A cook who lit a chain of fires in a 'drunken prank' that left a HK$20 million trail of destruction would spend a long time in jail, a judge said yesterday.
Kwong Chi-sing, 33, pleaded guilty in the Court of First Instance to four counts of arson. He admitted setting fires in Mong Kok's Fa Yuen Street and three back lanes in Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po early on December 6, 2010.
Several people, including a firefighter, suffered smoke inhalation and minor injuries in the fires.
The blaze in Fa Yuen Street, a popular tourist destination, damaged 29 ground-floor shops and 49 market stalls that were packed with stock.
Remanding Kwong in custody pending sentencing on March 21, Mr Justice Alan Wright called for background and psychological reports to help determine why the cook committed the crimes.
He said it seemed bizarre that Kwong, who was previously of good character, had lit several fires within a short time. 'If it was one fire, it's easy to understand. It strikes me [as] very unusual conduct,' Wright said.
Kwong's lawyer, Liza Yip, said her client could not explain why he committed the attacks, but he had been unhappy at work and suffered stress.
She said Kwong had earlier been drinking with friends and loitered drunk in the streets for several hours before he used his cigarette lighter to set the fires.
'It was just a drunken prank,' Yip said.
Prosecutor Agnes Chan said the arson attacks took place between 4am and 5am. The Fa Yuen Street blaze took firemen about 41/2 hours to bring under control. Six fire engines were deployed and tenants of nearby buildings were evacuated.
Kwong was arrested on December 11, 2010, in the kitchen of the Victoria Harbour Roast Goose Seafood Restaurant. It is understood Kwong's arrest followed a call to police by a man who claimed to recognise the cook on a wanted poster.
Describing the ferocity of the Fa Yuen Street blaze, Chan said: 'One stall selling footwear including shoes and slippers was completely gutted by the fire.
'All the wooden structures were completely consumed, and the metallic supporting structures were severely deformed.
'All the goods inside were reduced to ashes, leaving behind only remnants of some shoe soles.'
Chan cited a forensics expert as saying the fire was particularly intense because the market stalls were highly flammable and packed closely together.
She added that a large amount of stock including shoes, underwear and clothes was destroyed, causing huge economic loss.
The judge said it was inevitable that Kwong would receive a 'substantial custodial sentence'.