Royal Hong Kong Police – Escape

With more than six years of service in the Royal Hong Kong police, three of which were spent commanding an emergency unit during one of Hong Kong’s most violent periods of mayhem in which our platoon was frequently embroiled in gun battles against ruthless armed criminals, my career was now in tatters as a result of what appeared to be an “administration error” at best —- or a “fit up” at worst.

Either way, I was now at the mercy of the “posting wallahs” sitting behind their desks in police headquarters and with few cards to play was sentenced to the back end of beyond in Tsz Wan Shan, a division of Wong Tai Sin district in Kowloon East Region that consisted almost entirely of high density public housing estates and squatter camps scattered across the hillsides of Lion Rock Mountain.

Too experienced to be a sub-unit commander, but with a “blotted” record of service that prevented me getting promotion, I had very few options, and so I took up the post of “Task Force” Commander, a title that sounds far more interesting than it actually was.

Squatter villages that were once common on the hillsides Hong Kong.
Housing estates of east Kowloon

Like my first posting to Kowloon City, I was the only expatriate in the police station except for the divisional commander, Gerald Vianney Lovell Willy-Furth, a superb specimen of Colonial policing with a name to match.

Unlike Mr. Deal at Kowloon City who was a gentleman of mild manners, Vianney was a gentleman of explosive temper and an expansive vocabulary of fruity adjectives and insults. Whilst Tsz Wan San was pretty dull and gloomy, Vianney was just what I needed and I could vent my frustrations and disappointment, vicariously, through his highly amusing outbursts at the perceived dimwittedness of my colleagues. I immediately liked Willy-Furth and I think he quite enjoyed having a maverick like me under his command.

At this point in my career I am in my early thirties, had been a policeman since I was eighteen years old and had no real qualifications, other than some intangible experience helping old ladies across the road and shooting goldsmith robbers.

To increase my options I needed a university degree, and pretty soon enrolled on what would turn out to be three years of academic study, firstly through the University of Hong Kong and later through Portsmouth University in England. My plans and ambitions to improve my prospects became even more pressing when I learned my wife, Lilian was pregnant with our son, Max.

The course of study I pursued was essentially a criminology degree that was sponsored by the police, in that the course fees were subsidised and I could take time off work for lectures, study and examinations. The course attracted quite a few of my colleagues, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures that opened up a whole new world of academia to me.

I relished my cold water immersion into psychology, law, political science, criminal justice, management theory, sociology and philosophy, and perhaps wasted valuable time and effort as I often went off on tangents pursuing some subjects I found fascinating.

I also found that study and writing was a way to distract myself from the drudgery of a tedious and unfulfilling job, and from the energy sapping feeling that I had been treated really rather unfairly.

One glimmer of light was that I found the job required me to go off with a few able bodied team members on what was called “rural patrols”, that was basically being paid for a living to go hiking in the hills, and so I spent large parts of my time yomping about in jungle kit exploring the surrounding villages and hillside squatter camps.

My other role was going out for Yam Cha (Dim Sum) with my Task Force sergeants, where, in addition to stuffing our faces and drinking tea, we would study the Racing Post section of the South China Morning Post whilst other members of our team trawled the underworld to capture unfortunate drug addicts and “persuade” them to tell us where they got their “gear” from.

After this intelligence was gathered it inevitably led to a raid where we would kick in the metal gated door of some depressing housing estate apartment, nick “Chan Fat” and his accomplices in the process of packing No.3 or No.4 heroin into plastic drinking straws or zip lock bags, and then drag them back to the police station where we would have an evening persuading these “pillars of society” to elaborate on the details of their supply chain, together with the paperwork and exhibit handling, where everything would be documented, logged and sealed in exhibit bags for court.

Often, as we were bashing down the doors during our raids, the panicked drug dealers inside the apartments would be trying to throw the incriminating evidence out of the window, down that lavatory, or into their orifices. During this frenzied activity the small apartment rooms would sometimes fill with a cloud of narcotics and on more than one occasion my team and I have inhaled more than enough “China White” for us to have to spend the rest of our shift inebriated, slouched at our desks in a soporific haze.

No health and safety in those days and only doctors and giggling Japanese school girls ever wore face masks.

Everyday was the same, except the useless racing tips I received from my “boys” and the handicapped nags I foolishly placed my quinella bet on.

No.3 heroin and the plastic drinking straw sections in which it was sold on the streets and housing estate shadows to people who had turned their backs on the harsh realities of life.

Ironically, while I was enforcing the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance in the shitholes of Hong Kong, I was studying the theories and published papers by eminent social scientists and criminologists at Hong Kong University and writing essays on subjects such as “An argument for the decriminalisation of drugs”.

My personal experience and academia have pretty much formed my opinion, then and today, that drugs, prostitution and gambling should all be decriminalised and the gargantuan amounts of money and resources wasted on a war that can never be won could be better spent on more rehabilitative programs for people with addiction and dependency. Most of the prisons would empty and the hideous criminal cartels across the world would evaporate overnight. Rich people seem to get on just fine with their cocaine habits, trophy wives and stock market speculation, so I suggest the ban on drugs, prostitution and gambling is directly related to the controlling elites’ desire to keep the proletariat in poverty and maintain their control over us all.

Anyway, I digress.

I felt my job was rather pointless and like a prisoners of war I was hatching a plan to escape. I had a child on the way and wasting my “not very hard earned” cash on “Always a Loser” at Happy Valley on a Wednesday and “Mo Lan Yung” at Shatin on a Saturday had to stop, as did my daily consumption of Dim Sum and Blue Girl beer that was starting to give me a passing resemblance to a very large prawn dumpling (虾球).

So, what job could I get that was near Hong Kong University and where I would have free time in the evenings to study and keep fit?

What do I enjoy doing?

Paragliding, of course.

Alas, no paragliding unit in the police, although my fellow squad mate and aviator, Gus did manage to present an episode of the public relations television program called “Police Report” whilst flying his paraglider at Dragon’s Back in Sek O, and remarking on air, ‘Who said pigs can’t fly?’ Gus’ career as a TV presenter wasn’t to last long after another quip remark on air about ‘Hiding the sausage’ when reporting on a vice raid in Wanchai!

What about motorcycling?

That was it. I could ride a police Honda CBX 750 all day.

This meant joining Traffic Department and although I understand the sound reasoning for traffic law enforcement, I had no real desire to hand out tickets. Back in my Metropolitan Police days, Traffic Department were always referred to as “Black Rats”, and not in a nice way!

It all came to a head one morning while I was gazing blankly at the Racing Post and I impulsively made a decision to apply for a vacant position with Traffic on Hong Kong Island, and to my surprise I was accepted.

RHKP Honda CBX 750 – 1990s

I managed to wave goodbye to the squatter huts of Tsz Wan San and indeed the Dim Sum trolley of the Ho Li Fuk restaurant, but had not completely escaped the gee gees, nor would, as Traffic Hong Kong Island is based in Happy Valley where the famous race course is situated and where I would often spend my Wednesday evenings dealing with traffic chaos caused by tens of thousands of eager punters.

On arrival at my new posting I was sent almost immediately up to the police driving school in Fanling where I had to pass the “basic motorcycle” course, as did all officers posted to Traffic.

The driving school in 1994 was not very far from where I trained with PTU in 1989 and I was given an initial test on a Yamaha XJ 650 motorcycle that was indeed quite basic and so the instructors pushed me straight onto the formal driving test that involved doing figure of eights on a slight incline and stopping without falling off.

Not that difficult, and I suspect the fact that I arrived at the police driving school on my Yamaha 1200 VMax gave the instructors some clue I already knew how to ride a motorcycle.

So now what?

As I was scheduled for training for the entire week the chief instructor decided I should spend the remainder of my time on the police advanced riding course that was mandatory for police units such as the Special Escort Group. This is the specially trained unit of “out riders” that ensures VIPs and visiting dignitaries get smooth and safe passage through the busy streets of Hong Kong. Most police forces around the world have such a unit to provide police escort to kings, presidents and other despot leaders who have better things to do than wait at traffic signals like we riff raff have to do.

This course involved, as far as I remember, racing at full speed up and down the Tolo Highway trying to keep up with my instructor, some bike handling skills and control tests, a traffic and driving theory test based on the UK police advanced motorcycle course, and some extreme weather riding skills that have come in handy keeping two wheels pointing down during Hong Kong’s tropical rain storms and typhoons, and indeed all my motorcycle expeditions around the world in the distant future.

As an experienced motorcyclist I found the riding relatively easy, but the theory test I remember was quite difficult. Nonetheless, I passed the course and joined the elite few, “advanced riders” in the police force. As a far from fluent Cantonese speaker I would never be able to join the “Special Escort Group” because of the language requirement, that makes sense given the nature of the job and all the radio instructions and updates that would be required coordinating operations.

Back at Happy Valley police station I became a Senior Inspector in the Enforcement & Control Unit and took command of a shift of traffic officers, most who patrolled on motorcycles, but a few who went out in vans and cars.

Traffic Department did and still has the smartest uniform in the Hong Kong police force, although as a married man, studying at night and not “beasting” myself on the trails and in the gym like I did a few years before, I had become a bit “lardy” and my riding jodhpurs and boots were a little tighter than they should have been.

Like other units we wore green uniforms in summer and dark navy blue in winter, with high visibility vests and strange detachable white sleeves. Nowadays, traffic officers have Hi-tech riding kit such as Gore-Tex jackets, high quality riding boots, Kevlar armour and top quality helmets that protect them from the elements. Also, the modern Hong Kong police force only wears navy blue uniforms, the khaki green going out with the British Empire.

My job involved basically three activities — handing out tickets, controlling traffic and responding to traffic accidents. I will concede that these are all important aspects of law enforcement in a heavily congested place like Hong Kong, but apart from riding a motorcycle all day, I didn’t think much of any of it.

Whilst occasionally I did hand out tickets and file summonses for idiotic and selfish driving I witnessed whilst out on patrol, most of the time it was my team of constables and sergeants who were issuing tickets for offences such as careless driving, speeding, jumping red lights, crossing white lines, illegal parking and whatnot. We used to set up speed trap radars at various locations and during those days we had a couple of unmarked traffic cars that carried a mobile device called VASCAR that would evidentially video record instances of reckless and careless driving, and of course speeding.

Attending traffic accidents was invariably gruesome and upsetting. Occupants of vehicles, pedestrians and especially motorcyclists got seriously injured or killed more often than the general public realised. I remember joining a search team one evening to look for a head that had parted company from its body. People often got knocked down crossing the road and there were dozens of minor injury and damage only accidents every day.

We had a traffic investigation team that would take over the accident scenes for forensic reconstruction and potentially legal action if driving offences or breaches of regulations had occurred. In those days taxi drivers and mini bus drivers were notoriously bad and the standard of driving by the general public was at best average to pretty poor. That said, I think Hong Kong driving standards have improved considerably over the years which is testament to strict enforcement and the effectiveness of road safety campaigns.

The other job we did, which I will admit was quite fun, was enforcement action against road racers who would race their modified Honda Civics and Mitsubishis against each other at various locations during the night and attract crowds of people would line the streets to watch, and bet on the races.

Whilst there was a dedicated anti road racing team, we occasionally supported their operations and would set up road blocks to intercept and arrest the boy racers, impound their cars, and clear up their trail of destruction, broken bodies and car wreckage.

I did enforcement work for a while, but it was no secret I was far from enthusiastic getting to the scene of traffic accidents. I saw awful things in the Met and I was seeing awful things in Traffic Hong Kong Island and I really didn’t like it. Shooting a goldsmith robber with an AK47, no problem. Dealing with a smashed up school kid on a zebra crossing, no thanks.

I was pretty happy when I left the front line carnage and constant confrontation of enforcement and control and was posted to be Senior Inspector of Operations, that was as cushy as any police job could be and allowed me to study for my degree in the evenings, read my study books and more besides, and ride around Hong Kong Island during the day.

The job entailed being in charge of traffic at events such as Chinese New Year, Christmas and New Year, Qing Ming festival, firework displays, the Rugby 7s, Happy Valley race day, and anything that attracted crowds and needed special arrangements to deal with abnormal traffic or congestion. Sometimes owners’ clubs of exotic cars and motorcycles would apply for a permit to drive in convoys to events, and on several occasions my team escorted “misfiring” Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Harley Davidsons at 50 kilometers per hour (the standard speed limit) along the south side of Hong Kong Island to gatherings in Repulse Bay, Stanley and Sek O.

It must have been frustrating for the proud owners to crawl along in super cars capable of speeds in excess of 300 kilometer per hour, but I suspect these events were more aimed at showing off their pride and joys. It was great to see so many incredible cars, but not surprising given the wealth of so many people in a prosperous place like Hong Kong.

One of my jobs was to draft up operational orders for such events and this basically meant all I did was Tippex over the previous year’s operational orders and change the date. 1995’s New Year’s Eve Traffic “op order” looked remarkably like 1994’s. Anyway, no one ever read these orders, the NCOs all knew what they were doing and we just did what we always did — which was basically to inconvenience everyone, cause confusion by changing the traffic light sequences at road junctions, and wave our arms about at the front of traffic jams that we invariably caused in the first place.

Another job was to liaise with Transport Department officials from the Government who would often be out and about fiddling with traffic signs and road markings in an attempt to reduce accidents, improve safety and speed up traffic flow. As I didn’t really like being in the office this gave me an excuse to roam about freely on my bike and explore Hong Kong Island. I often met up with the other E&C Inspectors on their bikes as my 8.30 am to 5.30 pm hours coincided with their morning and afternoon shifts.

One of the E&C Inspectors was my friend “Stanners” and we would meet up for tea in various parts of Hong Kong and come up with “daft” biking challenges such as attempting to ride all the way back to Happy Valley base without braking or stopping. Sometimes we would go “off-road” and ride through the country parks and along the dirt trails. After all, you never know where illegal parking may lurk!

Whilst a Honda CBX 750 sounds like a powerful motorcycle, it is actually a very heavy and rather cumbersome street bike, especially loaded as they were with panniers full of first aid equipment, battery systems, loud hailers, sirens, blue lights and radio systems. They are not Paris-Dakar bikes, and our off-road law enforcement occasionally ended up with us getting stuck in mud, riding down trail steps and skidding down scree slopes. All that said, we caused far less damage to the bikes, if at all, than our subordinates who would regularly drop or fall off their bikes across the concrete Colony.

All too often I would be behind one of my Constables on patrol and see him forget to put his feet down at traffic lights and then slowly topple over, making a complete cock up and embarrassing us all. Why they did this I will never know, although in retrospect I suggest the standard of the police motorcycle courses was perhaps not as exacting as it should have been.

My team used to destroy motorcycles on a regular basis and the bikes were constantly in the garage for repair because they were unsympathetic, I thought, to gear boxes, clutches and brakes. Anything electrical on the bikes lasted only a few days before they broke it.

As a commander, I had my own personal issue CBX 750 motorcycle and the garage team never allowed my wrecking crew subordinates to ride it. Occasionally, when my own bike was in for service, I would have to take out a spare bike and they were always completely fucked, especially the Yamaha 650s.

The other aspect of working in Traffic was that we got absolutely coated in filth and grime throughout the eight or so hours we were out on patrol. In those days buses, taxis and lorries spewed out thick diesel fumes and at the end of a shift we were covered in it, especially our necks, mouths, eyes and nostrils. It was so hot, humid and polluted riding all day that I ended up with a perpetual cough and ingrained muck on my face that was almost impossible to wash off. Heaven knows what the insides of my lungs looked like.

As an EOD Cadre member throughout most of my career I was often pulled away from my regular job and tasked with some form of bomb disposal work. I had to attend regular training and licensing courses, got called out to an assortment of jobs that I already described in previous chapters, and was a frequent bar stool occupant in the EOD Mess that was hidden on the 5th floor of Police Headquarters.

EOD cadre – LS, Jim, Jerry, me, Alick and Jerry.
News paper clipping of grenades used in robbery

EOD team and cadre on roof of PHQ
Blowing up a suspicious mooncake box at the Excelsior Hotel – one of my best wheelbarrow driving days
Working on a wheelbarrow on a range exercise with “Fruit” looking on.

I thoroughly enjoyed EOD Cadre work and think I was quite good at it too, enjoying the problem solving, technical skills, the challenges presented during exercises and the buzz of making things go “bang”. I liked the other Cadre team members and got on well with the full time guys, Bob, Bones, Jimmy, Jock and Al and all the No.2s.

Whilst at Traffic I underwent the selection process to get into the Unit full time, a series of tests devised by the then SBDO that involved psychometric assessments, theory knowledge, problem solving skills, and very realistic bomb disposal exercises.

I thought myself and another candidate from the cadre called Jim were in for a chance, but Bones went nepotistic on us and selected one of his close friends, who to my mind and the other cadre members was technically average, experience-wise below average, and psychologically a little fragile, which was born out when a few years later he tragically committed suicide. Who knows the demons within?

All this said, I was not as disappointed about not getting into the full time unit as I was about not getting selected for SDU, mainly because I could still do the EOD Cadre work and get quite heavily involved as we were increasingly used for an assortment of operations, like dealing with WWII bombs and shells that were dredged up whilst building the new airport at Chep Lap Kok, grenades and IEDs used in crime, marine ordnance disposal (getting rid of old flares and rockets used on ships), and the occasional crisis such as blowing off the tail of a China Airways Boeing 747 that had run off the runway and was preventing flights getting in and out of Hong Kong.

It is at this time during my initial posting to Traffic that my son, Max was born. He was a beautiful young fellow, and still is, but in the first few months of his life it became apparent to Lilian and I that something was not quite right with him. It was as if he was deaf or stuck in another world. This put enormous pressure on us both, especially Lilian who in addition to looking after him was working as an instructor at the Cathay Pacific flight attendant school at Kai Tak airport so she did not have to fly and be away too long.

We were both increasingly worried, anxious and stressed and did not know what to do. I had heard a little about autism, but apart from the Movie, Rain Man, it was never a thing that impacted on our lives. As we became more aware that Max was not developing as we thought he should, especially his inability or desire to talk, make eye contact or engage with us, we became increasingly desperate.

The reality was that in Hong Kong there was little help or support for autism. And so started, to my mind, Lilian’s descent into Purgatory and her unrelenting efforts and obsession to find a cure. As a father I was devastated, but one can only imagine what a mother goes through, and over the following years it consumed her life.

She was never the same again, and nor was our relationship.

Being a policeman allowed me to be distracted and absorbed in what I was doing and for my hours at work not to constantly fret and worry. However, it was always at the back of my mind and even my sleep was consumed with anxiety driven nightmares. My study was also being affected as, instead of studying Marx, Weber and Durkheim, I was trawling what existed on the “internet” in those days for information about autism and possible interventions, and it was a labyrinth of myth, pseudo science and false hope.

We were not wealthy by any means, but with both of us working, we had some financial resources to look for a cure. However, it took many years and enormous expense and heartache for me to accept there isn’t a cure for autism.

I think the stress of this, my degree program study at night and my genuine lack of interest in traffic enforcement led to me leaving Traffic and taking up a post at the Police Training School as an instructor. I was treated well at Traffic and although it wasn’t my cup of “naai cha” I was pleased I did it. It certainly improved my motorcycle handling skills and serves as a constant reminder of the potential dangers and hazards we all face each time we venture out onto a road.

On my last day in Traffic I was presented at my leaving dinner with an evidential photograph of me driving over the speed limit through my own speed radar. This was a daft thing to do, but I had forgotten the radar was there and in retrospect it is quite funny and fitting. To those who claim the police is corrupt I will counter that I paid the fixed penalty ticket even though I was on “blues and twos” en route to the scene of an accident. I suppose I could have raised this as a defence, but I could not be bothered to pursue it, and in any case, I DID speed through my own radar.

I left on a high note, recognising and appreciating the hard work that traffic police officers go through every day, but it wasn’t for me.

Not being a Chief Inspector meant I could not be a course instructor for new inspector recruits at the Police Training School, but I could apply to be a Drill & Musketry Instructor, an amazing job title, and as it turned out, a really enjoyable job that I initially thought required no more skills than being able to remember dance routines, shout loudly and stand on one leg like a flamingo in the Ngorongoro Crater. In reality, it required a whole lot more, as any teacher or instructor can attest to.

The “Student’s Instructor Course” that we had to attend and pass was perhaps one of the most professional and useful courses I have ever been on in the police and I found, to my surprise, I liked instruction and happened to be quite good at it.

I attended the course with a newly promoted Chief Inspector, called JT from Marine Police who was to be one of the course instructors and who went on to be a lifelong friend. A true gentleman and all round lovely guy. Whilst a rank higher than me, he was always good to me and appreciative of my contribution as an equal.

After the student instructor course I then had to do the foot drill instructors’ course and having been quite good at “drill” in 1987 as a probationary inspector under training, I found myself to be quite good as an instructor in 1996. I improved my marksmanship on the shooting ranges and learned some random skills such as sword drill, necessary as a parade commander, and as an instructor of senior officers who would need to carry a sword during ceremonial parades. Also, Inspectorate officers who were getting married in full uniform and their “guard of honour” need to know the pointy end from the hilt when waving their swords about among civilian guests at their wedding ceremony.

Implicit given my job title, I had to instruct “musketry” which in the 20th Century meant weapons handling, and so I spent a lot of time studying up on the firearms issued to the front line police units, the specifications, and practiced repeatedly stripping and re-assembling the weapons recruits needed to be proficient in using, namely the Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, the Colt AR 15 rifle and the Remington 870 shotgun.

Students also had to learn how to use CS smoke grenades, pepper spray, and the Federal 1.5 inch guns used in internal security situations. Of course, over time weapons have been upgraded and the modern Hong Kong police now has an assortment of both lethal and non lethal weapons at their disposal.

One of shoot ranges
Drill & Musketry Instructor – my office (1995/96)
Out in the New Territories on Leadership training with my PIs

All the other DMIs were local Chinese, although there were quite a few expatriate course instructors, physical training, self defence, and tactics instructors. I often rubbed shoulders with my fellow instructors in the Officers’ Mess, including the training school’s affable and unusually big built Commandant called Spencer Foo.

I spent a month or so assisting other DMIs with their intakes of recruits before our own intake of probationary inspectors arrived, by which time I had a good idea of what I was doing and what was expected.

Forty recruits arrived one Monday morning and lined up outside the main gate. It was my job to receive them, give them all their welcome “speech”, introduce the school, show them where they would be barracked, and then a well rehearsed procedure of haircuts, issuing kit, being measured for their “tailored” uniforms, and to their shock, and for many the first time in their life, military style “discipline”.

Nearly all the recruits were university graduates and had been through a rigourous selection procedure that tested their leadership potential, character, academic ability, English ability, and general suitability to be commanders in the Royal Hong Kong Police.

Among the intake were two former police constables and a former detective sergeant who immediately gave the impression of being the most worldly wise PI in the intake, but perhaps also the least fit. One of the recruits was ethnically Chinese, but brought up and raised in Liverpool, with a broad scouser accent. He was one of the officers who made the most improvement throughout the course – which is a euphemism for saying he was pretty useless at the beginning! Three of the intake were women and they were the first females to be trained to carry firearms in the RHKP.

Until that time, only males carried weapons. Thereafter, women began to trickle into all front line roles, provided they passed the selection courses and were physically up to the demands of the job. Of course in recent years, with political pressure for increasing diversity it is obvious to all that the benchmark has been lowered. This is not a criticism – its a self evident truth. Police Tactical Unit, Special Duties Unit, EOD and Emergency Unit are physically demanding jobs that require the ability and strength to “battle” men, who let’s be frank, make up the majority of criminals.

As I mentioned in a previous chapter, a women probationary inspector on our intake called Samantha was never able to pull the trigger of a police revolver with one finger and as such was a terrible shot. Had she been a male would never have passed out of the training school without mastering the basic marksmanship principles. This is a reality, although its fair to say very very few officers ever fire a weapon in anger during their careers and it would have been a waste of potential talent and a huge blow to Samantha if her career in the police was curtailed just for this. That said, having a sworn duty to protect life and property and carrying a weapon that can take a person’s life is a huge responsibility and I think its only fair to society and right that all police officers are trained to the highest level and meet minimum standards.

The intake was divided up into three academic courses, each run by a course instructor of Chief Inspector rank, JT being one of them. As the DMI I was responsible for the whole intake, and that included overall discipline, personal development, foot drill, weapons handing, and firearms & range courses. I was assisted by dedicated firearms instructors of sergeant rank on the outdoor and indoor shooting ranges. DMIs also assisted with leadership, internal security and tactical training and supervised the intake during all their physical training, life saving, first aid and attendance on the police adventure training course (like a sort of Duke of Edinburgh Awards cum outward bounds adventure training course).

The Royal Hong Kong Police prided itself on its traditions, discipline, smart turnout, and especially foot drill, and the standards were very high. Both the constable and inspectors’ courses were punctuated with formal parades and on completion of training a passing out parade that would be attended by Hong Kong dignitaries, senior officers and the passing out squads’ family and friends.

Nearly every morning, come rain or shine, the recruits would get up early and be on the drill square for morning parades. Poor performance, bad attitude, untidy uniforms or lapses in discipline would result in punishments, such as being “gated” (confined to school) throughout the weekends and having to perform several hours of “extra drill” on the parade square on Saturday after morning parade. In reality it was necessary remedial training for the recruits who fell behind the fast moving curriculum and milestones.

I am not ashamed to admit that I am quite proud to have been parade commander on a couple of occasions, where I had the chance to give the commands and perform the sword drill that all recruits will be very familiar with, and probably remember long after they have retired from service. Whether they liked, tolerated or absolutely loathed foot drill, mastering the drill “movements” cemented them together and helped transform them into disciplined people.

Most people will have seen war movies such a Full Metal Jacket and Platoon and have an idea about how scruffy civilians are transformed into a cohesive team of disciplined men and women. The depictions of course are for theatrical effect, but in real life military instruction is a repetitive cycle of explanation, demonstration, and imitation by the recruits until a particular activity is mastered and becomes second nature.

Like any instruction, watching the development of students is very satisfying, but also quite frustrating as within any group of forty odd recruits will be differing ability and temperament. When they get it right, one feels the same pride that a parent does from an offspring who performs well.

The training course for an Probationary Inspector is ten months, and a further two years or so before they are confirmed in the rank of Inspector, with many examinations and assessments to pass in the mean time. It is not easy and the instructing staff have a duty to not only fill the vacancies for police constables and inspectorate officers created within one of the largest forces in the world, but ensure the highest standards are maintained.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a DMI. It was not a front line police job like being in PTU or EU, but satisfying all the same. The hours were good, I did a lot of study for my degree, and was finally awarded a Bachelor of Science 2.1 honours degree. I was pretty “chuffed” with myself when I later attended my graduation ceremony with my family in the UK.

I also got myself fit and into shape again with gym work, boxing training, long runs to Repulse Bay, Stanley and in the mountains, and even a Krav Maga self defence course that I did after hours. Our intake of probationary inspectors would often get bused or flown by helicopter to Lantau Island, Sai Kung and other country parks for leadership training that would involve a lot of yomping up mountains and marching along jungle trails.

It seemed things were going well, and I was highly recommended by the training school top brass for promotion to Chief Inspector which I was very happy about. In fact, for a while I was given acting Chief Inspector rank and I was asked if I would assume the role of Chief Drill & Musketry Instructor, big boots to fill from the legendary Willy Fullerton who had the role during my own training.

Also, as one of the three course director left PTS for reasons I never learned, I was asked to assist with instructing the academic side of the training, which I did in addition to my duties as a DMI.

The criminal law and police procedure lesson plans were already designed by the school, including the preparation of visual aids and hand out notes and so all I had to do was “swot” up the day before and try and remember what I studied for my own Standard, I, II and III professional examinations. Nothing makes you understand a subject better than preparing to teach it.

On occasions I would group the three courses of my intake together to teach certain subjects if the course instructors were “busy” or said they were. One of the topics I got “asked” to teach was sexual offences, the contents of which could be quite graphic and a bit embarrassing, clearly so for JT who along with the other CI’s decided they had other things to do that week.

I remember explaining to the class full of Hong Kong Chinese students why shagging your grandmother was not considered incest by Hong Kong or British law, which of course opened the flood gates and I was bombarded with questions as to why such moral depravity was allowed by western law and a heated debate about which family members you could or couldn’t shag.

‘I don’t know’, I replied exasperatedly. ‘Maybe its because grandmothers can’t get pregnant – anyway – just learn the exceptions – they always come up in exams – now who wants to watch some porn videos?’

Forty hands all raised simultaneously.

I watched the year come and go and the tropical trees and jungle foliage around the drill square transform through the four seasons. Typhoons, scorching heat, monsoon rain, sunny and cool halcyon days, and the crisp chill of winter. The forty civilians who lined up in their suits outside the guard room had transformed into thirty four fully trained, disciplined and smart police inspectors ready to pass out in front of their proud families – and instructors.

Video of RHKP passing out parade PI 303-305 – our squads PI 306-308 supporting – (spot the author 19.55 mins)

Whilst my career looked to be on the up, life at home was full of stress and worry about Max. We had put the poor boy through an assortment of diets, therapy and schools and little Max was making no progress to join our world.

His mother and I were both waiting with bated breath to receive a full report from a specialist who would tell us what was wrong with Max and give us an idea of what lay ahead.

When the specialist’s report was given to us our worst fears were realised as Max was diagnosed as “moderate to severe” on the Autism Spectrum. He would probably never talk and would probably never be independent.

Our dreams were destroyed. This was crushing news.

The black dog was a constant visitor and I found the best way to deal with it was to go running along the mountain trails, or better still go off paragliding where my stress and worry would melt away and I could be in the moment, if just for a few hours.

One weekend, shortly after this awful news, I went off on my trusty motorcycle to one of my favourite paragliding spots at Dragon’s Back in Sek O on the south east peninsula of Hong Kong — to try and absorb what this meant whilst soaring in the skies with majestic Black Kites under the gaze of the Universe that dealt us these cards.

My purple Swing Prisma and I on the front cover of Action Asia magazine – 1995
As a member of the Hong Kong team with Scotty for 1995 World Paragliding Championships in Kyshu Japan, where I crashed and pulled out of the competition. Former Hong Kong flag

On the way home on my motorcycle I was riding up a hill in Causeway Bay when I was cut up badly by a Mercedes car that changed line into me without looking and to my annoyance was waved to stop by a police officer at a nearby road block, the Mercedes being allowed to continue. I was furious. To compound my frustration one of the police officers immediately started shouting at me to get off my bike. I had a heavy paraglider on my back, had been stopped on a hill, and was trying to select 1st gear to stop my heavy Yamaha 1200 VMax rolling backwards.

The officer continued shouting at me and with irritation I shouted back from within my helmet that they should have stopped the car that nearly knocked me off my bike.

I should have just shut up, but I was so annoyed at the unprofessional behaviour of the officers manning the road block and being shouted at. Then I heard one of the officers remark to the other that I was a troublemaking “gwailo” (鬼 = demon or ghost and 佬 = a derogatory term for guy).

Light the blue touch paper and stand well back.

They then asked for my driving licence and I stupidly said that I wanted to see their supervisor to make a complaint.

I should have let it go, but I had spent a year of hard work training up officers to be professionals only to be confronted by the very sort of rude, oafish, racist officers that let down the side and give the police a bad name.

I stood my ground for about ten minutes when eventually an Inspector from Causeway Bay appeared, conferred with his officers and then came over to me and asked for my licence. I then told him what happened and stupidly, whilst explaining why I thought the officers were rude and unprofessional, disclosed that I was a police officer and that I know the law and road block procedures well enough. Instead of calming things down, the Inspector then threatened to arrest me if I did not hand over my identity card and driving licence, and so I did, and when my details were taken I said I was going to make a complaint.

Eventually they let me go and I rode away, got back to my home, saw my family, got absorbed with all the autism hassle, forgot about the road block and lost interest to complain or take the matter any further.

On the following Monday when I arrived at work I was told by my boss, Kim, that a complaint had been filed against me and that it was decided that disciplinary action would be initiated against me.

Here we go again.

I was urged to plead guilty to “conduct unbecoming an officer” and that I would receive a warning. Oh yeah! Didn’t they do that to me before? NO WAY.

If it had been alleged I committed any traffic offence, or indeed any offence at all that contrary to the laws of Hong Kong, such as failing to hand over my driving licence, I should have been summonsed for THAT offence and had a chance to defend myself in a court of law or pay the fine. Instead I was to be subjected to to the ignominy of an internal disciplinary hearing for a “he said – they said” event whilst off duty.

I admit I could have handled the whole matter better. I was depressed with all the bad news about Max and my foul mood was compounded by the unprofessional behaviour displayed by the officers at the road block. I should also have done what I said at the time and filed a complaint against police. After all I should have known that the officers were going to “gild the lily”, exaggerate, collude and concocted a story to save their own necks, which I am ashamed to say was not unusual in the police in Hong Kong, nor in London.

As I refused to plead guilty to something that was blatantly untrue I was told I had to appoint a police officer to act as my “defence counsel” in a disciplinary hearing where the road block officers would be required to present their evidence, or should I say regurgitate their “coached” fabrication of events.

I had heard my former District Crime Squad boss, called Robin, had some experience with defending colleagues in such hearings and he agreed to act on my behalf.

Big mistake!

I should have known better. I have suffered all my life by thinking people will do the “right” thing and justice will prevail, but it often doesn’t and in those last days of Colonial policing, local Chinese were always right, and British expatriate officers were always wrong and petrified of being viewed as doing anything against the “localisation” policy that could adversely affect their careers.

In one of the worst days of my life, and in retrospect a foregone conclusion, I was found guilty of a disciplinary offence that is entirely subjective by design, and a “catch all” for when they really want to get you.

The defaulter hearing was a sham and several of the police constables gave clearly fabricated and embellished evidence that contradicted themselves and each other. One particular police constable was so embarrassed at his deceit that he could barely speak, or even look up. When the local Inspector, who clearly had a chip on his shoulder, presented his “bollocks”, he gave hearsay “bollocks” because he was not even present at what I was alleged to have done. I am a one hundred percent certain the inspector coached the officers on what to say to protect themselves from a complaint against police.

In decades to come I will forensically and strategically “destroy” deceptive and fabricated testimony as I transform into the experienced fraud investigator and professional interviewer I am today. However, back then I stood no chance.

The “evidence” was not disclosed in advance and during the hearing I was not even given a chance to cross examine the witnesses. What really upset me was that my immediate bosses, Kim and Matt acquiesced in this blatant fabrication and collusion and in my view were completely “gutless” in not standing up for me.

I have never forgiven their cowardice and spinelessness, and never will.

Back to square one. No promotion. Kicked out of training school – after all – how can an instructor in charge of discipline be convicted of a disciplinary offence?

Inevitably I am sentenced to another punishment posting that I am totally unsuited to at police headquarters, called Regional Information Communal Systems or RICS. Basically a project to computerise the case management process of regional and headquarters units.


The only good thing about this RICS project was that it was based at police headquarters in Wanchai, nine to skive office hours, I would be trained up in some project management techniques that would do me no harm in the future, and I could wear civilian clothes.

Also, it was near the EOD unit base and in the coming months I would spend more time engaged in bomb disposal work than at RICS playing solitaire and staring at the wall.

The other good thing was my immediate boss was my friend, Jerry who had recently been promoted to Chief Inspector. It seemed all my friends had been promoted and they were now all my superiors.

Jerry was at training school at the same time as me, a colleague in the EOD Cadre, a former British Army Artiliary Officer and who fought in the Falkland’s War. He made my time at RICS as tolerable as it could be. This included motivational visits to the Panda Bar, Club Sticky, Neptune, Makati and most of the other girlie bars and massage parlors in Wanchai. He even doctored my record of service by removing the defaulter record, not that I cared, but I appreciated the support and kind intentions. A proper leader.

On the other hand the Assistant Commissioner who was ultimately in charge of the Information Systems projects was not a good leader, nor indeed a very nice person at all. From the day I arrived he tried to bully and intimidate me, attempting to coerce me into admitting personal shortcomings and perceptual errors I had about my recollection of why I had been defaulted. He was particularly upset that I viewed the who fiasco was a fit up and that Information Systems as a punishment post. He reminded me of some Spanish Inquisitor trying to force me to renounce the truth with threats of very bad things, whether I did or not.

I had several sessions in his “confessional box” where I would have to listen to his blathering nonsense, glancing up at the wall clock, willing away the minutes, and gritting my teeth until I was granted permission to escape. A really strange, bizarre man. This dark lord image was complemented with a habit of wearing very strange neck cravats, 1970s suits, badly dyed jet black hair that used to dribble down his temples, and a some sort of affected Sweeny Todd Cockney accent.

Potty as a plant pot.

To this day I have no idea what I was supposed to do at RICS and whether there was any measure of performance. In theory I had to document the case processing functions of regional and headquarters’ crime units, like Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, Commercial Crime Bureau and Narcotics Bureau so that the Information Technology Department of the Civil Service could develop and implement a new computerised system for the police force. In reality I played Solitaire on my desk top computer, avoided dreary meetings, did EOD work and performed the role of a terrorist.

Terrorist? During my school days our careers development teacher never introduced the job of “terrorist” to me and its a shame because I am quite good at it. Not a real terrorist of course. My friend Steve, who was Superintendent of Counter Terrorism and a member of the Directing Staff for EOD exercises arranged for me to escape RICS from time to time and be part of the “enemy” cadre used on counter terrorist exercises.

In these exercises myself and some other EOD cadre members would play the role of terrorists and using our bomb building skills booby trap hospitals, schools, airliners and container ships that we had “hijacked” and take innocent people (other actors I hoped) as hostages. Inevitably the exercise would end in getting “shot” by SDU assaults’ teams and sometimes by visiting SAS and overseas CT teams.

All good boys own fun, but I know making these exercises as realistic as possible is extremely important in training up the various counter terrorist units to protect innocent people against the “crazies” that plague our world. You only have to watch a movie like Mumbai Hotel to see what can happen when police faff about and why a professional, rapid and effective response is needed to save innocent lives.

On one exercise we “hijacked” a huge container ship far out in the South China Sea. A real container ship that we “green roped” down onto from a helicopter and then lived for several days with the real crew members. During my time on the ship I booby trapped all the doors with bare wire loops and mercury tilt switches and hard wired an “exercise” explosive device onto the mast above the bridge. Occasionally I would take the very affable Danish Captain up onto the top of the bridge, hold a gun to his head and make daft demands on the radio.

Mad Max the TerroristWaiting on the ship and trying to stay awake before getting assaulted. Pretty sure in 1998 I had long resigned from the RHKP and was in Uetlihof in Zurich with Arthur Andersen –and I know accounting firms never issued MP5s!
Booby trapping the doors and bridge of the ship (redacted my device so you don’t try this at home)

When the assault by New Zealand SAS and Special Duties Unit did occur, it was when we were all very tired and at our lowest ebb around 3 am on the second day. The assault team approached the huge container ship in rigid raider boats that followed our propeller wake — making it less easy to spot their approach on the radar — and climbed up the side of the ship using caving ladders. Some officers swam long distances underwater using specialist scuba equipment and O2 rebreathing gear, and a third assault was attempted by air using Black Hawk helicopters.

As the helicopters approached it flooded the bridge with “night sun” to dazzle us. At this time the Danish officers and the Filipino crew were being held at gun point by us, with the directing staff looking on as “referees” of the exercise.

As the helicopter got closer I fired off the exercise explosives tied high up on the mast and in doing so the loud bang and flash might have distracted the pilot causing the helicopter rotor to clip the mast – breaking off the outer blade and making one hell of a noise. With a stick of assault team officers fully kitted up in their black garb they would float like lead weights if the helicopter ditched and so the helicopter and its “stick” abandoned the assault and limped back to dry land.

I shrugged toward the DS, with a “I didn’t expect that to happen” look on my face and shortly after the doors detonated open, some flash bangs went off and I got shot by black clad assault team officers armed with Heckler and Kock machine guns – FX training rounds fortunately – but not before taking a few out with my own MP5. A little bit of exercise cheating does go on as FX rounds, whilst hurting if you get hit, do not have quite the same “stop shooting” and “I really am dead” effect as actually being shot with 9mms of lead.

Now that has to be more fun than writing up reports in RICS and avoiding the dark lord as he wafted through the department looking for a victim.

It was whilst posted to the truly dreadful RICS project at police headquarters that the ominous date of 1 July 1997 finally arrived and being an EOD Cadre member I was tasked to perform various security duties, including standby bomb disposal duties at the new Convention Centre.

The Convention Centre, is the crustacean shaped modern building that stretches out into the Harbour in Wanchai and was the venue for the “handover” ceremony where the Union Flag, that had adorned every building during my time in Hong Kong, was lowered and the red flag with yellow stars of the People’s Republic of China was raised.

The end of Hong Kong as a British Colony.

Handover Ceremony – 1 July 1997

Convention Centre in Wanchai

Although I did not wear uniform anymore, I was required there and then to replace all my Royal Hong Kong Police buttons, military stars, epaulettes, and cap badges with the new Hong Kong Police insignia. I actually never did this, despite nagging from the “stores” Führer and these new badges were kept in the packaging they came in until I returned them a few months later, together with all my other police uniform and kit.

The depiction of an opium transaction on a 19th century Hong Kong beach between the British and Chinese on the Royal Hong Kong Police badges was replaced with a more politically correct modern “skyline” of Hong Kong on the new one. The crown was replaced with a five petalled bauhinia flower with communist stars, and of course the word “Royal”, that had been appended in by the Queen in 1967 was removed.

In coming months anything colonial was removed or repainted, so that the iconic red British letter boxes with various Royal crests of Kings and Queens were re-painted purple and green, although being cast iron these Imperial crests remain on letter boxes to this day.

RHKP badge and HKP badge

My training squadPI 308. Simon, my new boss at Arthur Andersen is front – second from left – Picture taken by me in 1987 at PTS on upper firearms range

Whilst at RICS I underwent the interview selection for a large professional services company called Arthur Andersen in Surrey Street, London and was offered a job. The partner and leader of the team was my friend, Simon who only did one tour in the Royal Hong Kong Police and left to become a forensic accountant at KPMG and then at Andersen. I suspect I wouldn’t have got if Simon hadn’t cast his deciding vote.

My hire with Arthur Andersen was as a junior manager in their fraud investigation team and I was primarily hired to work on the Volcker Commission that was set up to investigate Swiss banks for dormant accounts of Holocaust Victims.

I knew something about detective work, very little about fraud, and absolutely nothing about accounting, nor the private sector. Still, nothing ventured nothing gained.

It was a big leap and I had mixed feeling leaving the police and leaving Hong Kong that had been my home for eleven years. With the handover, many expatriates felt working for the Hong Kong government under Chinese rule was not for them and I joined an exodus of fellow police officers who decided that the time was up.

For many of us it was the beginning of what turned out to be very successful second careers in the private sector. Many of us left to become leaders in the security and investigation industry, accountants, lawyers, barristers, university lecturers, airline pilots and businessmen. A few expatriates joined to the UK police forces, with some eventually rising to the top and becoming Chief Constables. Some expatriates stayed in the police and despite not being able to reach the highest rank of Commissioner, many did reach Chief Superintendent and even Assistant Commissioner ranks. Some of the local Chinese officers also left, in fact everyone in Special Branch was given British citizenship, an early pension or compensation and left the force, after all they could hardly work for the regime they had been spying on for decades.

Little did I know that I would excel in the private sector and rise through the ranks to become a Partner within five years, and remain in forensic accounting and corporate investigations as a practice leader to this present day, with of course some exciting global adventures here and there that I describe in other chapters of this blog. It seems being a maverick with an aversion to mediocrity is an asset in the private sector.

As I look back at my time in the Royal Hong Kong Police it is mostly with fondness. Yes, the unfairness of the disciplinary system seemed intolerable at the time, but nothing focuses the mind and resolve to do better as failure, whether forced on you by bad luck, or entrapped by bad judgment. I made life long friends, learned so many things and its fair to say our experiences set us apart from the vast majority of people who have never met an angry man nor worked in such an alien and challenging environment.

Nothing compares with leading well trained motivated men and women in moments of crisis. Nothing prepares you better than pushing yourself to the limit.

We were Asia’s Finest. We experienced things few ever did and most never will.

The last of the Colonial police.

A young patrol sub-unit commander at Tsim Sha Tsui police station (late 1980s)
Receiving best platoon on behalf of my lads at Police Tactical Unit – (Chapter 2)

Royal Hong Kong Police Chapter 3 – Emergency Unit, Yip Kai Foon and AK47s

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 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,


Its difficult to deny the fact, that I am indeed …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 RHKP 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 a lot.

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 ( 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.

Me flying at Sek O in early 90s

Video of flying at Sek O:

The Hong Kong Paragliding Association Logo that Tony and I designed in 1990

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.

No 1 Platoon Emergency Unit / Kowloon West on a training day at CQBR

A Daai fei smugglers speed boat with a stolen car aboard … early 1990s
RHKP Anti Smuggling Task Force in pursuit

In Hong Kong during the early nineties the Colony was beset with 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 out 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 stick grenades.

Much to my, and many officers’ frustration, we were only armed with .38 Smith & Wesson revolvers loaded with 6 rounds of ammunition. Later, as an interim measure and due to the frequency and scale of the violence used by the armed robbers we were issued with an extra 6 rounds that we were carried in a “zip lock bag” in our pocket. 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 plastic 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 professionalism. It is also just good manners to say, “Thank You”.

Alas, and to all of our shame, many of 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 relayer 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 frenetic updates and NCOs gave 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 accompanied by 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, provided 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 some 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 and other pondlife. 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 training school 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 premises when I arrived, sensibly not showing with his firearm, 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.

Yip Kai Foon – Mug shot.
This picture (part of rare video recording) taken during an armed robbery in Nathan Road in which a nurse was shot dead is often identified by the press to be Yip Kai Foon. It is not. It is another gang and this robber didn’t live to see another Chinese New Year.

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.

My EU K/W platoon and I in middle of operation, weapons drawn. (Still at 14.40 taken from above documentary about robberies in Hong Kong in 1990s)
One of the machine pistols we were shot from at the Shui Hing Mahjong School
A look back to those days. Shame there was no 4K video quality in those day, however we did have the 14K!

Self service jewelers – if you have a AK47

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 in both countries, 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.

A day at the office…. Story reads for itself
Chinese stick grenades, kidnapping, firearms. I recognise my former EOD boss, John R, dealing with some stick grenades.

The English press report of the Shui Hing Mahjong robbery, May 1992
The press being cordoned off, often took pictures of hard targeting tactics as we evacuated people from buildings before we raid them. EU would normally conduct the raids and be sweeping the buildings and PTU and Uniform manning the inner and outer cordons.
The Nathan Road robbery in January 1993. What was for the RHKP a well practiced response, appeared to the press for their headlines as a “wild chase”.
Picture of me in local press doing something or another after a robbery.
1) Holding a plastic toy grenade in the top picture.

Being in the EOD Cadre meant I could save EOD a lot of wasted time being called out for “nonsense” calls. In this case some idiot woman inspector cordoned off the whole of Kowloon City causing absolute chaos because a kid’s plastic toy was found on the street.

On arrival in Car 50 I quickly examined the plastic toy grenade, immediately recognised it for what it was, picked it up and told Woman Inspection Mo Lan Yung to stand down the cordon and get the traffic moving again.

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, the Woman Inspector complained to her DVC (the divisional boss) about me and both were put back in their box by the SBDO of EOD and the ACP Ops who said I did the correct thing. In fact, the SBDO said if they had got called out they would have been extremely annoyed, especially so as they have one of their EOD trained Cadre members patrolling the Kowloon streets in Emergency Unit.

The Woman Inspector was soon back to making the tea and giving the DVC his daily back rubs as she should have been doing in the first place.

2) Lower picture receiving some plaques and silver plates from local community leaders and goldsmith shop companies. I recognise next to me Craig M, who was a very decent CIP EU
Newspapers in early 1990s full of stories of robberies. I have many cuttings.
More bullet holes in our cars
Local press clipping of the Hung Hom armed robbery case. I am ringed searching the ferry pier
Me cutting the roasted suckling pig at a Bai Kwan Daai” ceremony in EU/KW Daai Fong following an open fire case

Typical Kwan Daai Alter with offerings of fruit, drink and joss sticks. Commanders would light three joss sticks, bow three times and place joss sticks before alter before every shift. Not something that I was required to do in the Met!

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 car crew all hit the floor and apart from a few glass splinters and tattered nerves everyone was OK. Thankfully.

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 a gang of 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 between my team and the gunmen. 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.

Fuck Me!

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 furiously 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. The PC 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 divisions.

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 Close Quarter Battle Range (“CQBR”) in the New Territories to practice room entries and tactics, or perhaps attended lectures or get involved in the many sporting events that were organised in those days. There was also an additional rest day to make up for the longer shift pattern that existed to ensure maximum emergency coverage.

When I arrived at Emergency Unit Kowloon West 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 shifts 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 supportive 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 vacations 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. No social media culture in those days and I kept my cards close to my chest.

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, swam with reef sharks in the tropical sea on day two 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 the 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, gaau chor lah”. 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 lightweight” and a coward. Despite his bulk and bullshit he refused to box with me on my SDU selection course, probably because he saw the state of my fellow selectee, Chris’ face after our bout.

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 English newspapers. I told Biggins and his Wanchai hooker to “fuck off” and this did not go down well and he pulled rank on me for insubordination, despite continually being unprofessional himself 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 little cliques, ma jaais, weak bullying types nor petty 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. None more so than 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 that I was named as the the defendant in an internal disciplinary “hearing”.

My fear, anxiety and panic turned into full scale depression.

The only thing I really had in my life 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 whilst on the floor.

Schadenfreude, gossip and joyous amusement at my misfortune was in spades, not to mention the hypocrisy, double standards and blatant unfairness of it all. The true nature of human beings laid out bare.

The prosecutor, a quite nice and amiable Superintendent called Hugh, arranged a pre hearing meeting with me and encouraged me to plead guilty to the AWAL charge, explaining “certain people in Police HQ were angry with me and they would make sure, one way or the other, that they got their pound of flesh “. He continued that if I did plead guilty I would just get a verbal reprimand without an entry in my record of service. A sort of US style plea bargaining.

I thought through the fact that, yes, I had left the Colony without notification, just as nearly everyone else did in every unit I worked in, but I was adamant that I had not gone absent without leave. I had booked the same “floating rest day” I did every month over the previous three years.

Extremely distressed by the whole “shambles” 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 court room setting without anyone representing me in defence, heard the charge, pleaded guilty, and as promised I was 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. I was sentenced to a soul destroying and pointless posting as a Task Force Commander kicking down doors and arresting pathetic druggies in the depressing housing estates of Tze Wan San 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.