Police urged to improve speed-gun training

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 January, 2008, 12:00am

A British expert has urged the Hong Kong government to set up a better testing regime for laser guns used by the police and for officers to receive proper training in using them.

The comments from Michael Clark, who specialises in laser and traffic control, came two days after tycoon Peter Lam Kin-ngok had a speeding charge reduced in court.

Dr Clark, who testified as an expert witness for Lam - who was initially accused of driving his Ferrari at up to 114km/h in a 50km/h zone on the North Lantau Highway on April 5 - said yesterday: 'It was clear to me before we even went into court from the evidence that was available that the machine had not been set up properly. The target was wrong, the distance was wrong, everything [the officer] did pretty much was wrong.'

Under cross-examination by Alan Hoo SC in Tsuen Wan Court, who represented the Lai Sun Development chairman, Senior Constable Chan Tak-cheung admitted he had conducted a scope alignment test with his laser gun from 60 metres rather than the required 200 metres - 'for the sake of convenience'.

The test was to ensure the laser beam fell on the right target. In another test the officer recorded the wrong distance.

'In an English court, either of those two reasons would have thrown the case out,' said Dr Clark, who has advised about 200 people facing speeding charges in the past two years.

After cross-examination last Thursday, the prosecution asked to amend the charge and accepted Lam's guilty plea of driving at 79km/h. Magistrate Don So Man-lung approved the application and fined the defendant HK$450. Lam could have lost his licence if he had been convicted of the original charge.

Dr Clark said it would be unfair to lay the blame on the officer as the problem originated in the flawed and sometimes contradictory instructions and training he received. As an example, one instruction in the police manual told officers to carry out an alignment test before setting out, while another instruction said he should do it at the scene.

Dr Clark said there were some cases where the speed recorded was higher than the actual speed because the officer holding the gun failed to fix the laser beam on a set spot of the moving car. Instead, the laser gun was panned down the side of the car.

He said if the guns were properly set up, the results would be correct most of the time. But his experience told him there was no guarantee. 'I think I have tested just about every kind of laser speed gun that's available in the world and they have all got the same problem.'

The magnitude of the problem was often not fully understood because many of the defendants would rather pay a small fine for speeding than hire lawyers and pay legal fees.

A police spokesman said last night officers who used laser guns received comprehensive and strict training.

Hong Kong should have an approval regime for the laser guns, Dr Clark said. 'There's a can of worms here,' he said.

In Britain, all laser devices were required to be checked in approved test houses. Manufacturers then received government approval and signed a legal pledge that their products would be regularly calibrated.

But Dr Clark said the system in Britain was not without flaws. The Home Office was relying on the advice of the manufacturers when assessing the devices. 'We will be making another approach to the government to have another look at the machines. If it does not work, we will go to judicial review,' he said.