Detectives are investigating whether a traffic policeman who killed a triad thug in the midst of a brutal chopping attack on a busy Kowloon street did so because he feared the gangster was going to kill his victim, such was the ferocity of his assault.
Initial reports had suggested that the officer - who stumbled upon the attack in Cheung Sha Wan on Friday night - opened fire because he feared for his own life.
However, a source close to the investigation said yesterday the officer had to shoot because the chopper-wielding gangster ignored three warnings to stop his assault and continued to hack away at his victim.
Sources also confirmed the attack was the result of a gangland feud among factions of the Wo On Lok triad and that the chopping victim, 45, was the intended target, not three other men who were with him but who ran off as the gang of four attackers approached.
'It seems clear that these guys knew one another and the victim was very clearly the only intended target,' a source said. 'The guy who is now dead knew exactly who he was going for and his attack was sustained and brutal. The traffic officer shouted three warnings for him to stop as the other attackers ran away carrying knives. It looks like the officer did what he had to do to protect what he considered to be a life in danger.'
Detectives from the Kowloon West regional anti-triad unit have rounded up a number of senior Wo On Lok leaders for questioning.
None of them are thought to have been directly involved in the assault.
The vicious attack happened just after 9.30pm at the corner of Pratas Street and Castle Peak Road. The chopping victim suffered wounds to his legs, body and head. He was taken to hospital and was able to speak to police, another source said.
The gangster, meanwhile, was hit by a single shot to his upper body and died in the Caritas Medical Centre an hour later.
The 36-year-old was a member of Wo On Lok and had previous convictions for gangland-related crimes, the first source said.
Six men aged 22 to 56 have been arrested in connection with the incident. Police appealed for witnesses to contact them on 2761 2208.
A police spokesman said yesterday: 'At about 9.40pm, a traffic police officer found a private car stopped on a carriageway outside 155 Castle Peak Road during patrol. Four or five men armed with beef knives alighted and chopped the 45-year-old man.'
The traffic officer - whom the police have not formally identified - is understood to have served for almost 10 years. An off-duty police officer helped him subdue the injured gangster.
A senior police officer said: 'There is no question that he opened fire because he thought a life was in danger.'
This echoed remarks made by Lau Tat-keung, police assistant commander for Sham Shui Po, just after the incident that the officer had been justified in shooting the attacker.
Policemen are allowed to open fire if they believe either their life or that of a member of the public is in danger.
Investigators were studying CCTV footage taken from the area. Sham Shui Po police district - which takes in Cheung Sha Wan - has one of the highest crimes rates in Hong Kong.
The last time a police officer opened fire was in July 2010. The officer missed hitting two car thieves, who injured another officer in Tuen Mun and escaped.