Hong Kong police chief says issuing prosecution notices to people ‘used as human shields’ is standard procedure
Officers to be reminded to be ‘more careful’ but enlisting civilians in controversial practice not ruled out
Hong Kong’s police chief on Saturday played down calls to suspend the use of “human shields” following an outcry when motorists ordered to help stop a car chase were later sent letters warning them they could face prosecution.
Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung said it was up to officers how they stop vehicles and that issuing formal notices of intended prosecution – a decision Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun called “brainless” on Friday – was standard procedure.
Notices were served to three drivers and a police officer soon after the incident on February 11, in which two of the cars were asked by police to slow down to obstruct a fleeing motorist. A third car also got caught up in the collision, which left two people dead.
Lo told a police college event in Wong Chuk Hang that the force was “legally required” to issue the notices within 14 days to everyone involved in an accident.
The accident happened after traffic police spotted a seven-seater car changing lanes recklessly on San Tin Highway in the New Territories, cutting in front of other vehicles at speed.
An officer tried to pull the car over, but the driver sped off, prompting police to give chase. The car wove between other vehicles along Fanling Highway before hitting three cars and a road divider near Dawning Views residential estate and then flipping over.
The driver, 37, and his passenger died. Two men and a woman in cars in front of the fleeing vehicle were injured. An officer in pursuit on a motorbike was also hurt.
It was understood the officer who was served a notice had told the civilian vehicles to stop.
Lo said police would submit a report to the Coroner’s Court and it was highly probable the magistrate would order an inquest. If drivers had any misunderstandings or questions, they were welcome to contact police for explanations, he added.
Asked if the force would suspend the “human shields” practice, Lo said he would remind officers to be “more careful”.
The commissioner said that police value the safety of both road users and officers, adding that it was up to officers to decide how to stop vehicles.
“If you want me to say in one sentence that it is doable in certain situations and not doable in others, that would be very difficult because there are numerous scenarios on the road.”
He said a review committee was examining police guidelines on stopping vehicles to see whether they could be improved.
Lo added the Coroner’s Court could “give instructions” to officers in future.
To said it was “absurd” that police had not suspended the tactic, which he described as risking civilian lives. The notices should never have been served, he added, as the drivers had merely followed police instructions.
Apart from causing psychological stress, the notices could make it harder for them to get car insurance in the future, To said.
Police said on Friday the issuing of a notice did not mean the recipient would be prosecuted.