Freedom near for 7 retried over deadly Immigration Tower blaze

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 June, 2005, 12:00am

Seven men won sharply reduced sentences for their roles in 2000's fiery right-of-abode protest at Immigration Tower which left two people dead, after pleading guilty yesterday to amended charges at a retrial. All will go free this year.

The seven - Sze Kwan-lung, 28, Pang Hon-kwan, 44, Fu Mo, 43, Lam Hing-luen, 31, Yeung Yee-ping, 33, Yeung Yee-yim, 42, and Chau Hung-chuen, 34 - all pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

A third count, of arson, was set aside as a condition of the guilty pleas.

The gross-negligence aspect of the charges acknowledge that the men did not intend the fire to break out.

Mr Justice Michael Lunn sentenced Sze to two concurrent sentences of eight years and the other six men to sentences of seven years and four months, to be served concurrently.

They had been serving up to 14 years for manslaughter and arson. Sze's two murder convictions and life sentence were previously downgraded to manslaughter and 14 years' jail in 2003.

'The conduct of all of you lies at the top end of sentencing for the crime of manslaughter by gross negligence,' the judge said.

'The simple facts have only to be stated for the gravity of these offences to be noted.'

But because they have served more than five years, all the men are expected to be free by the end of the year, with at least one, Pang, expected to leave Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre next month.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said he would respect the court's decision.

It was the second time the men had faced charges over the August 2, 2000, protest that took the lives of senior immigration officer Leung Kam-kwong and right-of-abode seeker Lam Siu-sing. In October the Court of Final Appeal quashed their convictions and ordered a retrial.

The seven were accused of taking bottles of highly flammable paint thinner and cigarette lighters to their sit-in protest to intimidate staff into allowing them to deliver a petition. They, along with 16 other right-of-abode seekers, had occupied room 1301 for several hours before staff moved in to evict them at about 6pm.

All of the abode seekers stood and some started to throw thinner about the room. A fire broke out and as a result, Leung and Lam sustained fatal injuries, while 21 immigration officers and all the abode seekers required treatment.

'[Given] the fact there were multiple seats of fire in that very crowded and small room, it is astonishing that only two men were killed,' Mr Justice Lunn said.