Escapes need to be addressed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 2:19am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 2:20am

Leung Ka-lok's escape from police custody at Hong Kong's Queen Elizabeth Hospital was not as audacious as that of two American murderers who earlier this month gained freedom from a New York state prison by cutting through steel walls, crawling through sewage pipes and popping through a manhole on a street, scrawling "have a nice day" before disappearing. Nor did it have the drama of the 1979 Hollywood film Escape from Alcatraz, about three men who in real life had broken out of the San Francisco Bay maximum security jail and were never seen again. Still, the 18-year-old's tricks that enabled him to free himself from handcuffs and a chain and outrun the two policemen guarding him had magician-like qualities. Although he was recaptured after 10 hours of freedom, questions have rightly been raised about the handling of those being held in detention.

The man had been arrested for suspected drug trafficking and throwing acid on an elderly couple and their daughter in a Tsz Wan Shan flat. He had complained to officers of feeling ill and been taken to the hospital's emergency ward. During the six-hour wait, he had complained of feeling cold and been given a blanket. Its cover enabled him to wriggle free of his handcuffs and a chain around his waist. He dashed outside the building, jumped four metres to a car park below and fled.

His recapture at a friend's home in Chai Wan and appearance in court do not end the matter. It is at least the fifth such case since last August, the previous one three weeks ago when a 14-year-old boy arrested for breaching a curfew order briefly escaped at Tuen Mun Hospital. Police have well-established methods for handling suspects and the use of restraints. The procedures need to be reviewed.

Lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, the chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, has called for a full police accounting of the incident. If necessary, the panel will launch an inquiry. It is the least that should be expected. Citizens must be protected from potentially dangerous crime suspects.