Police to search landfill for body

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 January, 2009, 12:00am

Officers will sift 8 tonnes of medical waste

Police on Monday will start combing through 8 tonnes of clinical waste at the Tseung Kwan O landfill for the body of a baby boy that went missing from a hospital mortuary.

The search, expected to take three days, follows investigations that indicate the body may have been disposed of accidentally from the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital last month.

The waste to be searched was dumped at the landfill on December 20 and 21 by registered waste collectors. Clinical waste, which includes human tissue and laboratory waste, is disposed of in a special treatment trench.

The body of the baby boy, who died soon after birth, was placed in a mortuary compartment on December 15 and the body of a large man was placed in the same compartment the next day. The man's body was released on December 19 and a routine count found the baby's body missing last Friday.

A police spokeswoman said the investigation, which had not uncovered any criminal element, was focused on the hospital's clinical-waste disposal procedure.

The Environmental Protection Department will help in the search of the potentially hazardous waste, which will be conducted by members of the elite Police Tactical Unit wearing protective gear. But neither department has high hopes of finding the body, sources from each describing it as 'mission impossible'.

It is still unclear how the baby's body went missing in the hospital and, if it was accidentally dumped as waste, what kind of bag it was put in.

The 8 tonnes of waste includes refuse from other public and private hospitals gathered by the waste collectors on the two days in question.

Hospital management previously said the baby's 1.1kg body had been put in a silver mortuary bag tagged with a computer bar code. Clinical waste in hospitals is separated into types and packed in different-coloured plastic bags for disposal.

Human tissue, organs and body parts are packed in yellow bags, laboratory waste and infectious material in red bags, and general waste from patient care and cleaning waste in black rubbish bags.

In 2006 and 2007 respectively, 1,854 and 1,898 tonnes of clinical waste were dumped in the city's landfills, the Environmental Protection Department said.

On Wednesday, Eastern Hospital showed closed-circuit television footage taken outside the neonatal ward to the boy's parents.

The nurses who handled the body demonstrated to the couple how they put it in a silver bag before taking it to the hospital mortuary. The couple visited the hospital again yesterday and inspected various locations the body could have been.

The hospital has invited the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, a member of the hospital's governing committee and a former member of the Hospital Authority's public complaints committee, to accompany the couple during their visits and meetings with the senior management.

Mr Chu said his role was to support the couple so they could go through the 'painful moments ... I am here to be with them as an independent person; I also help them to put questions to the management.'