Security footage shows democracy activist Howard Lam was walking alone freely at the time of alleged 2017 kidnapping, Hong Kong court told
- Defence lawyer argues that the officers who examined the videos are not experts in gait study
Hong Kong police found democracy activist Howard Lam Tsz-kin travelling by himself at a time when he claimed to have been abducted, after identifying him by his walking manner and appearance through repeatedly watching 1,800 hours of security footage, a court heard on Monday.
Two officers testified to studying Lam’s appearance, built and gait and comparing them with videos showing a man in black walking with his toes pointing inward to conclude they were the same person after multiple viewings.
The defence called such methods of identification unprecedented in the city’s courts and complained that none of the officers were experts in gait study or identification.
Lam also interrupted the hearing multiple times, laughing and even slapping his palm on the bar table while sarcastically exclaiming in Cantonese: “You’ve faked it to this extent?”
Acting chief magistrate So Wai-tak eventually sided with prosecutors to allow the admission of the officers’ opinionated evidence.
The West Kowloon Court heard the identification helped police trace Lam’s movements from August 10, 2017 to the following morning, using videos sourced from streets, stores, lifts and lobbies across Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei, Sai Kung and Ma On Shan.
Lam, 42, had told police he was kidnapped and forced into a van at Portland Street in Mong Kok, tortured with staples puncturing his thighs and dumped at a Sai Kung beach within that time frame.
He has denied making a false report over the alleged abduction.
Disputed footage suggests Lam left a soccer jersey store at Portland Street at 5.41pm, stopped for a toilet break at Cafe de Coral on Nathan Road at 5.46pm, boarded a red minibus at Dundas Street at 5.59pm, and walked around Sai Kung that night before returning to his neighbourhood in Ma On Shan the next morning.
Arresting officer Ho Pan-shing, who spent four months watching all 1,800 hours of footage, said he had identified Lam by his appearance, built, gait, walking pace and accessories like his black cap, face mask and black backpack.
Ho also said that none of the footage showed anyone being kidnapped and forced into a vehicle.
But defence counsel Joe Chan argued that the officers were not experts in identification, and observed that some clips captured only small figures and grainy images.
Chan also put it to Detective Police Constable Lam Kam-wa that the officers had to speculate parts of the route taken by the man in black because some areas were not covered by security cameras.
“I went down for an experiment to see how long it would take to walk that section of the road [not covered by CCTV],” Lam said.
The officer also made the observation that Howard Lam had “intentionally ducked his head” while walking around Yau Ma Tei, which drew another laugh from the activist at the back of the courtroom.
The trial continues.
Knowingly making to a police officer a false report of commission of any offence is punishable by a HK$1,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment.