TWO Vietnamese boat people who took part in the Sek Kong riot in which 24 people died were yesterday cleared of murder following Hong Kong's longest criminal trial. Phong Ung Cau and Ngo Van Tu, who were convicted of lesser charges, were the only two left in the dock at the end of the 398-day hearing estimated to have cost $60 million in legal fees. When the High Court trial opened in January last year, 14 defendants faced charges of murder and rioting during the tragedy. Since then, eight have been acquitted on Mr Justice Gall's directions and four have pleaded guilty to lesser charges. During the marathon trial, the jury heard how a mob of southern Vietnamese hurled blazing blankets and mosquito nets into a hut inhabited by northern Vietnamese, turning it into a horrifying inferno. Of the 24 northern Vietnamese who died, half were children. The youngest was just one year old. One witness said he saw Ngo, 27, attack an elderly man who had escaped, scald him with boiling water, put him in a bag and throw him back through a window. A second witness said Ngo had put a child in a sack and had thrown him into the burning hut. Others claimed Phong, 32, had thrown blankets into a blazing hut and threatened to beat the occupants to death if they came out. But Ngo's counsel Edward Laskey and Phong's counsel Thomas Iu said their clients were victims of mistaken identity. Mr Laskey said that not one witness mentioned Ngo's hare lip when describing the attacker. The jury cleared both men of murder following a marathon 18 hours of deliberations, but convicted Phong of manslaughter and both men of rioting. Mr Justice Gall thanked the jury for their dedication over the past two years and assured them they would never have to do jury service again. During the trial, dozens of witnesses told how rioters swept through Phase C which held 1,700 people awaiting repatriation. The trouble started in the evening when a fight broke out between northern and southern Vietnamese groups over a debt. Two people were taken to hospital and the rest were sent back to their huts. But four hours later a group of men wearing white arm bands smashed down the gates to Phase C, allegedly helped by the southern Vietnamese in that section. Prosecutor Peter Cahill said police moved in but had to withdraw to seek reinforcements. About 100 southern Vietnamese attacked two huts where 350 northern Vietnamese lived. They stormed into Hut 5 after throwing bricks through the window. As the terrified occupants tried to flee, their attackers set on them amid cries of 'kill'. Those who escaped were attacked outside by men armed with poles and tent pegs. But 24 people died after being trapped in the blazing hut. The trial was originally expected to last four to six months, but ran to 22 months. There were frequent adjournments after witnesses being held in Hong Kong demanded to be allowed to return to Vietnam. The trial ground to a halt when three prosecution witnesses blamed police for the riot and refused to give evidence unless the judge promised officers would be prosecuted. One of them also demanded compensation from the Hong Kong Government after claiming her husband had married someone else in Vietnam while she was waiting to testify. They eventually continued with their evidence after being convicted of contempt of court. Phong and Ngo will be sentenced next week along with Phan Van Quyen and Nguyen Van Tuyen who have pleaded guilty to manslaughter and rioting and Tran Van Sang and Le Van Rung who have admitted rioting. The mammoth hearing was the third relating to the tragedy. In October last year six people were convicted and 14 acquitted of rioting following a 215-day trial, the longest ever heard at the District Court. In June this year five were convicted and 16 acquitted of the same charge following a 132-day District Court trial.