Motorist in ‘human shield’ case lodges complaint against Hong Kong police
Civilian driver says his 18-day-old car was deemed a ‘total loss’ and his insurance premiums increased two- to threefold after claim
An injured motorist has lodged a formal complaint against the city’s police force demanding an explanation for the total loss of his 18-day-old car, one of three vehicles allegedly used by officers as “human shields” during a car chase in February.
Legislator James To Kun-sun, who has been helping the three affected motorists, called on police to explain why private vehicles were still being forced to help form roadblocks, despite the department revising its guidelines following a similar incident in 2009.
The three drivers followed police orders to slow their vehicles and help end a car chase on San Tin Highway in the New Territories on February 11, after traffic police officers spotted a seven-seater car changing lanes recklessly and cutting in front of other vehicles at speed.
The seven-seater wove through traffic along Fanling Highway before flipping over after hitting the three cars and a road divider near Dawning Views residential estate. The driver and a passenger in the target vehicle died, and two men and a woman in two of the three cars were injured. An officer in pursuit on a motorcycle was also hurt.
The controversy over police using civilian drivers as “human shields” deepened last week when To revealed that the force had issued the motorists formal notices of intended prosecution – a move Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung described as standard procedure.
One of the three motorists, surnamed Cheng, said on a Monday morning radio programme that his car was a total loss after the collision, and his car insurance premium had increased two- to threefold because of the claim.
Cheng said his car was only 18 days old when the incident took place.
“I do hope police can explain why they decided to carry out the operation,” Cheng said.
“I had no idea I was assisting them to fight crime when the officers asked me to stop my car. And I was hit around one minute after I pulled up. Isn’t it equivalent to asking me to sit still and wait to be killed?”
Cheng said he had complained formally to the Complaints Against Police Office, urging the force to “take due responsibility”.
During the radio show, the motorist also expressed his dissatisfaction over the formal notice of intended prosecution he was sent.
“Are the police trying to tell me through the notice that the incident was merely a deadly traffic accident, instead of an accident caused by the police’s problematic actions?” Cheng asked.
“Back in 2009, police promised that no more ‘human shields’ would be used as roadblocks – why would such an incident take place again in 2018?”
In July 2009, police ordered three taxis, a private vehicle and a truck to pull up on three lanes of the Kwun Tong Bypass as part of a roadblock to stop an illegal race involving about 20 sports cars.
At least eight cars, including all of the five used as obstacles, were destroyed and six people injured. Five of the drivers racing were convicted of dangerous driving and jailed for 12 to 16 months.
The day after the incident, then chief of police Tang King-shing apologised to the public and promised to follow up on compensation for the affected drivers.
In a public lecture in May 2011 Jat Sew-tong, who at that time chaired the force’s watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), said that after that incident the force revised its procedures. “It now explicitly stipulates that officers are not allowed to take over private vehicles purely for blocking the road and stopping their targets,” Jat said, according to the IPCC’s record of the lecture.
A police spokesman refused to disclose the guidelines on setting up roadblocks, saying they involved “details of operation” and were therefore “inappropriate” for public accessibility. He said officers chasing vehicles take into account the circumstances, the risk posed by their target carrying on unhindered and the safety of the public and themselves.
He said the force established a committee to review the guidelines.
A leading member of the Legislative Council’s security panel for more than two decades, To criticised the force, saying it had repeated the mistake of 2009, despite its promise to revise the instructions.
“Why would human shields be used again after the revision? Have police ever reviewed how the revised instructions have been implemented?” asked To, who had spoken before Cheng on the same radio programme.
Cheng said: “Police have always said public safety was their first priority, but we three victims [the injured motorists] didn’t feel safe at all. We were left no time to evacuate and seek shelter.”