Gun drama in Kowloon Bay still leaves questions unanswered

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 3:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 9:11am

Not before has a murder-suicide in Hong Kong come under scrutiny as intense as that at the Kai Ching public housing estate in Kowloon on Sunday. The blanket television coverage was unprecedented, giving viewers an eagle's eye view of the shoot-out, police tactics, the gunman's emotions and the skills of the elite "Flying Tigers" unit. With every action broadcast live, it is understandable that the operation has been exhaustively examined by experts and others. But whatever the questions and criticism, police cannot be faulted for so adeptly defusing a crisis that could have easily escalated.

The praise heaped on police by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok and others is wholly warranted. Questions have been raised about whether adequate precautions were taken after the body of a dead man was found outside a lift on the 21st floor of Lok Ching House on Saturday night and hours later when the flat of his alleged killer, gunman Li Tak-yan, was identified 11 floors below. Whether the media coverage could have jeopardised the operation has also been raised; reporters, photographers and TV cameras were scattered among officers outside the building. But police said residents at risk were alerted and given timely instructions and that their strategy went to plan without a hitch. Lai said police and the media had worked well together and that no lives had been endangered by the coverage.

Li had a criminal record and a reputation for being bad-tempered. Previous medical tests had concluded he was not mentally unstable, but residents had found him unpleasant and irrational. Society is forgiving, though, believing that people who have done wrong and served out their jail term should be given another chance; he was allocated a public housing flat on the estate despite having served a year-long sentence for slashing a neighbour during an argument while living in Yuen Long. How, with such a background, he was able to acquire two guns and ammunition when such ownership is tightly controlled has to be exhaustively investigated.

Finding a balance between the rights of former prison inmates and ensuring citizens' safety is a delicate issue. With social media so prevalent and competition among news outlets fierce, controlling coverage of events is difficult. Police have to be commended for ensuring risks were negated, but important matters have also been raised that need further attention.