Court rules out split shoot-out inquest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2007, 12:00am

Evidence trail laid out linking deaths of policemen, guard

Material links between the deaths of three policemen and a security guard were traced in open court yesterday for the first time since a joint inquest into the deaths of the four began almost two weeks ago.

The Court of First Instance heard that evidence to be presented to the inquest would show that a service revolver belonging to late constable Leung Shing-yan - and missing since he was shot dead in 2001 - was found under the body of constable Tsui Po-ko after last year's shoot-out in a Tsim Sha Tsui underpass that also left fellow policeman Tsang Kwok-hang dead.

It came as lawyers for Tsui's mother, Cheung Wai-mei, were presenting their arguments in an unsuccessful legal challenge to the holding of the joint inquest, saying that the evidence would prejudice the inquest jury against Tsui.

Mr Justice Michael Hartmann conducted the hearing in open court because of what he termed 'severe public interest' in the case.

Barrister Arthur Yip Chi-ho told Mr Justice Hartmann evidence would also show that Tsui could be one of the contributors of DNA samples on a surgical mask found next to the body of Leung in 2001. He also said evidence would be produced showing that bullets used in the killings of Leung and bank security guard Zafar Iqbal Khan later the same year were related.

Seeking leave to apply for a judicial review of the refusal by Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu on Tuesday to separate the inquests, Mr Yip argued the evidential link did not justify a concurrent inquest and would be unfair to Tsui, who could not defend himself.

He claimed the jury might be prejudiced into forming an impression that 'all the things were done by Tsui'.

On Tuesday, the coroner, in the absence of the jury, rejected an application by Mr Yip for the inquests to be separated on the grounds that the concurrent inquiry would prejudice the jury.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Hartmann said he believed the coroner would properly direct the jury to differentiate between irrelevant and relevant material.

He also noted that the evidence had already been heard together and the jurors being 'intellectuals of the community' and ordinary readers of newspapers, would appreciate that such a link was somehow established.

He said the inquest was not a 'mini-murder trial', the jury was not mandated to identify the killer and no prosecution or defence was involved in any death inquiry.

Ruling that Mr Yip's argument did not warrant a further investigation, the judge refused to grant the application. But he added: 'I am not closing all doors to the applicant', as Ms Cheung could still appeal against the inquest's verdict if she found the jury had not been directed properly.

Speaking outside the court, Mr Yip said he welcomed the ruling as it provided a clear guideline for inquests in future. He said there were no precedents for putting deaths that occurred in different places at different times into a single inquest.

The inquest will resume on Monday.