Repairman fined HK$10,000 over To Kwa Wan building collapse

Repairman maintains he is just the scapegoat for the tragedy in which four died three years ago, but victims' relatives say he got off lightly

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 7:06am

A repairman involved in a fatal building collapse in To Kwa Wan three years ago was fined HK$10,000 yesterday, a penalty found unacceptable by families of the deceased.

Chu Wai-wing, 77, the only person prosecuted over the 2010 collapse, which killed four people, maintained he was a "scapegoat" shouldering all the blame, which the Buildings Department should have shared.

Chu faced a summons under the Buildings Ordinance, accusing him of carrying out work likely to cause injury to people and damage to property. He was found guilty after a trial. The maximum penalty is three years in jail and a HK$1 million fine.

Announcing the sentence, Magistrate Abu Bakar bin Wahab said: "I must decide the penalty according to evidence.

"[The] prosecution's evidence was sufficient to show that Chu's two acts - chiselling a column and floor slabs in the tenement - were likely to cause injury and damage. But it does not suggest whether it was, or to what extent it was, serious [in triggering the immediate collapse]."

Considering Chu's age and that it was his first offence related to building rules, the magistrate decided a fine was appropriate.

District councillor Pius Yum Kwok-tung said the widow of optician Choy Tao-keung told him she was upset with the sentence. "Consider the HK$10,000 penalty for four deaths," Yum said. "Each lost life costs a little more than HK$2,000. Do you think this is reasonable?" No relatives of the deceased attended court.

I didn't want that [collapse] to happen. I am innocent, I didn't [affect] the building's structure

The magistrate criticised the performance of Chu's lawyer, Kenneth Chung, who was hired through the duty lawyer scheme. Chung had mistakenly invited an expert witness to give evidence based on hearsay.

The magistrate also criticised the lawyer for trying to lead the witness to conclude that Chu's actions had caused an "earlier" collapse of the 55-year-old tenement, which had been in a vulnerable condition. In fact, the expert witness, Eddie Lam Siu-shu, had told the court that any vibrations caused by residents or even a truck running past outside could have caused the fragile building to fall. Such vibrations could be even more dangerous than Chu's actions, he said.

Chu said after the hearing that his lawyer "[had] done his best". He blamed the Buildings Department: "It's unfair that I alone have to bear all the responsibility.

"I didn't want that [collapse] to happen," he said. "I am innocent, I didn't [affect] the building's structure."

Chu now lives on welfare of HK$6,000 a month with his wife. He noted that the families of the deceased had filed claims for compensation against him, the building owner, the principal tenant and the Buildings Department, but he said he had no money to deal with the claims.

Choy, 40, died - along with student Tong Qingtao, 20, and sex workers Lo Kin-wa, 46, and Li Qunzhen, 37 - when the five-storey building in Ma Tau Wai Road collapsed in seconds.