Food row causes new halt to trial

A MAJOR smuggling conspiracy trial ground to a halt for the third time yesterday because two defendants are being denied lunch.

Accused Customs officers Tang Shu-wan and Cheng Siu-keung, who are being held in custody, complained they had to endure 13 hours each day with just a cup of congee for sustenance.

But their eight co-defendants are on bail and at liberty to go for a slap-up meal.

Defence counsel, John McLanachan, told the District Court the problem was caused by red tape. He said the pair were incarcerated at Lai Chi Kok where they were given breakfast at 7 am, but not fed again until they arrived back at 8 pm.

All they were entitled to at court was a cup of congee.

Their hunger pangs meant they could not concentrate or give proper instructions, Mr McLanachan argued. The bizarre wrangle caused a one hour hold-up in yesterday's proceedings.

The trial, in which the 10 are accused of taking part in a luxury car smuggling racket, is scheduled to last 40 days. Yesterday was the seventh day and the third time the trial was interrupted because of food. On the previous two occasions, suggested solutions failed.

Yesterday Mr McLanachan asked the judge to invite the authorities to bend the rules slightly. He said food kept downstairs for Victoria Prison prisoners could easily be obtained.

Judge Muttrie said: ''It seems to me to survive from breakfast until an evening meal with just a cup of congee is to subject [the accused] to an unnecessary degree of discomfort.'' The judge said it was not within his power to make any order and advised the men to apply to the prison supervisor for lunch.