Following a long leave that allowed me to travel around the world, I returned to Hong Kong to start my second tour with the Royal Hong Kong Police and was unsurprised, although a tad disappointed to learn that I had been posted to three months detention at Headquarters’ Command and Control, otherwise known as PolMil.
In reality I was not being unfairly treated as most expatriate officers had to do a short stint in HQCCC at the beginning of their second tour because native English speakers were required to perform a job that mainly involved consolidating various sources of information to prepare the “situation report” for the senior brass each day.
HQCCC was located in the dungeons of Police Headquarters in Wanchai, and RHKP Inspectors were joined in the “Well” (as the windowless and lowered banks of computers, monitors and telephones were called) by British military officers of Major or Warrant Officer rank, and as far as I remember the job involved, in addition to preparing the HQ Situation Report, calling out EOD for bomb threats, deploying various specialists (many I wasn’t aware of such as professional lock pickers) and calling out RAF helicopters for various tasks such as casualty evacuations. One bizarre and pointless job was to monitor Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station in nearby China to make sure it hadn’t blown up!
Four Inspectors, all of whom I knew well (Dickie, Gus, Damian and I) covered the three shifts. For reasons I never understood the night shift (“C”) was ten hours long, the afternoon shift shift (“B”) was six hours long and the morning shift (“A”) was eight hours long.
We were supervised, allegedly, by a Chief Inspector who worked 9am-5pm. This position was filled by a newly promoted CIP who we all knew well called Steve who, in addition to becoming a good friend in later life, was responsible for making me levitate one day as I received the biggest “bollocking” of my life, and deservedly so for what I will describe later.
In addition to the official job description, PolMil really involved watching television in a command and control bunker in Police Headquarters, cut and pasting other people’s reports into a “sitrep” (literally with glue and scissors), eating junk food, watching more television, gossiping, sleeping while trying to look awake, making prank phone calls, masturbating (well not me, but our boss Steve was fond of it), and plotting our escape.
The job was akin to being a couch potato, and sitting in a seat watching television and answering the telephone for ten hours a day was really not all that different to sitting in a seat watching television and answering the telephone for fourteen hours. So, Dickie and I devised a cunning plan to make life more interesting by working each other’s shift for a few days, allowing both of us to have a few days off and join our respective Cathay Pacific wives using their ID90 discount flight scheme to escape the monotony.
First, Dickie went to the Philippines with his wife and while he was away I covered both his shift and mine. On a couple of occasions my boss, Steve asked me where Dickie was and I just palmed him off saying it was my shift and he would be in later.
When Dickie came back from his jaunt to the Philippines he covered my shifts for a couple of days and so I joined my wife, Lilian on one of the flights she was working.
Allegedly, as I was in wandering around the cafes and art galleries of Paris, Steve asked Dickie the same question about where I was and Dickie panicked and said I was ill. Steve then said he would go and visit me and make sure I am OK, to which Dickie blurted out, the infamous and much recounted in bars and messes ever since,
“HE’S IN FRANCE”.
Oblivious to the fact our little ruse had been rumbled, I enjoyed a very pleasurable flight back to Hong Kong in first class, eating caviar and sipping champagne, but mostly asleep and rocked up for my next shift at HQCCC as fresh as a daisy.
Steve is from Hull, and Yorkshiremen are not known for mincing their words, and when I was intercepted an extremely loud, fruity, imaginative, and thoroughly well deserved “bollocking” ensued that was akin to standing in front of Marshall speakers at an AC/DC concert, except with a lot of swearing and saliva.
I can safely say I kept my head well and truly down and avoided eye contact for days.
I was later to learn that Dickie and my cunning plan to squeeze a short holiday by working each others’ shifts was not well received by the Colonial brass, and I understand the Assistant Commissioner of Operations saved our bacon and decided not to discipline us for going AWAL, which I will freely admit we should have been. Later on in my career I will be disciplined for things I should not have been disciplined for, and so I suppose in the grand scheme of things it balanced out.
For a while, at least.
The story went into RHKP folk legend and Steve, perhaps unfairly, always referred to Dickie thereafter as “Squealer”. Its ironic that several decades later Steve worked for Dickie in the private sector in airport security and probably addressed him as “Squealer, Sir”.
I have already described Gus in Chapter 1 of this blog, and he was quite a character. Far too intelligent for his own good, an accomplished musician, golfer, light aircraft pilot, mimic, amateur dramatics actor, comedian, linguist and “bullshitter” of note. Gus had a very low boredom threshold, and perhaps like me, this led to many accomplishments in life, but also to getting into trouble.
One “Gus” incident I remember well was that a senior officer telephoned HQCCC and requested that EOD be called out to deal with an IED at the scene of some incident. At that time, Gus, Steve and I were all in the EOD Cadre and all of us should have known what the correct protocols were. Instead, Gus told the senior officer at the scene to get the suspect to dispose his own bomb. As pragmatic as this may seem, it was of course a very daft suggestion and resulted in a moderate amount of shit being directed into Gus’ fan.
It is also during this period of professional idling that Gus and I took up paragliding and we went on to become the founders of the Hong Kong Paragliding Association (www.hkpa.net) together with a Cathay Pacific 747 Captain called Tony. In these pioneering days my first fight was on Gus’ Airwave Black Magic paraglider, with no instruction, no clue and no worries.
I had always wanted to fly and Gus confidently reassured me that all my dreams would come true as he strapped me into his newly purchased paraglider and pushed me off a steep cliff at Long Ke Wan in Sai Kung Country Park.
Neither of us knew what we were doing, and in the strong winds I got seriously twisted up in the lines, was unceremoniously dragged up the hill and luckily hauled into the air before I got blown backwards into the lee side rotor of the hill and down a cliff.
Luckily, and with no help from Gus’ frantic instructions on the walkie talkie, my glider unspun itself and I ended up facing the right way and then enjoyed an idyllic free flight for a brief few minutes before I drifted down to the beach where I landed softly, and I have to say with a good deal of “ground kissing” and euphoria.
I was now addicted, and over subsequent months and years Gus, Tony and I leapt off every single hill and mountain in the territory of Hong Kong, getting better all the time and eventually achieving our goals of soaring and thermaling like eagles.
For the sake of my continued existence on Planet Earth I decided that I better learn how to paraglide properly and over the following years went on various courses. I did my formal qualifications with the British Hang-gliding & Paragliding Association (“BHPA”) schools in the UK and reached Advance Pilot level, Trainee Instructor and gained my Tandem pilot qualification. I also did cross country training in Taiwan, USA, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa and quite often in Chamonix in France. Later I learned to paramotor with an engine and propeller strapped on my back in Sacramento in northern California.
In those pioneering days in the early 1990s I was first to fly off Dragon’s Bank in Sek O and Sunset Peak in Lantau. Gus and Tony were the first to fly all the hills in Sai Kung and the New Territories. We later competed in paragliding cross country competitions around the world (Verbier in Switzerland in 1993 and Kyushu in Japan in 1995), usually coming last, but thoroughly enjoying the experience, especially as the Hong Kong Government sponsored us and gave us time off to represent the Colony.
Over the following years we recruited many of our colleagues into our growing paragliding club, including our boss, Steve, a senior officer called Gerry (who Gus tried to kill), our PTS squad mate, Ben, an SDU officer called Nick and a British Army Major called Chris, whom we worked with at PolMil.
Video of flying at Sek O: https://youtu.be/51IQ8DJd0MM
The three months at HQCCC passed relatively quickly and despite an unequivocal breach of the Police and Civil Service discipline code I was very privileged and very fortunate to be selected to join Emergency Unit Kowloon West, perhaps the best uniform job in the Force, and also in the most interesting and exciting region of the Territory.
Maybe the Assistant Commissioner of Operations after my “Missing in France” escapades thought I was an energetic, innovative and resourceful officer suitable for a top front line job, or maybe he thought I would get shot by triads and be rid of me.
When I came back to Hong Kong from long leave with my new wife, Lilian we moved into a decent sized Government apartment in Mid-Levels. Seniority dictated how nice the apartment you could apply for and by the time I was a Senior Inspector we were living in a 2,000 square foot apartment in Mount Butler with stunning views over the whole of Hong Kong and the Harbour.
Accommodation was definitely a perk of joining the police, especially for expatriates. In recent years many of the government quarters have been sold off to the private sector and now police and other government officers get a rental allowance that they generally use for renting a far more modest apartment, or more sensibly, to buy a place and pay off a mortgage.
Emergency Unit Kowloon West was, and still is based at Mong Kok police station in the heart of Kowloon, where my PTU Company was also based. Emergency Unit is known as Chung Fung Dui (冲锋队）in Chinese and is the first police response unit to “999” calls.
EU is structured similarly to a PTU company, but larger and with far more experienced officers. Each platoon is made up of 50 or so Police Constables, 12 Sergeants, 1 Station Sergeant and commanded by a Senior Inspector. Each Region has four platoons commanded by a Superintendent who is assisted by a Chief Inspector who performs a more administrative role.
In Kowloon West we had 12 Mercedes Benz vans that were equipped with emergency kit and an assortment of weapons. Each car is manned by a Sergeant, an advance driver, a uniform crew member and a plain clothed officer who we could deploy to carry our surveillance or carry out reconnoitre before we executed any raids or preformed other tactical responses.
In Hong Kong during the early nineties the Colony was beset with very violent robberies, organised crime and smuggling. My tour in EU coincided with a period of frequent and very violent goldsmith robberies that were carried out by organised and well armed criminal gangs, some from Hong Kong, but mostly from mainland China.
Just before China resumed Sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997, it seemed China was allowing the two centuries of British rule to go out with a bang and so there were frequent gun battles on the streets, grenade attacks and blatant smuggling of stolen luxury cars carried our by armed gangs using “Daai Fei”s (four or five Mercury engine speed boats capable of sixty+ knots).
The gangs were often former military trained and had access to Chinese “People’s Liberation Army” weapons such as the Type 56 (7.62 mm Chinese AK47 assault rifle); Type 54 (7.62 Black Star pistol); Uzi type sub machine guns ( rapid fire lower velocity sub machine guns); and grenades.
Much to my, and many officers’ frustration, we were only armed with .38 Smith & Wesson revolvers loaded with just 6 rounds of ammunition. Later, as an interim measure and due to the frequency and scale of violence used by the armed robbers we were issued an extra 6 rounds which were stored in a “zip lock bag”. Thankfully, this was later replaced with 6 rounds in a speed loader, but not before we encountered several life threatening gun battles in which my officers had to open these wretched little bags whilst under fire and reload their revolvers. Quite ridiculous!
We were also issued with Remington 870 pump action shotguns with birdshot cartridges, later replaced with the very effective “00” buckshot half way through my tour of EU (again thankfully); and a Colt AR15 5.56mm semi automatic assault rifle that we were not allowed to use in the densely packed urban environment due to the rounds being high velocity and according to the “brass” with a risk of collateral damage. In the EU armoury, which I had to check each shift, there were many Sterling Machine guns, but we never used these and I was never told why we hung onto these obsolete weapons.
Emergency Units are perhaps manned by the most capable and experienced officers in the Force. There was no woke bedwetting Human Resources department diversity, inclusion and equal outcome bollocks that we see today. We just had the best and bravest police officers and if they didn’t cut the mustard they were transferred out, quickly and without ceremony.
Policing around the world generally consists of a lot of routine and run of the mill duties to perform, interspersed with moments of chaos, danger and madness. EU in the early 1990s was the opposite. Everyday was absolutely mad and our day at work was filled with life threatening and highly demanding situations.
I have never been in the military, although I think I would probably have faired pretty well if I had, but EU K/W in the early nineties was as close to being at war as it could be. On a daily basis we faced determined and ruthless criminals who were very keen on shooting us.
Individual members of my platoon were fearless and extremely brave, and one of my many grievances with the RHKP hierarchy at that time was that my men didn’t receive fair recognition by way of promotion or commendations for their professionalism and courage. If the standard for the award of a commendation was consistent I would not have been so pissed off, but it wasn’t.
Awards would be given out by senior officers to their rugby pals, freemason brothers, their ma jais (little horses), for quid pro quo favours, or just for turning up at work each day and not making any spelling mistakes.
In a regular unit you have a cross section of ability, qualifications and experience, but in a unit like EU all the police constables are qualified and deserving of being promoted, and the dilemma is that if they were indeed all recommended and did get promoted there would be insufficient candidates of the right stuff to fill the vacancies and provide continuity.
Its a difficult one, but recognising their efforts and courage by way of awards would have gone a long way to maintain morale and encourage continued professionalism. It is also just good manners to say, “Thank You”.
Alas, and to all of our shame, the EU officers did not received the recognition they deserved. Awards, such as Governors’ Commendations, Commissioner’s Commendations and the highest, the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, were surprisingly few despite almost weekly gun battles and arrests of criminals for serious and violent crimes.
As a platoon officer I would have some administrative tasks and paperwork to perform with my one finger tippy tappy typewriter, carbon paper and gallons of Tippex (does it still exist?), but mostly I was out and about on the streets of Kowloon in the command car, “Car five zero”.
The numerous robberies required an instant response that we practiced everyday on the streets and also in the relative safety of the Close Quarter Battle Range where NCO and Inspectors’ leadership and tactical ability could be put to the test and finely honed.
For me as an expatriate I was perhaps blessed by being ignorant of the gossip and distractions, but handicapped by my lack of fluency in Cantonese and so I relied a lot on my Platoon Orderly who was an instant translator and relay of information.
However, when the wheel came off, radio discipline was difficult to maintain and there would be a cacophony of rapid Cantonese as the command and control centre tasked the EU cars and their crews. In reply, the officers gave instant updates and directions as we tightened the net and closed in on the robbery, burglary in progress, gas leak, gang fight, triad chopping, murder, assault, theft, stolen car on the move or whatever.
In the command car I was sometimes with the Platoon Station Sergeant, but more often than not he patrolled in “Car four nine” so we could double up the supervisory and command presence if we had sufficient vehicles and drivers.
The streets of Kowloon are some of the densest on the planet, and let’s not forget with most buildings being over ten stories its also a three dimensional maze to navigate around. Getting to the scene of the emergency was always difficult, frustrating and exciting all at the same time.
I had chased around the streets of London in a Rover SD1 Area Car in the early 1980s and now I was chasing around the streets of Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po in a Mercedes Van in the early 1990s. Occasionally, I would patrol in an old school Land Rover that could really move in the hands of a good driver who knew the streets and all the shortcuts.
Like all officers, I tried to install a sense of Comradery and Esprit de Corp into my team. Whilst I insisted on high standards of discipline and conduct, I understood all too well that policing is a tough occupation and the irony that the harder you worked the more chance you had of getting into trouble. I always thought in policing its tough enough with villains out there trying to get us, without us turning on each other.
I got an opportunity to prove this point when I was called to a case of a firearm being found in a “love hotel” in Kowloon Tong. This is a rather affluent area in central Kowloon, but has several blocks of tacky sex themed hotels that rent out rooms to couples, usually to those who haven’t known each other for very long, nor will.
On arrival at the room in question the cleaning lady pointed out a weapon I knew very well lying on the bed side table. A Smith & Wesson .38 snub nosed revolver, the weapon issued to Royal Hong Kong Police detectives because it has a short 2 inch barrel and can easily be concealed.
My EU officers realised what it was as well and like me correctly guessed a detective had left it by mistake while getting up to mischief. Whether he was on duty or not is a mute point, detectives tend to work very long hours and spend time in dodgy places frequented by informants. That was not the issue, the issue was that “a firearm had been left unattended” and that was a serious breach of the RHKP disciplinary code.
As is often the case, EU are quickly joined at the scene of any incidents by officers from other units and it was clear to me that things were beginning to escalate fast as “sitreps” would be reported to the control room by various officers.
As luck would have it an Inspector from my intake at PTS suddenly appeared. “Henry” was a force entry Inspector and older than most having risen through the ranks of PC and Sergeant. He was looking extremely nervous.
I pulled him aside and asked if it was his revolver, and he sheepishly replied, ‘Yes’. I then told him to say he had been having a shower and had not left the premises. I spoke to the cleaning lady and told her what had happened and she obviously thought playing down the matters was as prudent as I did.
So, as one of the first officers on scene I could “testify” that Henry was indeed in the shower room when I arrived and so technically he never left his revolver unattended.
Not long afterwards, and no doubt due to conflicting reports being given to the Kowloon Regional Command and Control Centre, the divisional commander arrived and questioned Henry, myself and my EU officers about what happened and we all corroborated each other. I suspect he knew exactly what had really happened, but he did not press us further. No doubt at a more appropriate time and place he told Henry to stop shagging prostitutes and look after his gun, or else.
This incident, early on in my EU posting, resulted in several outcomes. Firstly, it protected the career of a good detective and potentially his marriage. Secondly, I knew Henry would never leave his revolver lying around again. Thirdly, I proved to my Hong Kong Chinese team that this new “gwailo bomban” could be relied upon. And lastly, as someone who loses his keys on a daily basis, I vowed never to carry a personal issue firearm.
The haze of time has dimmed a lot of the detail from my days in the Royal Hong Kong Police, but not the drama of armed robberies in progress that are etched vividly in my memory as if they had just happened. Without being overly dramatic, these incidents were against highly armed and extremely violent people who would not hesitate to kill us to get away.
After all, if they did get caught they were looking at life in prison. If they escaped, they would have millions of dollars of cash and valuables.
Between the two outcomes was us.
One of the infamous villains was Yip Kai Foon, a ruthless and daring armed robber who was behind many of the heists of goldsmith shops in the 1990s. In fact he had been arrested in late 1980s and managed to escape by feigning illness, and with assistance from his gang escaped from the hospital to continue to terrorise Hong Kong.
There were many other gangs, and I suppose the 1990s, just before the handover, was a period when these gangs could access Chinese military weapons, sneak into Hong Kong and escape back into China with impunity. China allowed this to happen and turned a blind eye for a while, but later this crime spree came to an end in the mid 1990s when the Chinese authorities started catching these villains and executing them. Whether you agree with Capital punishment or not, one thing is for certain. They don’t do it again.
I genuinely believe very few people during their police careers, anywhere in the world, were at the sharp end of so many violent crimes as Emergency Unit was in the 1990s. My own platoon (No. 1 Platoon EU/KW) definitely having more than its fair share.
The Shui Hing Mahjong School robbery in Mong Kok sticks out as a particularly brutal crime that was a catalyst for change and forced the officers wallahs to do something and respond to our, up until then, rather futile attempts to better arm and better protect front line officers. As I mentioned above, although armed, we were woefully outgunned by this batch of professional armed robbers and the Shui Hing Mahjong School heist was a turning point.
On this particular evening in early 1990 I was actually patrolling Mong Kok in Car 50 when the call came out and responded with my cars from Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po, Yaumatei and adjacent districts where we actually cordoned off the vicinity using well rehearsed and practiced tactics honed during training exercises and more often than not in real life.
During the robbery four highly armed robbers stole cash, watches, jewellery and wallets from the occupants of a Mahjong parlour. They entered the building, locked the doors, stole what they could, and tragically shot at blank range two people who resisted or were perhaps hesitant in handing over their cherished gold Rolex watches.
The robbers then piled out of the building firing at us with Type 56 assault rifles, an Uzi style rapid fire machine gun, and pistols. We returned fire with our revolvers and Remington shotguns that had little effect on them as they were wearing military style ballistic helmets, bullet proof vests (“BRVs”), and they basically laid down more fire power than we could.
The driver of the Mong Kong EU car, a more elderly officer nick-named fan siu (meaning Sweet Potato) returned fire from behind the engine block of the van (as per our operational tactics), used up all his six rounds, and fumbled around in the wretched plastic zip lock bag to reload his revolver with a further six rounds while being fired upon by an AK47 and a machine pistol. Brave stuff.
A robber escaping down an alleyway was confronted by one of my officers who was armed with a Remington shotgun with birdshot ammunition, and the robber kept on running, seemingly oblivious to the pellets bouncing off his BRV and helmet.
Our cordon was breached, quite simply because we were out gunned.
The robbers carjacked a bus, and as we pursued them they threw stick grenades out of the windows at us, some going off and some not, being left as dangerous blinds on the streets of Kowloon for the EOD team, later, and with my joint role as an EOD Cadre member as coordinator, to render them safe.
The robbers managed to escape for a while, but were unable to get over to China, and were later arrested by crime units and various stolen goods and weapons were recovered. During one of the subsequent raids by crime units a Detective Inspector was shot in the face during a room entry. Despite the seriousness of the injuries and the bullet passing through his skull the officer managed to recover, but lost his sense of taste and smell and unfortunately passed away too early in life from illness.
As always in these cases there were always a group of mess bar experts giving post event analysis of what we should have done or could have done. I remember an officer many years later pontificating that our account of being fire at by Uzi type weapons was false and that Uzi style weapons were not used.
He is incorrect, as many of the bar experts usually are about matter that they did not witness first hand.
I remember clearly hearing the rapid fire of a machine pistol. Its very distinctive, and indeed my recollection of events is vindicated in the Chinese language documentary below (in which myself and my platoon feature) where the Ballistic Department give a briefing and introduce the various exhibits and weapons recovered, including the Chinese machine pistol.
Emergency Units not only responded to robberies, but to all sorts of incidents that require immediate response. That said we were not always the first on scene and divisional uniform patrols and other units occasionally got to the scene before us, or were in the right place at the right time.
For instance, Yip Kai Foon (葉繼歡 – also known a “Dog Tooth’ or “Goosehead”) met his fate at the hands of a regular uniform patrol in the middle of the night while coming ashore from a boat on Hong Kong island in May 1996. He spent many years in Stanley Prison confined in a wheel chair for underestimating the pair of foot patrol officers who chased after and arrested him. Yip was found to be in possession of a machine pistol, a pistol and 1.8 kilograms of explosives.
I remember arriving at the scene of a Down’s Syndrome girl who had fallen from a twenty story apartment building. Due to her obesity and the height of the fall she had literally exploded like a water balloon. I had a “run in” with the local press who were in the habit of publishing grisly photographs of accident victims and dead bodies in their vulgar Chinese newspaper and pushed them away from the gruesome scene.
As an Inspector I had a duty to attend the scene of “sudden deaths” and form an opinion as to whether the death was suspicious or not. During subsequent inquiries into this tragic death I learned the poor girl, who was in her twenties, was never ever allowed out of her parent’s apartment, the reason being, although not explicitly stated by her parents, that they were ashamed of her going out in public.
The seriousness and often violent consequences of “losing face” was one of the cultural issues we expatriate officers had to get to grips with working as police officers in Hong Kong. Losing face was not only the cause of a lot of “revenge” crime, but also for behaviour such as locking away people with disabilities because of perceived “shame”.
Whilst I think Hong Kong Society as a whole is less violent and confrontational than British Society, based upon being a front line police officer is both, when the wheel does come off the violence can be horrific, evidenced by the severed fingers we would often come across responding to “choppings” (attacks with meat cleavers and butcher’s choppers).
A Triad settlement talk (a dispute resolution meeting), often in a restaurant or club could gravitate into an all out medieval style war between the two factions with whatever comes to hand, such as stools, chairs, knives, choppers, sticks, iron bars, etc., being used as weapons. Unlike in all the popular Hong Kong police and triad movies, firearms were rarely used in the gang fights.
However in the goldsmith robberies of the 1990s they were.
There were many robberies, and I have no idea why our platoon had more than our fair share to deal with. It was suggested by several of my police colleagues that the gangs knew the EU shift patterns and preferred to carry out their armed robberies when the gormless “gwailo” was on duty!
In another case, a goldsmith robbery in Sham Shui Po resulted in over fifty high velocity AK47 rounds going straight through one of our EU cars. This was because the crew of the SSPo EU car pulled up to set up a road block cordon right next to the “tai sui jai” (the lookout) and immediately came under fire. When I arrived shortly afterwards the crew were very shaken, but were fortunately uninjured, except some minors grazes and curs from some glass shards as the bullets passed right through the van.
There is a picture of Brian Heard of Ballistics Unit peering through a bullet hole.
After every open fire case we would have a “Bai Kwan Daai” ceremony at an auspicious time to thank the “Soul of the Universe” for our continued existence on Planet Earth in which we would invite other officers to a buffet that included suckling pig, goose, chicken and duck.
Myself and other commanders would cut the roasted suckling pig and light joss sticks in a ceremony in front of the “Kwan Daai” statue, an alter that always had pride of place in every police station, unit or daai fong.
In the evenings after a Bai Kwan Daai we would have a “daai sik wooi” (big eating party) where Mahjong, gambling, drinking and a huge Chinese feast would take place at some closed off restaurant in Kowloon. It would be required that all my officers toast me with a “yam sing” over and over again until my eyes bled.
To be honest I have very few recollections of later events as I would get well and truly hammered, as required by tradition. That said, my officers would always ensure I got home, often tucking me up in the foetal position in my bed under the supervision of a grumpy, but understanding Mrs Utley who would tell me later the next day what an awful state I was in and how caring my boys were.
She had no need to remind me as my headache was usually a good indicator of my alcohol consumption. All that said, a few pints of water, a Gatorade and a long run along Bowen Road would have me revived and ready for the next day’s battle with the Hong Kong underworld.
I am often asked if we shot anyone and whether any of my unit got injured or killed. I suppose I can say the score was five-nil and how my boys never got seriously injured or worse is something I count as a blessing.
The case when 50 rounds of 7.62 mm were fired at point blank range into the SSPo EU car is like the “Divine Intervention” Scene in from the movie Pulp Fiction. As the rounds were fired the boys all hit the floor and apart from a few glass splinters and tattered nerves everyone was OK.
One of the later robberies in which we dispatched the robbers to their maker happened after we had been issued with “00” buckshot for our Remington shotguns. After robbing a goldsmith shop with high powered weapons the robbers fled in two directions in carjacked taxis and we caught them all in two separate locations, both incidents going into EU folklore.
One taxi with two armed robbers escaped towards To Kwa Wan area and it was intercepted at a roadblock where a exchange of fire took place. During that gun battle one my PCs got shot at with a Blackstar Pistol with one round going between his legs, just a few inches from his manhood, passing through the cloth of his uniform trouser legs and another round grazing the shoulder of his bullet proof vest.
I remember during the post shooting debriefs telling him it was mandatory for him to see the “trick cyclist”, as we referred to the Force Psychologist. He refused, laughing it off with typical bravado and police dark humour, but he later told me that three days later he woke up bolt upright in bed after suffering a panic attack. It was clear he had post traumatic stress, although the term PTSD hadn’t been used in those days, and so he did make the appointment with the psychologist in the end.
The second carjacked taxi with robbers onboard was intercepted on the flyover into the Lion Rock tunnel by several of my EU cars and what followed was one of the craziest incidents in EU history, witnessed by many officers from various perspectives. One of my officers who confronted the robbers is called Raymond Liu, and dare I say Raymond was one of my favourites (we are not supposed to have favourite children or subordinates are we?).
A very violent gun battle ensued in which one of the robbers opened fire with an AK47 rifle at the officers manning the road blocks and those behind the taxi in pursuit. At the time a Senior Superintendent who commanded Traffic Kowloon West was on his police motorcycle under the flyover and reported seeing spent AK47 cartridge cases raining off the flyover where the gun battle was occurring and scattering around him.
Raymond, bravely, professionally and I presume as calm as anyone being fired upon by an automatic assault weapon, returned fire with the Remington loaded with newly issued “00” buckshot and reported afterwards, words to the effect, that the robber literally stopped firing, lifted off the ground and fell backwards, spread-eagled on the road. The other robber was also shot, but lived to have his day in court.
Quite a haul that day.
I arrived at the Lion Rock Tunnel flyover scene very shortly afterwards and assessed the carnage and was obviously delighted my team were safe, and I have to say already drafting in my head the report to my seniors of how effective the new “00” buckshot is.
Post shooting crime scenes are complicated as evidence must be preserved for various forensic specialists and detectives to deal with. Also, ambulance and the fire brigade are often in attendance dealing with the injured. Not only that, but multitudes of senior officers feel compelled to be seen doing something, and EU and CID commanders often have to diplomatically tell their bosses to keep out of the cordon and stop trampling through the evidence. Also, as evidenced by all the news paper clipping above, dozens, if not hundreds of the Press turn up and its an effort to preserve the crime scene and ensure evidence isn’t contaminated.
On this occasion I had two crime scenes to manage and it was my job to make sure the first response was managed properly and efficiently, to preserve the scene, secure any evidence and hand it over to the forensic and criminal investigation units. On this occasion I had a lot of officers who had either been shot at or who had discharged firearms and there would inevitably be a huge mountain of paperwork to attend to.
I am glad to say that my job, which is why I liked it, involved minimal paperwork because it was our job to be on the streets, not behind a typewriter with Tippex, carbon paper, and two tappy fingers (no word processors or printers in those days).
Unfortunately the trail of mayhem we left on the streets of Kowloon were transferred to others, and one officer, Frank, was Chief Inspector of a Regional or Headquarters’ administration unit with the unenviable task of writing up, not only the open fire reports, but also prepare a report of every single time we drew our weapons.
Given we often had our weapons drawn “in readiness” as per tactical training, this mammoth of an admin task was multiplied into a constant stampede of marauding mammoths. I remember bumping into Frank many years later and him berating me (jokingly, I hope) for making his early 1990s a period of never ending work and headache.
In fact, one of my friends, Ian (“Shagger”) was in Traffic Kowloon West at the same time and was also based at Mong Kok Police Station. He often reminisces with me about the traffic chaos and mayhem “Mad Max” (my nickname) and his team caused in Kowloon. I often remind Ian that he was probably more in harms way than us as he often rode into the gun battles on his police motorcycle with a bright fluorescent “shoot me here” biker jacket.
I later wrote up Raymond’s recommendation for a commendation, along with many other recommendation that were unfairly (to my mind) turned down by the Brass, and was delighted and extremely proud that he was awarded a Governor’s Commendation, evidenced by him wearing a red lanyard instead of a black one around the shoulder of his uniform.
In fact, many years later, long after I had left the police, I was walking along Johnston Road on Hong Kong side and I saw a PTU Sergeant patrolling with some of his PCs and I noticed he had a “red lanyard” and while I was wondering what he had done to earn such a great honour the Sergeant ran up to me, gave me a bear hug, and said, “Its me Daai Lo, Raymond, how are you?” His PCs were as shocked as I was, and I have to say it brought a tear to my eye, because it is very unlike Hong Kong Chinese to express such emotion, especially in public.
As an Emergency Unit Platoon Commander patrolling the whole of Kowloon West Region each day it was less likely I would be first at the scene of an emergency, but I would get there eventually, and as quickly as I could, take command, direct actions, and always lead the raids into building and premises in pursuit of criminals who were either escaping or had run to ground. This happened often. Some were false calls, some were too late, and some were successful and we arrested the robbers or gangs.
Some video clips from the Canadian TV Series “To Serve & protect”.
However, on one occasion I was in the right place at the right time, so to speak. I had been patrolling around the Tsim Sha Tsui area in Car 50 when a call came up on the radio that there was a goldsmith robbery in progress in Mong Kok. Shortly afterwards was frenetic commentary as various EU cars honed in on the chase and it seemed the get away car was heading our way.
Several other EU Cars from the south of the region together with Car 50, crewed by myself, Fan Siu (driver) and Lung Jai (my orderly) blocked off escape routes around the Hung Hom ferry pier area.
As we listened into the radio commentary of the pursuit I watched in half disbelief as the get away car came screeching into the carpark of Hung Hom ferry pier with Car 8 from Mong Kok in hot pursuit.
Having realized their escape had been foiled, the robbers in the getaway car skidded violently to a halt, frantically selected reverse gear in a cloud of blue tyre smoke and rammed at high speed into the ferry pier bus stop, injuring several people and one women severely.
Platoon orderly, Lung Jai, and I were out of Car 50 in short order, revolvers drawn, and joining our colleagues as we chased down the three armed robbers who were now running away in different directions. Car 1 and Car 8 crews quickly caught and restrained two robbers, and Lung Jai and I chased after the third who was running into the ferry pier buildings.
I have chased down running villains before, especially during my time in the Metropolitan police, and of course many times during tactical training exercises when it can feel like the real thing, or perhaps the real thing feels like a training exercise. Anyway, I was not overly concerned about the potential dangers, just concerned that he might get away and we would have failed in our job. I have to admit that it is very exciting and as I look back I must have been feeling extremely confident and sure of myself.
I am, or was particularly so then, a good runner, but the robber was darting about and I briefly lost sight of him as he ran around a corner. I was not too sure about the layout of Hung Hom Ferry Pier, but logically the hard stuff must end and the sea begin and so I “assumed” he would eventually be trapped, especially with the arrival of other units who would join in on the chase and have the ferry pier tightly cordoned off.
I remember running towards the corner of a structure and our tactical training kicked in and I stopped, lowered myself (bringing my head down lower than one would expect) and then tactically from cover raised my revolver into the firing position and peered around the corner.
There he was standing just 5 meters away pointing a firearm directly at me and I exploded into a “GING CHAT MO YUK” (Police! Stop!) and was starting to squeeze the trigger for the “FAU JAT HOI CHEUNG” (otherwise I open fire) when he dropped the gun, swung around, legged it and leapt off the concourse into the sea.
A little shocked by what happened I ran up to the end of the ferry concourse and could see him down in the water, about 3 meters lower than me and he was starting to swim away.
I had my weapon trained on him and was shouting for him to stop. I was quickly joined by Lung Jai who was giving a “sitrep” on the radio in one hand and weapon trained on a flailing wet robber with the other.
It was now, no more than 15 seconds after the initial encounter that I was going over in my head the Police General Orders for justification in opening fire.
Serious and Violent Crime? “Yes” Affect the arrest? “Yes”. All justified.
Life threatening? Umm? Perhaps not any more.
After all he dropped his pistol when I did my Cantonese bit and the firearm was now lying on the concrete floor of the concourse where it would be cordoned off, photographed, examined by Ballistic Department for fingerprints, forensically test fired and matched to databases, and eventually bagged and tagged as an exhibit for court.
As Lung Jai and I were peering down, the robber then started to swim away. Shit! Now should I shoot? He is getting away, slowly I will admit, but he is getting away. It would take a while for Marine police to respond and he may come ashore on the other side of the harbour and escape our cordon.
Jumping in after him would be a bad option, but I noticed a small Sanpan (small traditional Chinese boat) with an elderly lady dressed in Tankwa black cloths and wide brimmed veiled hat a few meters away and we called and beckoned her over.
Eventually she responded, expertly turned her boat around, drew alongside the pier and we jumped aboard.
With “chase that man” instructions she took up the pursuit, albeit at a rather put put leisurely pace. I took up position on the bow of the boat with my revolver trained on the black mop of hair above a bobbing body and Lung Jai kept up the radio commentary.
There is a picture somewhere that appeared in the English language newspapers of me standing on the bow of the Sanpan with my weapon trained towards the swimming robber. I can’t find the picture among my stuff, but it would be nice to find it someday.
It was clear the robber was flagging in the water, and I think he was becoming resigned to the fact he was not going to get away. As we drew up along side him I asked Lung Jai for his handcuffs (as Inspectors did not carry them, or at least I did not) and leaned out over the Sanpan, grabbed one of his outstretched flailing arms and cuffed it. Instead of hauling him out of the sea I decided to just hold the other end of the cuffs and drag him along, occasionally dunking him into the water that seemed to keep him subdued.
Lung Jai instructed the old dear to drive the Sanpan to the other side of the small harbour in Hung Hom, now no longer there as the area has been reclaimed and developed, but at the time it was a small bay with a beach and a spur of sand.
I was pleased to see the crew of one of our EU cars positioned on the shore to receive us.
As we got nearer to where the EU crew reception party was waiting, the old dear said she couldn’t drive the Sanpan closer because of the shallow depth and so myself and Lung Jai jumped over board, got soaking wet, grappled with the robber who was flailing about, and in doing so my revolver fell out of its flimsy “cross draw” Calvary style holster and fell into the water. Fortunately in those days the revolver was tied to our Sam Browns (military style belts) with a lanyard and so I hauled it back up, gave it a few shakes to get water out of the barrel and then dragged the robber to the beach where we laid him out flat to search him.
In his pockets was a second pistol, a pocket full of various sizes of ammunition, and a knife. As the dripping robber was relieved of his arsenal of weapons and was hauled into the EU car Lung Jai and I looked at each other, and he said, ‘I really thought you were going to shoot him, Sir, your knuckles were white on the trigger’. We both reflected on the fact that our tactics saved our life and resulted in the arrest of a very violent and dangerous criminal.
I heard on the radio that all the other robbers had been arrested, but sadly, that a pedestrian had been seriously injured when the get away car reversed into the bus stop outside the ferry pier.
As I was looking at the hapless robber cuffed and laid out on the floor of the EU car one of my Sergeants suggested I give “my arrest” to one of his car crew PCs, and so I did, not realising that doing so would erase my involvement and all chronology and history of me ever being involved. He later got a Commissioner’s Commendation for my efforts and a different coloured lanyard to prove so. I got nothing except some pithy remarks in the Officers’ Mess one evening that I should have shot the robber. I guess leadership comes in all shapes and sizes
I had had nearly three years of commanding one of the best police units up at the front line during one of Hong Kong’s most violent periods and was reaching nearly six years of service in the Royal Hong Kong Police. Given I had an outstanding record of service with several recommendations for various Commendations, had been early advanced in rank to Senior Inspectors on passing my Standard III Inspectors examinations, had been awarded Baton of Honour at PTS, Best Platoon at PTU, had a good record in the EOD Cadre and had passed my Intermediate Cantonese Course it wasn’t unreasonable to think I was a good contender to be promoted to Chief Inspector, earlier rather than later.
Little did I know that everything was going to come crashing down.
It all started because of a minor administration glitch and like all disasters was a result of bad luck, bad timing and bad intent on behalf of some bad eggs. At that time I was consumed everyday in leading an emergency unit team during a time many people wanted to kill us and doing it as professionally as I could.
In the 1990s an Inspector in Emergency Unit Kowloon West would work on average six days a week according to a shift pattern that could have you working nine days in a row. Each shift was at least nine and a half hours long and overtime was not paid to uniform Inspectors such as me. If we were involved in an arrest or had to work longer we didn’t get paid extra or get time off in lieu like British police, and indeed officers within RHKP Marine and CID.
The shift pattern for four platoons covered the three shifts of the day. One day a month was assigned a “training day” where we usually went up to the CQBR in the New Territories to practice room entries and tactics, or perhaps attended lectures or get involved in sporting events.
When I arrived at EUK/W the company administration PC would ask me each month which day I would like to book as a “floating rest” day and I would usually chose a day that joined another rest day to stretch out a day into two. This day would be covered by the Station Sergeant, and he in turn would chose a floating rest day when I was on duty.
As I worked a shift pattern I would sometimes go paragliding before or after work or on my rest days, especially if my wife, who was a Cathay Pacific flight attendant, was out of Hong Kong. The reality was I rarely saw Lilian as we were often working at different times and I have to say life was more like being single than married. I couldn’t say our relationship was particularly strained, because we rarely saw each other, but it wasn’t that close.
I suppose subconsciously my work was stressful with all the craziness going on and horrible things I would see everyday, but in those days I relished the challenge and was up for anything. One would never mention being stressed anyway for fear of being thought incapable of doing one’s job. However, I suppose all those dead bodies, violence, gang fights, shooting, grenades, blood, dishonesty, human evilness, close shaves and hassles at work does work on one’s mind. Leaping off cliffs, as my colleagues described paragliding back then, was a way to destress, as was trail running which I did a lot of.
As a spouse of a flight attendant I was entitled to several free flights a year and 90% discount on other Cathay Pacific flights. If I had sufficient leave, which wasn’t often, I could join Lilian on one of her local Asian flights, stay at her hotel for one or two nights, and come back to Hong Kong and continue my work. It was important for us to spend “some” time together. It was also great to just escape from the claustrophobia of Hong Kong now and again, even just for a day or two.
On one occasion Lilian invited me to join her on a two night flight to Penang in Malaysia. I checked the EU duty roster and I had two rest days joined together plus a “floating” rest day making a total of three days off and so I told her I could join her, even though I really wanted to spend the time with my friend and former Metropolitan Police colleague, called Iain Black (PC 673XD) who was staying at our apartment and perhaps go paragliding at Sek O or Ma On Shan.
Iain was an extremely talented SD1 Rover Advanced Driver and we had many adventures together in “X-Ray 2” Area Car in the early 1980s throughout West London. Iain was now working undercover as a surveillance officer with a focus on the Yardie gangs in London and had been going through a bit of a rough stretch with one thing or another and had taken a period of unpaid leave to travel the world and get his life back in balance.
At this time I had a very experienced, calm, loyal and kind Station Sergeant called Wong as my right hand man, and a smart and streetwise Platoon Orderly to watch my back, translate and keep me informed. Things went smoothly and I felt I was part of a tight knit team, just as I did in PTU.
However, Station Sergeant Wong eventually got transferred out and a Station Sergeant called Tsui took his place who, at least in the early days, I was never very sure about. Wong and a couple of my boys warned me to be wary of him. He was clearly a “I’m really in charge —gwailos don’t know what they’re doing” type of NCO. Fair enough… it was sometimes true.
Also, my trusted and talented Platoon Orderly was rotated out to give another officer a stint and allow him to go on and perform other EU duties and broaden his experience. My new Orderly turned out to be a very loyal and trustworthy support to me and the Platoon. However, in hindsight, I realise too many things were in flux and I should have been more attentive to the “small stuff”.
In those Colonial days police officers were required to inform “Police Headquarter” that they were leaving “The Colony” and most never did. My local colleagues were always going to and from China to see relatives, stay at their ancestral homes or see their mistresses. Few, if any, bothered with this archaic requirement unless it was for a longer period of time.
I also did not like to let people know what I was doing in my private life. I controlled carefully what people knew about me, and was not unaccustomed to employing the “Bureau of Disinformation” as a smoke screen to keep things private. I did nothing wrong or illegal, but I did not want others to know what I was doing in my private life, or that I was privileged to fly around with my Cathay Pacific wife for nothing. Of course, for long leave I would submit the necessary notifications with my application for leave, but for the large part I believed my private life was my private life, not least for the good reason that several people wanted to kill me at that time.
Little did I foresee that by doing so I inadvertently, unintentionally and with no malice aforethought ruined my career in the Royal Hong Kong Police and all my hard fought professional reputation.
I flew to Penang with Lilian using her on her ID90 discount flight scheme on day one and flew back to Hong Kong on day three ready to start work again for my next shift as per the duty roster I had signed off at the beginning of the month.
However, on arrival back at Kai Tak airport I saw the Chief Inspector of EUK/W called Biggins, a bulging steroid popping rugby type from Bunterfract in England who effectively arrested me at the luggage claim carousel and hauled me back in a van to EUK/W base where it was alleged I had gone Absent without Leave (AWAL). A ridiculous trumped up charge that he said was substantiated by a fabricated allegation that my monthly “floating rest” day had not been recorded in the duty register.
To say I was in a state of shock is an understatement. I had never been arrested before and in retrospect the whole “arresting me at the airport” scam was just intended to humiliate me. Steroid Biggins kept justifying the arrest by saying the whole force was worried about me. He went on to say they thought I had gone paragliding, crashed and lay dead in the jungle. He said he went to my apartment and found a long haired hippy policeman who in typical “Metropolitan Police” style denied everything, which allegedly compounded their concern and justified their ridiculous and over the top response.
When I arrived at Mong Kok Police Station I tried to find my boss, Sean, who was a decent sort and he was nowhere to be found. I later found out the arrest at the airport was Steroid Biggins’ idea and of course, was illegal, although they later claimed I was not arrested but invited to escort him in a police van to Mong Kok police station report room. In fact, nothing happened at the police station, I wasn’t charged, I wasn’t interviewed, nothing.
Biggins had his fun and disappeared. I hung around needlessly, but eventually made my way home to a very worried wife and an uncertain future.
The next day I reported for work, as per the duty roster I had agreed to and signed off at the beginning of the month and was intercepted by S/Sgt Tsui who said it was a “fit up” and he had nothing to do with it. I immediately went in search of the duty roster kept by the EU administrative PC and on the version he had there was no “floating rest day” recorded for me for that month and it was not signed, although, tellingly, there was a floating rest day recorded earlier in the month for S/Sgt Tsui. I checked the duty rosters of all the other EU platoons and the “floating rest days” were all recorded for the respective platoon commanders and platoon Station Sergeants and signed off. Only mine was absent.
All very fishy.
Not long afterwards I saw my new Platoon Orderly, Lung Jai and he was contrite with shame and apologetic, blaming himself and saying, “Sorry, Ah Sir, it was all a mistake”. He was clearly very upset and I told the Station Sergeant and my Orderly that there must be an administration error and it will all get cleared up in the light of day. Let’s get back to work and forget about it.
I later had an interview with my boss, Sean, who commanded EU K/W and he also reassured me it must be a mistake, but later that day he called me back to his office and solemnly told me the bad news that it was decided from upon high that I was going to be defaulted, i.e. formal discipline procedures.
This was devastating news to me.
I had indeed left the Colony without notification and I suppose given my escapades in France three years previously when I was at HQCCC I was now viewed by the top brass to be a recidivist escaper.
I was now being made an example of even though my colleagues continued to go to China most months to see family, relatives and more often than you would think, their mistresses, and never ever notified anyone of their absence from the Colony. The reality was it was a classic case of “just because everyone does it, doesn’t make it right”.
I fully intended to fight the AWAL allegation that was patently unfair and clearly made up. Back then I was not the most cross the “T”s and dot the “I”s aficionado in the Force, but I definitely booked the “floating rest” day that month just as I had done for every other month over the previous three years. When asked by the Admin PC which day I wanted to take I always tagged my “floating rest” day next to the adjoining two rest days between the long stretch of night shifts and the beginning of the nine days of mornings and afternoon shifts. If there was a mistake it wasn’t mine.
The ridiculousness and spitefulness of Biggins arresting me at the airport for something that isn’t even an “arrestable” offence and could easily have been dealt with by a “come and see me in my office” the next day played on my mind.
As I look back it was clear Biggins had a beef with me.
I first came across him when he was PTU Staff. He wasn’t a serious man. I always thought, despite his artificial steroid bulk he was a bit of a “run with the herd coward”.
He was always playing tricks on me, winding me up, making prank phone calls, and giving me a dig whenever he could. I remember he got a woman to ring me up and pretend to be infatuated after my picture appeared in the newspapers. I told Biggins and his Wanchai hooker to “fuck off” and this clearly upset him and he often pulled rank on me, despite continually being unprofessional and inappropriate by messing me about. I guess the AWAL scam was a chance for him to humiliate me and given I had indeed left the Colony without giving notification he was going to turn the knife.
I will freely admit that in those days I was an arrogant type and didn’t suffer fools. I had no time for the rugby types, freemasons, little cliques, ma jaais, weak bullying types, office politics and I will concede I probably rubbed some people up the wrong way. This was proved by the amount of “Holier than Thou” and exaggerated Officers’ Mess versions of these events, then and annoyingly in years to come. This was made abundantly clear to me, more than any other incident, when my PTS Squad mate, Guy, with unrestrained delight, scathingly remarked in his Brummie accent, ‘Oh, how the mighty have fallen’.
Defaulter proceedings were initiated, which means a sort of internal discipline “trial”. My fear, anxiety and panic turned into full scale depression.
The only thing I had was the police force. I had risked my life on numerous occasions, given one hundred percent, gone above and beyond the call of duty and now they had turned on me and were repeatedly kicking me in the solar plexus and nuts while I was on the floor. Schadenfreude, gossip and joyous amusement at my misfortune was in spades. The true nature of human beings laid out bare.
As the Ancient Greek Sage, Bias pointed out, “Most men are indeed bad”.
The prosecutor, a quite nice Superintendent called Hugh, arranged a pre trial meeting with me and encouraged me to plead guilty to the AWAL charge because, “Headquarters was very angry with me” and if I did plead guilty I would just get a verbal reprimand without an entry in my record of service.
I thought through the fact that, yes, I had left the Colony without notification, but I was definitely not absent without leave. I discussed with my boss, Sean, whom I respected and admired at that time, about what to do and he said I should take the deal, explaining that in the circumstances it was the best option for me, my family and my career.
Like a man to the gallows I attended the defaulter hearing in full uniform and stood in a dock in a mock court setting without anyone representing me in defence, heard the charge, pleaded guilty, and as promised I got awarded a suspended verbal reprimand without record of service entry.
Two days later I got called to Steroid Biggins’ office and he gleefully informed me that Police Headquarters thought the punishment was too lenient and had overturned the sentence, raising the award by two notches to Severe Reprimand with Record of Service Entry.
I had been well and truly fucked over.
What this meant in reality was that I was no longer eligible for promotion to Chief Inspector, at least for many years, had a Governors’ Commendation recommendation and two Commissioners’ Commendation recommendations cancelled, was hauled out of Emergency Unit in disgrace, and I was sentenced to the depressing housing estates of Tze Wan San Police Station in the back end of beyond.
That was the moment I fell out of love with Royal Hong Kong Police. From now on it was just a job and trust would be in limited supply.