Firemen missed body of man in flat, court told

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2007, 12:00am

Junk hid door, inquest hears

The body of a blind, elderly fire victim was not found for five days because firemen failed to check the bathroom of the tiny, junk-filled flat where he lived alone, an inquest heard yesterday.

Facing heavy criticism from the family of Yiu Tak-hing, 62, a senior fireman admitted he had forgotten about the bathroom when searching the flat but explained that the door had been obscured by piles of junk.

Yiu's decomposing body was eventually found on July 18, five days after the fire, when neighbours complained about a smell from the 170 sq ft flat in Pak Tin Estate, Shek Kip Mei.

The dead man's younger brother, Yiu Tak-shing, said the firefighters had not done their job properly in the first place and questioned why they were not bound by guidelines to conduct a final check before leaving.

'It was because such action was omitted that one human life was lost,' Mr Yiu said. 'If someone had taken an extra step or broken down an extra door, he might have been found. It is just ridiculous that the body was only discovered five days after the fire.'

He was perplexed about how the firefighters could miss the bathroom in a tiny flat and said he recalled from past visits that the junk was piled less high near the bathroom door.

Two senior firemen testified that no one had responded to their calls as they searched the flat and that they had stepped or climbed over the junk to search it.

They both covered the kitchen on the right, but not the bathroom in the middle and next to the living room, the inquest heard.

Senior fireman Ng Wing-cheung, who was detailed to search the flat, said he had searched the kitchen but 'forgot' about the bathroom.

'I focused on the piles of rubbish lying on the floor and I neglected the middle section of the flat because I was worried that someone might have been trapped under [the rubbish],' he said.

He 'did not notice' there was a bathroom door because his view was obstructed by the junk. 'I would have hacked any doors I found, that's standard practice.'

His subordinate told him he had searched the bathroom and the living room and nothing was found, the inquest heard.

It was also Mr Ng who five days later found the decomposing body face-down directly behind the bathroom door.

On the second visit, he had to clear away heavy rubbish to pass through to the living room and then spotted a door.

When he pushed it open, he felt it was stuck and, with a torch, he found the body.

Another senior fireman, Ng Chi-man, who was the first to arrive at the scene, said that after the fire was out, he was instructed to search the kitchen and the others were told to search the rest of the flat.

Asked why he had not checked the bathroom, he said he was not instructed to. He had assumed the rest of the flat was explored by his teammate because 'the flat is very small'.

The inquest continues today before coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu.