Police to be questioned over witness 'coaching'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2008, 12:00am

A police inquiry has been launched into allegations that five police investigators were caught on tape discussing evidence and coaching an undercover police constable in his trial testimony, a court heard yesterday.

Deputy District Court Judge Timothy Jenkins was told that five officers from the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) would be interviewed in relation to whether they had discussed evidence with the constable while he was testifying in the trial of nine people accused of participating in a HK$40 million operation to provide sexual services at saunas.

The allegation came to light when the prosecution was about to close its case last month after a 120-day hearing.

At that point, defence lawyer Raymond Yu Chiu-cheuk, representing a general manager of Temple Street Sauna, Cheung Sai-kit, unexpectedly applied to render to the court a total of 47 audio tapes, which contained the alleged discussions between Constable Lam Tsz-hon and his OCTB colleagues.

The court heard that the recordings were made covertly with an MP3 player installed in a waiting room for witnesses outside the courtroom on 47 days between May and September last year.

The recordings were played in court and undercover Constable Lam, who had infiltrated Temple Street Sauna as a waiter in 2004, was recalled to the witness box yesterday to testify in connection with the alleged illegal discussions.

One of the defence lawyers, Nicholas Lau Yiu-kan, yesterday alleged a recording made during a lunch break on May 10 showed Constable Lam had discussed with his colleagues the evidence he had given in the morning session, despite being warned by Judge Jenkins not to discuss it with anyone.

Saying that Constable Lam had told the court he only had a casual co-worker relationship with Carmen - a female staff member at the sauna - Mr Lau yesterday alleged that Constable Lam had however revealed to the inspector in charge of the case during the May 10 discussion that he had French-kissed Carmen but had never slept with her.

The court also heard the recordings captured Constable Lam's colleagues allegedly coaching him to give answers such as 'I cannot remember' in order to avoid follow-up questions.

But giving evidence yesterday, Constable Lam maintained he could not recognise the voices from the recordings and was not sure what had been said.

Barrister Paul Loughran, advising counsel for the prosecution, told the court yesterday the Department of Justice recommended statements be taken from the five police officers, including a senior inspector, one woman inspector and a sergeant.

Speaking outside court, Mr Loughran said the interviews would be done by other police officers and Constable Lam would not be further interviewed as he was already giving evidence in court.

'It is done for the matter of fairness,' prosecutor Ken Ng Kin-man said outside court.

'There has been no admission to the content of the recordings at all.

'If such allegations could be substantiated, one of the consequences is the constitution of contempt of court, or, it could be more serious. But the content of the conversation itself is a very crucial consideration.'

The hearing continues today.