Hong Kong’s longest siege: the 1974 Po Sang Bank robbery and the ‘Courageous Eleven’

A failed bank heist in Shanghai Street led to an 18-hour deadlock, that was only broken when the hostages overpowered armed robber Lee Wa-bun

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 5:30pm

It was almost 5pm and the Po Sang Bank branch on Shanghai Street was about to close when a man stormed in. “Lie down and don’t move,” Lee Wa-bun shouted, waving his pistol in the air. The staff froze in panic as they realised it was an armed robbery.

During the ensuing melee, the manager and a female staff member managed to escape through the rear staircase, setting off the alarm on their way. Others were not so lucky. They dived to the floor as the lone gunman fired a few warning shots into the air. As the metal shutters closed, the robber barricaded himself and 11 captives in the bank.

It was May, 1974, and a siege was under way that would have the city gripped.

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Lee tied his victims’ hands behind their backs and ordered them to squat under the counter, warning them not to do anything rash. Outside, the sky was growing dark. Curious onlookers gathered, along with a large number of police officers. A police lorry dropped off torches, kerosene lamps and portable generators. It was going to be a long night.

From under the counter, the hostages could hear Lee pacing back and forth, answering phone calls from the police and media. After several attempts, Mohamed Khan, a reporter from the South China Morning Post, managed to reach Lee on the bank’s phone. “The hostages must be hungry by now. Will you let them go?” Khan asked. “You don’t have to ask me. You newsmen are clever enough to know,” Lee replied curtly.

Negotiations dragged on through the night and into the next morning. With none of his demands – including two getaway cars – met, Lee grew irritable. He threatened to kill four of the hostages and use the others as human shields as he made a break for it.

With no one coming to their rescue, the captives took things into their own hands. Unbeknownst to Lee, two captives he thought had fainted were just pretending, and so avoided being tied up. Several others had quietly loosened the wire tied around their wrists. When Lee was distracted by a phone conversation with the police, they acted.

One kicked the gun from Lee’s hand, while three others hurled whatever they could find at him – including chairs and themselves. The rest of the hostages ran outside with their hands still tied, and yelled for the police to go in.

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Lee was arrested and was eventually sentenced to 15 years for his crimes.

The hostages, later dubbed the “Courageous Eleven”, lived to proudly tell the tale. Now, more than 40 years later, their ordeal still holds the record as the city’s longest siege – 18 hours in total.