probe

An elderly hawker drowned yesterday after jumping into a 50-metre-wide river while fleeing a raid by hawker-control officers.

The death of Lo Kong-ching, 65, in Tin Shui Wai brought renewed calls for a review of Food and Environmental Hygiene Department guidelines for such raids.

It also sparked a probe into accusations that the officers had not offered immediate help to the victim, who was pulled unconscious from the river almost two hours after he jumped in.

Four officers launched the raid at about 9am on a group of about a dozen hawkers outside Tin Yan Estate.

Lo, who was selling Chinese herbs, fled when he saw the officers and jumped a railing into the river to swim to the other side, witnesses said. 'He was struggling to swim as fast as he could, but suddenly his head could not be seen,' said one witness, identified only as Mr Law. 'Some people asked the officers to call police, but one of them said it was unnecessary.'

Firefighters and divers were later called. Lo was pronounced dead at 10.53am at Tuen Mun Hospital.

Relatives said Lo, a father of seven, had been selling herbs for two to three years and had been fined for illegal hawking before.

Son Lo Kai-wan said after a ritual at the scene yesterday afternoon that the family would 'pin down the one responsible'.

'Is enforcement of the law more important than saving a life? Is my father's life so worthless in their eyes? Is there not a guideline telling them to save people at risk?' a tearful Mr Lo asked. 'My father just wanted to kill time and make a little extra spending money. He was not a wanted fugitive. How could the officers be so inhumane?'

Food and Environmental Hygiene Director Gregory Leung Wing-lup extended condolences to Lo's family and said he had ordered an investigation. He also appealed for witnesses to contact the department to assist in the investigation, which he promised to make public on completion.

He stressed that safety had been the department's top priority. 'The existing guidelines put a lot of emphasis on safety,' Mr Leung said. 'While we put emphasis on safety, what happens will depend on circumstances and how the other party reacts.'

His department was hit by a storm of criticism in March after an anti-hawking operation in Shamshuipo in which officers were accused of not providing immediate help to a hawker who was knocked down by a car while fleeing them. The department's investigation into that incident was due to be finished soon, Mr Leung said.

'After that incident, we have remained tolerant [about illegal hawkers]. We give them warnings before taking action,' Mr Leung said.

Legislator Wong Kwok-hing called for a review of the department's guidelines. 'We can't afford to lose more lives,' Mr Wong said.

Separately in Tai Po yesterday, minor scuffles broke out during an anti-hawking operation outside the KCR station. A hawker was allegedly struggling to flee after he was stopped by three anti-hawking officers. All four were treated at Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital for minor injuries.