Access to MTR records blocked The Ombudsman has launched an investigation into why transport officials defied its ruling to release information about suicides on MTR tracks to a university researcher. The Environment, Transport and Works Bureau's refusal to provide the data - a decision the Ombudsman said was unjustified - has thrown into doubt the effectiveness of the Code on Access to Information, which was set up in 1995 to allow the public to obtain official data. It is believed to be the first time the Ombudsman's ruling over the code has been defied. Legal experts have attacked the decision and lawmakers said the code should be upgraded into law, which would mean courts could force the release of information. Fu King-wa, of the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, asked the MTR Corporation and Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation in April last year for information on suicides and attempt suicides from 1997. He wanted to know the date, time location and severity of each incident, the age and sex of the victim and the effect on train services. The KCRC provided the data but the MTR Corp refused. Mr Fu then requested the data from the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau via the code. There were more than 100 cases of suicide and attempted suicide on MTR tracks between 1997 and 2005. The bureau replied that the information would not be released because of privacy concerns. It told Mr Fu that anyone matching the information requested with newspaper reports could identify the dead or injured and their relatives. Mr Fu complained to the Ombudsman in September and stressed the information would not be used in a way that would identify anyone. He also said the data was in the public interest because it would be used to analyse the effectiveness of screen doors in preventing suicides. The Ombudsman ruled in January that the bureau's decision was 'well intentioned but narrowly based and not justified'. Mr Fu said the bureau reiterated to him last month that it would not release the information. The Ombudsman then told him it was launching an investigation. 'But officers at the Ombudsman told me even if a full investigation proved me right again, it could only release its findings to the public and write a letter to the chief executive. It still cannot force the bureau to release the data,' he said. 'In this case I have a lot of doubts on the effectiveness of the code. The data I requested is very simple and straightforward. I need these official records for the study. I cannot rely on newspapers' reports.' Legal experts said there were no privacy issues. Stefan Lo Huoy-cheng, an expert in privacy law at City University, said laws only protected the living. 'The law also exempts personal data from protection where they are to be used for preparing statistics or carrying out research if the individuals would not be identified,' he said. HKU law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming said: 'The grounds of privacy concern are not justified in this case. Age and gender are common information which would not reveal the identity of a person.' Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who represents the social welfare sector, described the government's decision as unbelievable. The lawmaker said he would ask for the data via the Legislative Council. 'I cannot understand the officials' rationale. What they did will only raise speculation on whether there are things they want to hide. This will make people doubt whether the code is useful in getting important data.' A bureau spokesman said they adhered to the code in handling every request for information. An Ombudsman spokesman said the office was not legally allowed to reveal details about an inquiry.