Tenement fire's survivors to seek justice

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am


Survivors of the deadly blaze in a Ma Tau Wai tenement block last month are considering legal action against the owner of a photo studio that occupied a ground-floor storeroom where the fire started.

Lai Hok-man, whose pregnant wife and two sons died, and his neighbour, Ms Hui, say they will seek compensation if an inquest finds the studio owner to blame.

'If they turn out to be responsible for the fire in any way, I will definitely launch legal action against them,' said Hui, who lived across the fourth-floor hallway from Lai, with her husband and four-year-old son.

Hui, who declined to state her given names, says she has been mentally scarred by the experience, suffering nightmares for the first two weeks since the fire. She would wake in fear two to three times a night after returning to the fire in her dreams.

The fire, believed to have started from a short circuit in the storeroom, killed four people and raised new concerns about the safety of subdivided flats. The fourth person killed was Summer Tse Yan-yee, an 18-year-old school girl.

'They should be ready with an apology if found guilty of any misdoing. This is not the first time this has happened,' said Hui, referring to an occasion in 2008 when the photo studio caught fire, fortunately with no casualties.

Lai says he firmly believes the studio owner has at least partial responsibility and will definitely take legal action if the Coroner's Court agrees.

If not for the fire, Lai said, he would still be a contented family man. 'But now, I can take only feelings of sadness away with me from the disaster,' he said.

Lai will be moving from Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre to a public flat in Hung Hom after it is refurbished. He hopes compensation will help him get over the experience and carry on with his life.

But the bereaved father, who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, said money could never replace a family. 'Even if justice is upheld, in the end my heart will still ache whenever thoughts of my family come to mind.'

Kiang Ming-leung, who lived on the eighth floor of the subdivided tenement and with his son, said he doubted his ability to take legal action of his own.

'If multiple individuals formed a group to sue them, I would join. But it would be hard for me as an individual to launch legal action.'

Studio owner Fung Kwok-kwong said his lawyer would respond to any legal action taken against him.

The spokesman for the judiciary said it was unable to comment on any pending inquest.

A police spokesman said the investigation by the Regional Crime Unit of Kowloon West was under way and a report would be submitted to the coroner upon completion.