Mong Kok riot

Hong Kong police probe possible riot link after arresting four in flat with haul of weapons, but volunteer group says it’s a misunderstanding

Cache included 18 knives, wooden batons and metal rods, but Facebook group says these are unwanted items they collect to give to needy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 February, 2016, 9:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 February, 2016, 1:23pm

There has been a new twist in a police probe into four suspects possibly linked to the Mong Kok riots.

On Thursday, officers arrested three people in a flat in an industrial building in Kwai Chung and seized pepper solution, knives, walkie-talkies and surgical masks. Later, at around 10pm, police arrested another man in Tuen Mun.

But a group of volunteers is claiming that there has been a misunderstanding, and the items recovered were unwanted objects they had collected to distribute to the needy.

READ MORE: 37 alleged rioters banned from Mong Kok after appearing in court over Hong Kong Lunar New Year violence

The four arrested – a 34-year-old architectural draftsman, an unemployed woman, 46, and a 47-year-old woman who sold organic food, and a 27-year-old man – were still in detention on Thursday night on suspicion of possessing offensive weapons with intent.

Superintendent Chow Kwong-chung, of New Territories South Regional headquarters, said officers were looking into whether they had taken part in the riot, which left more than 100 people injured.

He said the Thursday morning raid on the 1,000 sq ft unit in the Vigor Industrial Building on Ta Chuen Ping Street was launched after a tip-off.

Officers recovered 18 knives, wooden batons, metal rods, water pipes, 750 surgical masks and 24 pairs of work gloves. Bottles of liquid and crystallised chemicals of unknown composition were also recovered, along with a transparent liquid containing red peppers.

“Some of the chemicals smelled like thinner,” Chow said, but added that they had to be tested by the government lab before they could be identified.

Officers also found walkie-talkies and a toy gun.

But Celia Lau, one of the dozen core members of a volunteer group, which was a development of the “Oh Yes It’s Free” Facebook group dedicated to unwanted item exchange, said the items seized were things they had collected and temporarily stored in the industrial flat.

READ MORE: Angry Hong Kong police criticise ‘feeble’ senior management over Mong Kok riot arrangements

The flat was rented by Sum Ho, 34, one of trio who had been arrested. Ho is also a core member of the group, and had offered to let them use the flat.

Lau, who works as a marketing officer, said the seized knives were collected from people who did not want them when they moved homes, while the other “weapons” were commonly recycled objects such as metal rods, batons and pipes.

Whether or not this case was linked to the Lunar New Year Day riot is our major concern. And we’re very concerned about this case.
Police superintendent Chow Kwong-chung

As for the seized chemicals, Lau said some of that was actually sodium hydroxide solution, an essential ingredient for handmade soap produced by a group member and sold at community flea markets. The pepper solution was home-made bug repellent they used for plants.

“Whether or not this case was linked to the Lunar New Year Day riot is our major concern. And we’re very concerned about this case,” police superintendent Chow said.

He could not say whether the trio had joined in the riot, and their backgrounds and relationships were under investigation. He refused to disclose if they had criminal records.

The arrested man was believed to have rented the flat for more than a year. Chow said investigators would look into why he was renting it for storage. Further arrests were possible, he added.

Lau said Ho and the two women, also core group members, were not in Mong Kok during the riot. They had no political affiliations and had never joined anti-parallel trading protests.

“We support democracy, but we won’t go to the frontline,” Lau said.

The group hoped that the four would be released soon. They were being assisted by a lawyer from a political party on Thursday night at Kwai Chung police station.