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 2

A one pip bomban

Immediately after passing out of the training school I was sent to Kowloon City police station which was not my first, or even any of my preferred postings.

I had been given accommodation at Homantin Single Inspectors’ quarters at a cost of 7.5% of my salary. This compact apartment consisted of a small living room with a kitchenette, a bedroom and a bathroom. Although modestly furnished with the standard Hong Kong government wooden chairs, PVC sofa and “hard as a plank of wood” mattress, I really liked the place, not least because I had my own space and was now free from the previous 10 months of continual discipline and supervision at the police training school.

From the 9th floor of the high rise building my flat gave me superb views across Kowloon towards Sunset Peak on Lantau Island, and being late Autumn the sunsets were truly spectacular. The Homantin quarters were a convenient place to stay as we had a communal restaurant and a busy bar, and it was a good place to meet my fellow expatriate officers who were posted to police stations all around the Colony.

Like every newly posted “one pip bomban” I had to do an initial stint as “Duty Officer” in Kowloon City Police Station Report Room, a job so dull and dreary it seriously questioned why I was doing what I was doing.

The hours seemed long and dragged by slowly, and as the only expatriate officer in the entire police station, apart from the boss, Mr. Paul Deal, I felt isolated and rather lonely. I found my work day to be tedious and painfully boring, with little more to do than sit at the station front desk filing in forms and entering bail balances into a huge ledger like an office clerk from colonial India. Even the Officers’ Mess was deserted most of the time and I rarely saw anyone inside except for the only other expatriate officer who happened to be the boss of the station.

However, after a week or so I managed to escape the purgatory of the report room and was posted as 2i/c of a Patrol Sub-Unit underneath a local one pip Inspector who I found to be a particularly unfriendly individual.

I think local Inspectors found police training school to be rather stressful with all the British traditions, military like rituals and requirement to speak and use English. When they eventually escaped they found the police stations around Hong Kong far more more Cantonese and familiar. I think employment terms and conditions that favoured expatriates in the British colony often inflamed a sense of inequality among the Chinese and this could manifest in resentment, even hostility towards expatriate officers like me. In some locals at least, not all. Whilst the term “racism” is banded about nowadays to mean any disagreement or perceived offence between people of different races, I would not say it was racism, just a minor culture clash or difference in personalities.

This local Patrol Sub-Unit Commander certainly had no intention of doing any patrolling himself and preferred to hide in our office writing memos, talking on the telephone and arranging his pens, and so I avoided him as much as I could by going out on patrol to explore the patch of Hong Kong I was duty bound to serve and protect. I did my best to attend whatever came up on the radio so I could learn how things were done, get to know all the officers in my unit and inflict my awful Cantonese of the local populace.

Over the following weeks I patrolled on foot most of my beat, including the infamous “Walled City” where I would often climb up onto the roof and watch the airliners skim between the high rise buildings just above my head and land at Kai Tak airport. The Walled City was a three dimensional maze, much like a scene from the dystopian science fiction movie, Blade Runner, with fizzing and sparking neon lights, dripping pipes and strange distorted noises. This alien structure appeared to be the same, whether it was night or day.

Kowloon Walled City

Huge rats with eyes that shined red in my torch beam ran up and down the maze of alleyways and there were hundreds of people milling about. I was immediately put off the ubiquitous local dish of fish balls for life after seeing them being made from huge piles of pungent fish paste fermenting in the humid heat on the dirty bare ground. Decades of rubbish and human detritus filled the voids between the densely packed tenement buildings. The smell was really bad and there was a cacophony of people shouting and arguing in Cantonese. Lining the outside of this Borg Cube were dozens of illegal dentists where the great unwashed got their fillings and dentures, with varying degrees of skill and hygiene. It was all very interesting to see, but it must have been nightmarish to live in.

At the centre was the ruins of a Qing Dynasty fort with some “yamen” cannons still remaining. All very interesting to see whilst on patrol. The history and chronology of the Walled City depended upon who you asked, but it was largely agreed the area was excluded from the original Treaty of Nanking and remained Chinese for some time into the 20th Century. Certainly, it was British territory and subject to the laws of Hong Kong by my time in the RHKP.

What I found strange was despite the filth and deprivation inside the Walled City multitudes of children who evidently lived somewhere within were going to and from school in immaculately white uniforms, tidy haircuts and with satchels full of school books. Well turned out school children seemed to be the norm in Hong Kong, regardless of wealth or poverty.

I got into the swing of things but it wasn’t long before I ran afoul of the top brass, most notably when I arrested a Radio Television Hong Kong film director (RTKK is a government owned media group) for cruelty to animals.

I had taken a report from an RSPCA Inspector who alleged that a film made by RTHK involved several scenes of real cruelty to animals and so I went to the local Magistrates Court along with the RSPCA Inspector as a witness and obtained a search warrant that I immediately executed at their studios in Kowloon Tong.

After several hours, and with a little guidance from a lady I assumed was the original informant, we eventually found film reels of incriminating evidence, not least scenes of an actor slowly boiling a turtle alive in a wok, burning a bird alive in a flaming bamboo cage and other scenes of inhumane slaughter of animals. No effort was made whatsoever to use any special effects.

I then located and arrested the film director under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance and as I hauled her into a police car was filmed doing so by what seemed every TV station and newspaper in Hong Kong, my mugshot appearing on the front page of most newspapers the next day.

Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!!

A territory wide debate ensued, largely Westerners accusing the Chinese of cruelty and breaking the law versus the local population complaining my actions were an attack on Chinese traditions and customs, as the theme of the movie was about a man battling cancer and showed him preparing Chinese traditional medicine as a cure.

Suffice to say, that same day I got hauled in to see the District Commander of Kowloon City (a Chinese Chief Superintendent whose name I have forgotten, if indeed I ever bothered to remember it) who was intent on giving me a good “bollocking”.

I was having none of it.

I produced a copy of Cap. 169, Laws of Hong Kong that I had already studied very carefully before applying for the search warrant and also referred the Chief Superintendent to the relevant chapter and verse in Police General Orders relating to “laying an information” before a Magistrate by an Inspector (pointing to my one pip on my shoulder for good measure), reminding the most senior officer in the district that the search was legal and with the authority of the courts.

I am quite sure Chief Superintendent “Ho Ever” had never met a “Probationary Inspector” such as Mad Max before and his attempts to admonish me along the theme of “you are new, you don’t understand Hong Kong, you don’t understand Chinese people”, was countered with, “the Rule of Law applies to everyone….equally”.

I don’t know if it was this “meeting without coffee” with the District Commander, or the fact that the film director eventually got convicted and sentenced at court (a decision quite unpopular in the local press), but my preferred posting of Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station was suddenly approved and I was transferred almost immediately.

I was sorry to say goodbye to my DVC, Paul Deal as he was a good boss and a very nice guy, but I was delighted to be going. Apart from seeing the inside the Walled City, Kowloon City division was not my cup of “naai cha”.

Tsim Sha Tsui was a completely different place. For a start there were a lot of expatriate officers in the police station, in fact I think every position at Chief Inspector and above was held by an expatriate officer. Also, the work was interesting, it was busy, and the Mess life was lively and a lot of fun.

The District Commander of Yaumati was called Jim Main, an excellent boss with a fantastic reputation, and my Divisional Commander was called Dick Tudor, a highly respected former Special Duties Unit (counter terrorist team) commander. There was a charismatic and slightly insane Senior Superintendent called Ian from Scotland who was in charge of the vice squads and affectionately known as the “chicken killing gingsi” (chicken being a derogatory term in Cantonese for a prostitute and gingsi meaning Superintendent). There was also a Detective Chief Inspector called Robin with a West Country accent who was in charge of the district crime and anti triad squads and who could speak fluent Cantonese and was quite a colourful character.

The “patch” of TST covered the southern most tip of the peninsular of Kowloon with the Star Ferry pier, luxury five star hotels, Nathan Road tourist area, Chung King mansions, lots of interesting retail and commercial building, all the bars and clubs (including Suzie Wong and Red Lips), and the infamous nightclubs run by the Sun Yee On triads.

The police officers attached to TST appeared more savvy and streetwise and I was much happier to work with them as a Patrol Sub Unit Commanders, the most junior command position in the force, but a front line and actually quite an important role, despite usually being lead by the most junior Inspectors.

A young Inspector Utley inspecting his patrol sub unit before going out on patrol (Winter Uniform)
A few months later in Summer Uniform at Tsim Sha Tsui

I moved out of the Homantin single Inspectors’ quarters in Kowloon and across the harbour into the infamous Hermitage quarters in Kennedy Road, Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island side. This was mainly because it was just a short walk and ride on the Star Ferry to get to and from work, and also because a lot of my PTS squad mates were already living there and social life for a young early twenties officer like me with a dangerous smattering of Cantonese would be better.

The Hermitage was the scene of all sorts of shenanigans and legendary stories. Drunken and noisy arguments with taxi drivers at 3 a.m. would be drowned out by someone lifting their loud speakers to their open apartment window and blaring out “Land of Hope and Glory”, there were more Wanchai hookers and bar girls wandering in and out of the apartments than in Wanchai itself, and the peace was often interrupted by arguments, drinking parties, orgies and even troubled bombans shooting themselves with their service revolvers.

I lived next door to my friend Jerry, a former British Army Artillery officer who fought in the Falklands war, and who had passed out of training school a little earlier than I had. Including my rather disloyal girlfriend at the time, he had a constant stream of young ladies going in and out of his lair at various hours. On one occasion I found a very small Filipino lady in his refrigerator while I was helping myself to a beer. She must have been small because our fridges were tiny. Jerry denies this to this day and I now question whether I dreamed it whilst stuck by dried beer and tropical sweat to my vinyl government issued settee. There is a lot of haze to our recollections from those days, mostly due to alcohol and burning the candle at both ends.

To keep “the Herm” in some semblance of order, each floor was serviced and looked after by a Chinese Amah of indeterminate age who collected our dirty washing and cleaned our rooms. To keep track of whose clothes belonged to whom they would annoyingly write our room number in thick felt tip pen on every item of our clothing, even on the outside. They were hard working ladies who had seen it all and would nonchalantly clean our bedrooms and sweep under our beds regardless of whatever or whoever was on top.

Mad days, indeed

I enjoyed myself at “Jimsie” (TST Police Station). I commanded a patrol sub unit for a while, got involved in an assortment of operations and cases and worked with a great bunch of officers.

As a new pink face on the block, expatriate officers like me would often be required to engage in under cover operations, such as pretending to be tourists with the aim we would be solicited by prostitutes, touted to buy fake Rolex watches, buy drugs and pretend to be ripped off by the notorious Nathan Road camera shop scammers.

Our usual tactic was to wander around the tourist areas, get approached by a tout, and follow them back to a store room, office or shop, usually in the heart of some grotty commercial building. We would allow the “ruse” to continue until sufficient evidence was obtained and then we would call up our team who would raid the premises, seize the exhibits and arrest the culprits.

There were rules and guidelines about how far was far enough, and unsurprisingly there were quite a few volunteers, especially for the vice operations where many colleagues I know went far beyond what was considered “enough”.

I remember during one operation being picked up by a tout in Canton Road and being guided back to a room that was an Aladdin’s Cave of fake watches, handbags, belts, and other knock offs. I should have got an Oscar for my performance as a gormless tourist because when my raiding party arrived the scamsters still didn’t know I was a police officers and continued coaching me on what to say.

As my colleagues were bashing down the door to get in, I was ushered into a secret room full of their most valuable contraband. When I knew my officers were inside I called out, ‘ Can I come out, yet?’ and as I emerged the scamsters were still holding their fingers to their lips and whispering for me to be quiet, until of course my team called me “Dai Lo” (the RHKP equivalent of a Metropolitan Police Officer calling their boss, “Guv”) and the penny finally dropped, as did the expressions on their faces. Oh joy!

One particular case I worked on was very disturbing and involved an investigation into nightclubs running drugs and supplying underage kids to pedophiles. I had been cultivating informants here and there, including some English mamasans who, together with their Triad handlers, ran a nightclub in Tsim Sha Tsui called, “The Big Apple” and over time they disclosed useful information about their seedy customers, in particular intelligence about a pedophile ring involving so called reputable members of society who worked in the government, judiciary, financial and legal professions.

All very nasty, but successfully working on this case resulted in me being pulled out of uniform and attached to the District Crime Squad with a Geordie named Dave, who was a former UK police officer, and working with his top class team of detectives.

It was proposed that I transfer to Criminal Investigation Department (“CID”), or indeed remain full time in DCS, but I had my heart set on joining the counter terrorist team, the Special Duties Unit (“SDU”). This was encouraged by my divisional commander, Dick Tudor who used to command the unit and who thought I would make a good fit, if indeed I thoroughly prepared myself for the grueling SAS type selection.

I was already doing quite a lot of running, weight training, and interval training in my spare time, including lunch time runs with Dick around the jungle trails near the reservoirs, and had started to ramp up my swimming, both in the sea and also at the Police Officers’ Club in Causeway Bay that had a fantastic swimming pool surrounded by all the high rises and neon advertising signs.

I had heard that the selection was designed by the British SAS and involved testing fitness, endurance and determination, which I sort of expected, but also that candidates would be put through various phobia tests, involving confined spaces, heights, and water. That did make me slightly anxious as you never know how you will react until you do it.

I had to pass a pre-selection fitness test, which I did easily enough and so I was enrolled onto the SDU selection that was scheduled to start in November 1988 at the “old” Police Tactical Unit base in the New Territories. I knew a few of the other candidates and it was common knowledge that an Inspector had died on selection the previous year. Apparently the poor chap got seriously dehydrated during one of many long runs along the sweltering jungle trails and his muscles melted. A sobering thought, indeed.

Sub Unit Commander at Tsim Sha Tsui when preparing for selection
Me somewhere on Lantau Island. Getting fit… lots of running, swimming and endurance training

In the months leading to selection I followed a strict regime of fitness training and I think I was fairly well prepared when I eventually took the train up to PTU HQ in Fanling to start the selection process. I was a bit surprised when I arrived to see at least fifty Inspectors and Police Constables lined up on the parade ground for the initial briefing.

We were addressed by the SDU officers who were to perform the role of Directing Staff (“DS”) and they made it clear that selections was purely voluntary and we could leave at anytime without any drama. We were then issued with green overalls, and I was given a bib with “A1” written on it which I would be addressed by for the duration of selection.

We then started a series of non stop “beastings” that involved press ups, pull ups, sit ups, star jumps, climbing ropes, assault courses, burpees, running with people on your back, carrying heavy objects, interval running and sprinting, long runs, hill sprints, and the dreaded dumb bells that seemed to appear whenever we were at our lowest ebb and were intended to push you over your limits and throw in the towel if you didn’t cut the mustard.

The majority of the officers who lined up at the beginning gave up in the first 48 hours that to my recollection was horrendous and passed by in a blur of sweat, pain and exhaustion. Later, and often in the night we did long navigation runs in the mountains, through dark, prickly, and humid jungle undergrowth, and gut busting log runs up mountain trails. However fit you were, or thought you were, you were going to be taken beyond the point of exhaustion to test determination and character.

It reminded me of boxing training, but unrelenting and without rest, sleep or encouragement.

We did a lot of gym work, wrestling, boxing, milling and free fighting. The DS knew I had a boxing advantage and so during one session they set one person after another against me. I remember knocking out one other candidate and cutting open his face that resulted in several SDU junior officers piling in and hitting me at the same time until I dropped. I distinctly remember at some stage being held in a UFC style headlock on the ground during a wrestling test and biting my opponent’s ear to release myself, much to several of the onlooking SDU officers’ amusement, although inevitably I got punished with a session of dumbbells and press ups.

As candidates to become Assault Team Commanders, we were also given leadership tasks to complete that involved planning assaults and instant action options to raid terrorist hideouts and release hostages. Often we wrote down operational assault plans or gave verbal briefings to the DS using 3D models of buildings, ships and aircraft. We also practiced assaults at the close quarter battle range (CQBR) that often involved climbing ropes, abseiling or running up bamboo ladders with a Heckler & Koch MP5 assault rifles loaded with exercise rounds and training stun grenades.

All good fun and reinforced my desire to join the unit and keep going.

In one test we were taken to a huge container ship out in the ocean and had to plan raids inside the cavernous vessel and also repeatedly jump off the highest point of the ship, hit the concrete like surface of the sea whilst hanging onto one’s balls, and then climb back up caving ladders which I also thought was enormous fun, but really really exhausting. I enjoyed all this so much I was eventually told to stop doing it because I was grinning so much. Again, my misspent youth and love of adventure came to my rescue as jumping off high cliffs into the sea or diving into waterfall rock pools was not uncommon. I do think, retrospectively, that expressing emotion, be it enjoyment, was perhaps a bad idea as I think the grey emotionless type is perhaps the ideal candidate for this kind of job.

We slept in barracks and often got woken up at odd hours to run here and there, always to a point of exhaustion and then being asked to do it again, and again. All the time being reminded in a quiet and calm manner that all the pain can stop and we can go home if we wanted.

Several candidates did just that and left.

By the end of the first week there were just three Inspectors left and a hand full of police constables. Over the weekend we were allowed home, but this wasn’t really a day off as we were all given tasks to perform that in my case included breaking into a Star Ferry boat, gathering some mundane intelligence, drawing up floorplans of the ferry without being caught and then return all the way back up to Fanling. I suspect this was so the DS could have a day off rather than give us a rest or change in scenery.

The second week continued with much longer runs and more complex exercises. On one of the Tarzan assault courses that we were often presented with, I was traversing along a high rope and the rope broke behind me. I swung a short distance forward, crashed into the wooden frame, but managed to hang on. The other Inspector candidate, called Chris, who was behind me swung down into the ground, resulting in him breaking his back and being admitted into hospital. That left me and an officer called Mark as the surviving Inspectors.

We did more assault leadership tests and planning, more long distance endurance runs and some exercises that I remember very clearly such as creeping up under cover to “sniper positions” along streams and through thick prickly jungle. On this particular test I was crawling along a stream on my stomach, inching as stealthily as I could through the undergrowth and stopped in my tracks as a Banded Krate snake crawled from one side of the stream, over my arms to the other side. I can remember looking very closely at the orange, black and white stripes and shiny scales of the snake as it took its time and thinking I wish it would get a move on as the exercise clock was ticking down. This is completely mad and shows the mental state you can get yourself into, because ordinarily you wouldn’t get me going anywhere near a snake, never mind such a venomous one.

Then came a couple of days of phobia tests that involved jumping out of helicopters blindfolded; scuba diving (which I had never done before) but with blacked out masks and sitting in the murky slime at the bottom of the harbour, taking off the mask and mouth piece underwater and replacing it; being tied up with a diving balaclava covering our eyes and thrown in the sea; murder water polo in a swimming pool which again was like drowning and very exhausting; crawling underwater in confined and completely dark water tunnels; very long distance swimming; climbing and rappelling; falling backwards from the top of a fire service tower on an abseil rope without holding on; and other unpleasantries. Before the selection I generally thought the height tests would give me the most problems, but they didn’t and actually I thought all the abseiling and jumping from height was a lot of fun.

Unexpectedly, it was “the boxes” that got a negative reaction out of me and a brief, but involuntary refusal at the starting gate. As I look back the whole build up to the exercise was designed to create panic and anxiety and see how you would react. The boxes were in fact assembled inside a hanger at the fire services department training school and consisted of a series of three dimensional wooden passages filled with CS gas that you had to squeeze through wearing an old style blacked out gas mask that made a farting sound and had restricted air ingress to induce panic and claustrophobia. The tight passages in the boxes could be changed by the DS by adjusting slats forcing the candidates to wriggle through tunnels and down vertical chimney like passages, make tight difficult turns and get trapped in coffin like boxes. All the time with disorientating and very loud banging, screeches and shouting in the background.

As unpleasant as it was, and believe me it was really horrendous, it was not the actual task that really caused me problems during selection, it was my reaction to the questions about the test when interviewed several days later that would seal my fate.

I suppose, apart from being very fit and determined, the key to success is to eat as much as you can, keep hydrated, sleep when you can and most importantly not keep guessing, stressing and worrying about what is coming up next. As each nasty test unfolded I kept telling myself that they wont kill me, which wasn’t helped by the fact that selection killed a candidate the previous year.

On what turned out to be the final day we finished a very long run and when we got to where we thought the end was we were given an almighty bollocking about not putting in enough effort, being the worst candidates they ever had on selection and were told to run back. As we started to stagger off the DS called us back and said the selection was over.

It took a while for the DS to persuade us it REALLY was over.

I remember all the SDU officers congratulating me and the other remaining candidate, Mark. One of the SDU officers I admired the most told me he looked forward to working with me in “land team” which is what I wanted. The other SDU teams being “water” and “sniper”.

Not long afterwards I was invited into a debrief meeting, and when I entered the room the entire SDU team was sitting behind a long table in the semi dark. I assumed it was just a formality and I would be informed I was in the unit and would be starting in “Charlie” team (the six months training unit).

Instead, the OC of the unit, Colin, just said, ‘you suffer from claustrophobia’. Taken aback and a bit flummoxed I denied that I did but admitted I didn’t enjoy the boxes. I was then asked if something happened to me in the past that would make me claustrophobic?

What I should have said is “No” and waited for the next question.

I didn’t and foolishly thought I should explain myself. I recounted a bullying event when I was a kid and was trapped for hours under a tight tarpaulin by a notorious bully called Neil Grimley. It was horrific as I could hardly breathe, couldn’t moved and got spitefully kicked and punched as I pleaded to be let loose. I still have chipped front teeth to remind me when this bully and his thug pals pelted me with stones and rocks when I was swimming in a river one afternoon. He has a lot to answer for and its just as well for him and my continuing liberty that I never ran into him as an adult. Am I the only person who has fantasized about meting out retribution to a school bully in later life?

The reality is that during my youth I had no problems whatsoever with crawling about in tight spaces, being underwater and much of my unsupervised childhood involved daft activities such as climbing into cement mixers on building sites and starting them up to see how long we could last inside, crawling underneath the village church through the dark tight vaults and foundation vents, crawling through chimneys, and crawling through water tunnels near the reservoirs, etc. In fact, on the farm I worked on as a kid I often got attached to a rope by my ankles and dangled down a tight dark shit drain to retrieve the iron manhole cover that occasionally fell down the hole when scraping out. Nothing worse than that.

Anyway, little did a know that my answer sealed my fate. In an attempt to prove my worth I did the selection again the following year and did all the phobia tests, successfully, but I still didn’t get selected. So close and yet so far. To rub salt into a very sore wound Mark and Chris were selected, Chris having done little of the selection himself since he broke his back on the Tarzan course half way through.

Chris and Mark didn’t make it ultimately, as they managed to blow each other up on an exercise by selecting a real stun grenade instead of a training one, not fatally to their bodies, but fatally as far as remaining in the unit.

Some consolation, although not much, is that many years later I worked for the OC and with many of the SDU officers in the private sector and they often said I did very well on passing selection and that in retrospect they should have selected me, but defended their position at the time by saying they feared I suffered from claustrophobia and as such there would be a risk I would not crawl through an aircon duct or tight space if it was a viable assault option.

The irony of it all is that I am sure SDU in their entire history have never crawled through an aircon duct as an entry option. It really is a daft assault option in any situation. However, in 2010, when I was leading a fraud investigation company I actually did crawl through an aircon duct in a false ceiling at 2am in the morning in an office building in Shanghai to gain access to a locked room so that I could unlock the door from the inside so we could forensically image the company computer servers. Also, I have since completed my PADI advanced open water scuba diving qualification in the Sinai of Egypt, dived all over Asia and even used Nitrous gas mixtures for technical diving in deep volcanic vents and underwater caves.

If the face don’t fit the face don’t fit.

The worst bit about failing a selection, apart from not doing the job you set your heart on, is that when you go back to your unit you are seen as a failure and its a bitter pill to swallow. I found it very difficult to deal with, even today, because I know I would have done an excellent job.

I went back to Tsim Sha Tsui police station to find that Dick Tudor had been promoted and the divisional commander position had been taken over by a chubby office wallah type called Rob and my job as sub unit commander had been replaced by a local officer and I had to act as his 2i/c, the excuse given that they thought I passed SDU selection and wasn’t coming back.

I was later further “demoted” and sentenced to a junior admin role (ASSUC) that I fucking hated and to be honest totally unsuited to. I raised my displeasure about this “square peg in a round hole” posting with the “fat controller” who reprimanded me for being a “prima donna” and told me to get on with it and do as I am told. I also faced the prospect of a posting I had no interest in called SDS, that was ostensibly formed to enforce street level vice, drugs and gambling laws.

I had in those days, and still to this day, absolutely no interest in enforcing these laws that I think should be decriminalised. Whilst drugs, prostitution and gambling are of course real social problems, I don’t agree with the vast sums of money and resources spent enforcing them as crimes, the resulting mass incarcerations, nor the prohibition that creates the world’s most vicious crime syndicates and cartels. The war on drugs will never ever be won, and if I put my liberal criminologist hat on, there are far more harmful crimes that police and society should focus upon.

In the case of the Vice Squads, they were better known as the “Granny Squads” because the only people they ever arrested were grannies with “no previous convictions” for managing vice establishments and the triads behind the scenes got away scot-free as there was an endless supply of “old biddies” who were quite happy to take a minor first conviction rap for a decent pay out from the gangs behind the vice.

As for gambling? The laws were designed to protect the biggest gambling syndicate in the whole Colony, The Hong Kong Jockey Club.

All that said, these police squads can’t be as bad as the ones they have today. I dread to think if I was told by my sergeant, ‘Right, PC Utley, you have to dress up as a rainbow bumblebee today and genuflect to Marxists R Us’, or forced to command the “you really hurt my feelings” squad.

Thank God I was born in the 1960s.

Anyway, not to be outwitted, I started plotting my escape by getting myself listed as a platoon commander for the next Kowloon West Police Tactical Unit (“PTU”) company that was to form up in early summer 1989. That meant I had to find myself something to do for a few months rather than writing boring memoranda and staring out the window. The solution came from my PTS squad mate, Gus who had joined the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (“EOD”) Cadre and waxed lyrical about the joys of blowing things up and so I applied and was accepted for the upcoming course.

A few weeks later I was either sitting in a classroom, in the EOD laboratory or on the range learning about wheelbarrows, pig-sticks, bomb suits, needles, detonators, detcord, thyristors, PE4, amatol, bare wire loops, soak times, mercury tilt switches, collapsing circuits, x-ray inspectors, the art of hook and line, booby trapping white board rubbers and lavatory rolls and making things go “welly”. I also raised my skills in talking shit and drinking until my eyes bled to new levels in the EOD mess. I absolutely loved it.

The Senior Bomb Disposal Officer was called John R at the time, a former British Army Warrant Officer who performed many tours in Northern Ireland and survived many attempts by the IRA to kill him. After retirement from the British Army he joined the RHKP as a specialist Senior Superintendent to lead the EOD Unit. A great bloke who was supported at that time by the BDOs, Al, Jock, Jimmy and Bob, and indeed all the “Number Twos” of the Unit.

In essence, bomb disposal involves appreciating problems and solving them. There are many skills to learn and a lot of science to understand. The EOD cadre was formed to support the full time EOD Unit during periods of increased internal security and to focus on the criminal use of Improvised Explosives Devices (“IEDs”), rather than WWII bombs and other military ordnance that the full time officers focused upon.

During training we made every type of IED one could think of and then render the devices safe in realistic situations. In order not to blow ourselves up, but sufficiently scare us, the explosives and detonators in our letter bombs and other ingenious devises were replaced with “puffers” that are essentially very loud bangers. Black colour for outdoors and white colour for indoors. Nonetheless, both made your ears ring and your nerves jangle if you messed up.

I remember on one training week we each made about ten IEDs for a licensing exercise and one of my cadre team mates made an IED with a switch using a light sensitive diode with the idea that when the package is opened the electric circuit is complete and detonates the explosives. In the 1990s EOD HQ was located on the fifth floor of Police Headquarters in Arsenal Street, Wanchai and as we exited the building to load up the EOD vans, his pride and joy IED exploded in the compound, terrifying most of our more desk bound colleagues. An own goal because he neglected to factor in that ambient light in the EOD lab was not as strong as sunlight in the PHQ compound. It was also a reminder that many bomb makers blow themselves up when moving or arming their evil devices.

I passed the course and I stayed in the EOD cadre throughout my service in the RHKP until 1997. During that time we did an awful lot of training, I passed my licencing each year, was selected for the smaller and better trained Cadre, and was called up for several incidents. Without being too indiscreet, I count among my exploits: driving an EOD wheel barrow into the Excelsior Hotel and blowing up a box of moon cakes; blowing up a fish bomb stash of amatol on an island near China; blowing the tail off a crashed China Airways 747-400 that ran off the runway at Kai Tak airport; being involved in firing a rocket at a pleasure junk off Sek O quarry and setting it on fire; pig-sticking an IED used in a failed bank robbery; and killing a suicide dog, although I am pretty sure the dog was not called ISIS, nor had a settled intention of taking its own life.

EOD Unit in 1997… led by Bones (me rear third from right)
Me third from right. Norris (current SBDO) to my right
Working on an EOD wheelbarrow at Mount Butler Range in early 90s
Jim and I with our No.2
Clip from newspaper after the Excelsior Hotel “moon cake” incident
Local newspaper clipping – Rupert (me) rendering safe a real IED used in a bank robbery

Having spent many happy weeks blowing stuff up and making things go bang I returned to Tsim Sha Tsui police station with all my fingers and body parts where they should be and was attached to Yau Ma Tei District Crime Squad for a few weeks assisting Dave, Dave and Robin on a couple of interesting investigations before I headed off up north to Fanling to start training as one of eight platoon commanders in PTU “Foxtrot” Company (6/89).

Police Tactical Unit is also known as the “Blue Berets” (or lan mo ji) and is a sort of paramilitary unit of the police force, primarily used for maintaining internal security in Hong Kong and in my day assisting the British Army with manning the border with China.

They are the guys that were shown on the front line battling the anti China rioters and CIA sponsored anarchists on the streets of Hong Kong in 2019, albeit with funky new kit and equipment, and I dare say slightly different tactics from our 1980s tactics which were to keep the baying mob 100 meters away, keep them moving, and use copious amounts of CS gas or indeed shotguns to persuade them to keep moving. Whilst we can train hard to be tactically competent to do our law enforcement job, we cannot control political cowardice and media lies and spin and I am afraid enormous harm was done to the morale and reputation of the Hong Kong police during those riots in 2019. Its awful to see the decline of Asia’s Finest.

Anyway, there are six regions in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Island, Marine, New Territories North and South, and Kowloon East and West). Most of my service was in Kowloon West and so that was the PTU company I was attached to and in those days Kowloon West was manned by either Foxtrot (“F”) or Golf (“G”) company.

Usually there were one or two PTU company under training and several PTU companies on attachment, based at respective regional headquarter police stations. Each company was made up of four platoons and each platoon consists of about forty officers comprising four section, four section sergeants, a platoon sergeant and two platoon commanders.

The Company HQ was lead by a Company Commander at Superintendent rank, assisted by the Company 2i/c at Chief Inspector rank and a Company Station Sergeant.

Each section of a platoon had a role and position within the platoon formation. Section one was armed with rattan shields; section two with CS smoke guns (1.5 inch Federals); section three with baton rounds (again fired from 1.5 inch Federals); and section four which was the firearms section and officers were armed with either a Remington shot gun or a Colt AR15 rifle.

Initially Inspectors and NCOs arrived at PTU HQ and received training from PTU Staff who instructed us on all aspects of public order, riot training, sweeps, room entries, cordons and various internal security planning, techniques and operational orders. Later, Police Constable arrived and the platoon officers were responsible for their training and lesson planning, assisted by the PTU Staff.

At this time I was a keen runner and I would say there was far more physical fitness and running at PTU than at PTS. Most of the PCs were quite young, but some of the NCOs were getting on a bit and hadn’t done much physical training since they were themselves PCs in PTU.

Most of the Inspectors were one pips and an attachment to PTU was a prerequisite for promotion, with the exception of a few chain smoking, beer bellied CID officers who managed to escape any physical exertion.

When I started PTU I was dating Lilian, a Cathay Pacific stewardess who later went on to be my wife. Though I officially lived in single Inspector’s accommodation, as I mentioned above, I actually spent more time at her nice apartment in Junk Bay, near Sai Kung and so I commuted each day along the Tolo Highway up to Fanling on my Suzuki GS 750 motorcycle. This classic blue Suzuki was replaced with a triple cylinder Yamaha XS750 that I bought from Ben (my PTS squad mate). It was a bastard of a bike that never worked and I spent more time pushing it than riding it.

My usual routine was that I rode early to Fanling each day, did a run (either the PTU A, B, or C course), had breakfast in the Officers’ Mess, and then we started whatever we were doing that day which in the early stage of training was planning operational orders, fitness training, self defence, weapon training (where I finally mastered the marksmanship principles of our standard .38 Smith & Wesson revolver), company exercises, more running, and because I thought (stupidly at this time) I might have another go at SDU selection, even more running and weight training after hours.

I became a bit obsessed with fitness and health, and all my spare time was spent training, trail running, riding motorcycles and my new hobby, paragliding which was in its infancy and which I did with Gus who owned the first paraglider in Hong Kong.

On exercise in a Saxon APC.
Lessons with my Oppo, Oscar Lam. Each company had a colour and Foxtrot Company colours were orange, which is apt given I became a KTM fan. We also had a company tune that we played on the tannoy as we returned to base from exercise.
I did a hell of a lot of running and nearly always came first. Here with A Bei, my Platoon Sergeant
Abseiling training, which I loved
Our platoon… Foxtrot 4. Together with our Company Commander Peter Bacon and Coy 2ic, Ringo
Oscar and I sneaking into the JPO Canteen with some of our boys for fried rice and milk tea. Yum!
Me green roping from a RAF Wessex helicopter outside Close Quarter Battle Range (“CQBR”)

Receiving Best Platoon Award on behalf of my lads
PTU Passing out parade 1989
Saxon APC
Rupert (me) paragliding at Sek O

I loved PTU training and I am immensely proud of my platoon for winning best platoon. My mother and Lilian came along to the Passing Out Parade together with my guest, Paul Deal, my divisional commander from brief spell at Kowloon City.

My “oppo”, Oscar Lam got to ride around the PTU parade square in a Saxon APC and I got to collect the trophy on behalf of No. 4 platoon, Foxtrot Company.

Our company did not perform border duties ( subsequent companies did get posted to the Hong Kong/China border after passing out, taking over the role from the British Army) and so we went straight to our region, which in our case was Kowloon West. We were based at Mong Kok police station, right in the heart of Kowloon and perhaps one of the busiest and most crime ridden divisions in the Colony.

We would be tasked to perform support to divisions, extra manpower for events, and internal security roles. This meant we went to different places in Kowloon everyday, and occasionally further afield for large scale operations. I fondly remember our platoon meals that we took at various police stations as one of my sergeants was a master chef and used to “source” and cook delicious lobsters, crabs, garoupa, prawns, and other sea food delicacies that were prepared in various police canteen kitchen. I can honestly say the food was some of the best I have ever eaten and nothing cheered up my local colleagues more than stuffing their faces.

We occasionally responded to armed robberies and other serious crimes and I was often disappointed that Emergency Unit got all the exciting action. On one occasion we responded to an armed robbery and I was told by the EU commander, Bones Brittain, to form the outer cordon while his platoon swept the building, raided the apartment and arrested the villains. Bones was in the EOD Cadre with me at the time and later went on to be the SBDO of the Unit.

Years later, when we were in the EOD Mess together he would often reminisce how my platoon and I would eagerly turn up at a robbery or shooting scene in deepest darkest Kowloon, only to be sent off to do something mundane. Quite rightly, when the time came and I became a platoon commander in EU I would give some young and eager PTU bomban the same treatment with a “Right, I am in command here. You lot can go off and man the outer cordon”, just as Bones did to me.

We had a bit of excitement from time to time and an operation to arrest illegal immigrants had several PTU companies raid an entire construction site in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island at night. My platoon was given the task to green rope (slide down a thick rope that was green) from Wessex helicopters onto the top of high rises under construction and sweep the IIs down to other platoons who had cordoned off the buildings and secured the exits. It was quite risky running about on the top of a 30 story building under construction in the dark as there were many holes in the floors for lift shafts and rubbish shoots that you could fall through, many you could not see because the expanded polystyrene that was used to form the hole shape of shafts and ducts was covered in a thin layer of concrete.

In typical Hong Kong fashion the scaffolding was made of bamboo, fastened together with plastic cord and covered in green netting. The buildings we were searching wwere full of illegal immigrants from mainland China who were working and living in the construction sites and we found many were a lot more nimble than us skipping about on the bamboo scaffolding in their attempts to evade capture. One particular guy even leapt from the 25th floor of one building over to an adjacent building to escape us like some chase scene from a Bond movie.

I distinctly remember I told my platoon sergeant, Ah Bei, that if he wanted his freedom that much he deserved to have it and leave him be.

Inspectors (sitting) and NCOs (standing) of PTU “Foxtrot” Company in winter uniform at Mong Kok Police Station Compound 1989/90. I am far left sitting down with Oscar next to me. Ah Bei, our platoon sergeant behind my right shoulder, and the section sergeants behind. Company Commander Peter Bacon is seated at the center, with Ringo, Coy 2i/c and Company Si Sa.

As my very enjoyable attachment to PTU was coming to an end so was my first tour in the Royal Hong Kong Police.

As I look back I think this was my happiest time in the police. My platoon were a super bunch of guys, I was super fit, work was fun, my Company Commander, Peter Bacon was a great boss and very good to me. I had breezed through the Inspector’s Standard II examination and so I got confirmed in the rank of Inspector and got a second pip on my shoulder. I had a very pretty girlfriend whom I planned to marry and I had enough money to be comfortable. I was young, healthy and doing what I wanted in life. Few young men experience that and I count myself lucky that I had such a great chapter in my life.

The disbandment of PTU “Foxtrot” Company was a sad moment for me , but I was looking forward to my “long leave”, the adventure ahead and seeing more of the world. I was too late in joining the RHKP to be employed on Hong Kong Government pension terms, and so as a “contract officer” I received a 25% gratuity payment of the total of my salary earned during the 3 years of my contract, a business class return flight to UK (that I changed, like all other officers, for an economy round the world air ticket), and 5 months paid leave in which I planned to travel though Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, USA, Canada, Europe and then back to Hong Kong to start a second tour.

RHKP PTU Blue Beret

And that is what I did.

I spent some time with Lilian and her family at her home in Singapore, relaxed in Thailand and the Philippines, travelled across Australia with my PTS squad mate Stewart (who decided not to renew his contract in the RHKP, but to join HSBC Bank as an International Officer), did some hiking and exploring in New Zealand and Hawaii, met up with Lilian again in California as Cathay Pacific allowed flight attendants like her to swap flights and so we went to Vancouver, Mexico, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and Washington DC on the east coast, and then eventually across the Atlantic back to England to see friends and family.

My normally short hair hair getting a bit bouffant on leave! Here wandering around on top of Ayers Rock in Australia with Stewart ….together as it happens with Phil Collins of Genesis fame. Its called Uluru now and climbing is banned.

Being back in England seemed very strange and it was as if I never left.

I recall being in a village pub with some guys I knew from school and they asked what I was doing in London. I told them I had actually joined the Royal Hong Kong Police and was midway through a story about sliding down ropes from helicopters and triad gun battles on the streets of Kowloon when I noticed their eyes glazing over, and so I stopped and the conversation reverted back to heifers breaking fences on farms, whose shagging who, and who crashed their car recently.

In the future when I was asked what it was like in Hong Kong I would just say, “Oh, its fine”.

Next ……Chapter 3 – Gun battles, Yip Kai Foon and Emergency Unit Kowloon West

Royal Hong Kong Police – Chapter 1

The goldsmith robbery getaway car came screeching into the carpark of Hung Hom ferry pier with Car 8 from Mong Kok in hot pursuit.

As the Platoon Commander of Emergency Unit Kowloon West I had been following the frenetic radio commentary from the front seat of EU Car 50 and together with EU Car 1 from Tsim Sha Tsui we blocked off all the exits.

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.

The 13th of November 1991 was either going to be a very interesting day at the office, or perhaps our last.

Newspaper clipping from a local newspapers – November 14, 1991

Chapter 1 – Cantonese and standing on one leg.

On the 18th of February 1987 I boarded the second aeroplane I had ever been on in my life, and took a one way flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong.

I was joined by nine other “expatriate” recruits, some of whom I had met over previous months during the Royal Hong Kong Police interviews and selection process at the Hong Kong Government offices in Grafton Street in London.

I was one of three former Metropolitan Police officers who had been successful in applying to join “Asia’s Finest”. There was also a former Detective Sergeant from the Greater Manchester Police, a couple of former British Army officers, and the remainder were straight out of university.

Together with another 26 locally recruited Chinese officers from Hong Kong, including two ladies, Gloria and Geraldine, we were to form Probationary Inspectors’ course 306-308.

Given the horseplay and mayhem we caused on the 12 hour business class flight, mostly initiated by Gus, a former army officer, it was hard to believe that we represented the ten successful candidates out of many thousands of applicants.

As we approached Kai Tak airport we were all very excited and perhaps a little apprehensive about what lay ahead. We all gazed out of the windows in astonishment as the Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 seemed to squeeze between Lion Rock mountain and the densely populated high rises of Kowloon. The huge aeroplane, at seemingly low altitude, then performed a hard right hand bank for the final approach giving everyone on board an unnervingly close view of washing hanging out on poles from the densely populated Kowloon City apartments. It then skimmed over the roof of the infamous Walled City and landed on a thin ribbon of reclaimed land that stretched out into Hong Kong Harbour

As the aeroplane slowed and taxied back to the terminal buildings we inhaled our first whiffs of Hong Kong…. the pungent, and probably toxic fumes of Kai Tak nullah.

Waiting in the arrivals halls were our course instructors in full RHKP uniform, and grinning like a Cheshire Cat, our Drill & Musketry Instructor (“DMI”), Mr Cheung who would be responsible for our discipline, footdrill, and weapons training. He didn’t look like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from the film of the same year, Full Metal Jacket, but we were to find out he could shout like him.

Dragging along my entire possessions in a suitcase, we were herded onto a bus and driven through the busy and completely alien looking streets of Kowloon, through the dark tunnel under the harbour, out into Causeway Bay with huge neon advertising signs adorning the sky scrappers, into the gloom and diesel fumes of Aberdeen tunnel, and then out again into the bright sunshine of Wong Chuk Hang where the Police Training School nestled in tropical greenery between Brick Hill, Ocean Park and some sinister looking tobacco factories.

We all noticed the huge Ocean Park seahorse, carved out from the jungle foliage on the hill above the training school, and discussed among ourselves whether we would be able to get into the amusement park, enjoy the many swimming pools and water flumes and ride in the cable cars. None of us noticed the steep steps under the cable cars.

In comings weeks we would get to know those steps very well.

Seahorse or a dragon ?
RHKP Police Training School grounds today, barracks, drill square and firing ranges to left of picture. The green snake of the Mass Transit Railway and modern high rises are later additions. In our day a bus or a taxi was the only way in and out.
Day 2 . Stewart, Malcolm, Guy, Dave, Rupert (me) and Simon in winter school uniform
Chan Tak Sing (“Cheeky Chan”) – one of the few local Police Constables to be promoted to Police Inspector in our intake.

The 19th February 1987 was the official start of my Royal Hong Kong Police career and indeed my new life. The first five years of my adult life had been as a Constable in the Metropolitan police and was a mixed bag of disappointment, fleeting moments of success, long stretches of boredom, flashes of excitement and terror, toxic relationships, and always always being skint. I was ready to wipe the slate clean and start again. Do it better.

The 19th happened to be a Thursday and so we had a couple of days over the weekend to acclimatise to the weather and time zone until we were joined by the remainder of our intake who were all native Chinese officers from Hong Kong. Most recruited straight from university, but a few who had been promoted from the ranks of Police Constable or Sergeant.

As Probationary Inspectors (“PIs”) we were accommodated in military style dormitory barracks called “J’ Block for the junior stage of training. As we progressed through the ten months course our accommodation would improve slightly until by the senior stage we would have our own rooms in Heath House and a room boy to prepare our uniform and kit.

Ah Bat, the barber ensured all male officers received the uniform short back and sides, with sideburns no longer than the middle of our ears. Moustaches were still quite common in those days and I think Simon, Guy and Mike kept them throughout training, although an improperly trimmed “tache” was often an excuse to receive some kind of punishment from the DMI, as were unshaven cheeks, nostril hairs or bristle on the backs of our necks. Many Cantonese and southern Chinese men can’t grow full beards and often had miscreant “lucky” hairs sprouting from moles or “face fuzz” and so many were forced to shave for the first time in their life.

We all watched knowingly when a new recruit, and good friend of mine, called Rick arrived off the bus from the airport and entered the PTS Mess with 1980s blonde highlights in his hair. He managed about 12 hours before Ah Bat shaved the whole lot off and Rick was quite upset about this as he had spent quite a lot of money working on the Miami Vice look before he flew out from England.

Seniority of PIs under training was denoted by the colour of the backing flash under the “RHKP” badge on our epaulettes (blue, white, yellow) and in the junior stage I remember looking enviously at the senior stage PIs and wondering what we would have to go through before we were able to wear senior stage flashes .

We wore a cloth slide on our epaulettes, if indeed we wore shirts, or a wristband when bare chested, with our rank denoted by one British military star, and thus for our first three years of our service we were referred to as “one pip bombans”.

The badge of Royal Hong Kong Police from 1967 until 1997. Ironically it depicts a drug trafficking transaction on the beaches of Hong Kong between the British and Chinese.
RHKP badges of rank. On successful completion of training and having passed Standard I examinations an officer would be a Probationary Inspector for the first three years of service. On passing the Standard II Inspectors’ examinations we would be confirmed in the rank and have two pips, much like a UK Inspector, and then on passing the Standard III examinations and on completion of 5 years service we would be advanced in rank to Senior Inspector, denoted by two pips and a bar (as far as I got). The highest rank was Commissioner of Police and when I joined this was Mr. Raymond Anning. In addition to officer ranks there were Police Constables, Senior Constables, Sergeants and Station Sergeants.

As was traditional, the intake above us was responsible for our familiarisation, i.e. a guided “piss up” of Hong Kong’s watering holes. They were also responsible for the de rigeur initiation ceremony that I remember involved Greg (aka “Pik” because he was South African) dressing up as a DMI, doing a room inspection in which all our kit and bedding was strewn about on the floor and “attempting” to get us marching on the drill square in our underwear.

This it turns out was far more sensible than the initiation ceremony we had planned for the intake below us when the time came that involved, among other silliness, buying a “snake” from a wet market, with the intention, when the time came, to release it into the “newbies” barracks. A week later, and much to everyone’s alarm, an extremely angry Chinese Cobra emerged from its bag inside Ben’s locker, shot off at alarming speed, hissing and terrorising everyone until being finally captured by the official police snake catcher, no doubt to be sent to the snake soup shop it was originally destined to go.

Our lame excuses to our instructors that the snake must have crawled in from the jungle, which wasn’t actually an uncommon occurrence, was treated with the skepticism it deserved. The snake recognition skills of the two former army officers responsible for the prank, and indeed all their other military escapades and stories of daring do were now and forever in doubt.

Our Hong Kong familiarisation involved a very pleasurable boat trip in a Sampan (a small traditional junk boat) from Aberdeen harbour near the training school and around the island in choppy waters to Wanchai where we all stripped off and jumped into the sea. Suffice to say, Hong Kong harbour in the 1980s was not the cleanest bathing spot, nor one of the safest being at the time the busiest harbour on the planet.

After this baptism, I immediately developed a painful ear infection, no doubt from the high concentration of turd bacteria, and this ear and throat infection flared up frequently, as jumping into the South China Sea, for some reason or another, seemed to be a common activity throughout our training. A surreal experience nonetheless floating in a shipping channel and being surrounded by the biggest and most spectacular display of neon lights and brightly coloured advertising awnings in the world.

Back on shore, we were later familiarised with the famous curries in Chung King Mansion on Kowloon side in which my lasting reputation was forged, and perhaps my nickname. The sequence of events involved, allegedly, me stealing a potato chip from Pik’s plate, being stabbed in the back of my hand by Pik’s fork, and rolling around the floor choking Pik in a headlock.

It is debatable whether this incident resulted in my nickname, “Max” as in Mad Max, for which many people still know me, or because when my course instructor, Ken, asked me, ‘What’s your name?’, I replied, ‘Rupert’, to which he replied, ‘That’s a stupid name’, resulting in fits of hysterical laughter from my squad mates who there and then christened me “Max”, as they insisted I looked like the MTV computer generated host, Max Headroom.

The nick name has stuck ever since and still used by my friends, although in recent years I have become known by the Chinese name the Hong Kong Government bestowed on me, 歐奕礼 (Au Yik Lai in Cantonese, or nowadays using the Mandarin pronunciation, Ou Yi Li that my “other half” Fanny and and other Chinese friends call me to this day).

After the Pik stabbing incident, we were familiarised with nightclubs, San Miguel beer, Carlsberg beer, Wan Chai girlie bars, more nightclubs, strange creatures on kebab sticks, and dancing with Filipino Amahs to the hit songs from Madonna, Michael Jackson and a local tune called, “Louie Louie Louie” that was repeated over and over again. I remember little more about that night other than waking up choking and nearly drowning in a huge hot tub together with Gus at some massage parlour in North Point at about 3am the next morning.

All in all, a very successful familiarisation to the Fragrant Harbour.

Hong Kong has a subtropical climate and has four distinct seasons. A cool and dry Winter, a humid and sticky Spring, a very hot and stormy Summer, and a pleasant, dry and sunny Autumn. When we arrived in February it was late winter and so the uniform we were issued with was dark blue trousers, a khaki green shirt, a blue navy style sweater, DMS boots and a flat dark blue cap with the RHKP badge.

As students we always wore white webbing belts that would constantly be wet and soggy from continual sweat. Often, the white blanco would smear all over our shorts or trousers and inevitably give the DMI some excuse to “gate” us (i.e. confined us to the school grounds on Saturday afternoons and Sundays to perform extra drill and perform mundane tasks).

As the cool weather in Hong Kong lasts for only about six weeks we soon changed out of winter uniform to the summer uniform of baggy khaki shorts, much like the uniform worn in the TV comedy, It Ain’t half Hot and so we were bare chested when outside for lessons such as tactics, foot drill, and weapon training. In the classrooms and Officers’ Mess we wore a khaki green shirt with a lanyard, whistle and mandatory notebook in our breast pocket. For leadership training we wore military style jungle kit, jungle boots and a blue jungle hat that took us, invariably, into the hot, steamy, spikey, mosquito infested jungles to get lost with a map and compass.

Summer PTS School Uniform and my first command!! The winning IS platoon. I am the pink with red spots human-being holding a loudhailer.

Geographically, Hong Kong is a collection of islands (Hong Kong, Lantau and many smaller islands ending in the word “Chau”) and a part of mainland China (Kowloon and the New Territories) on the southern coast. The territory is located to the south east of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province, so the prevailing language is Cantonese, although government, administration and the documentation of the civil service in those days was in English.

Historically, The Qing dynasty ceded Hong Kong in perpetuity to the British Empire in 1842 through the treaty of Nanjing, ending the First Opium War. Hong Kong then became a British crown colony.[2] Britain also won the Second Opium War, forcing the Qing Empire to cede Kowloon in 1860, while leasing the New Territories for 99 years from 1898. (source:

So what did we do for that 10 months of training before we passed out and were thrust onto the streets of Hong Kong?

For the first eight weeks of training all expatriate officers had to undertake and pass the Basic Cantonese Language course. A language, I should note, that is notoriously difficult to learn and has at least seven tones, if not nine, so that gau, gau gau, gau, gau and gaau could mean nine, rubber, glue, dog, penis and enough…if not many other meanings. Without using the correct tone asking to stroke someone’s dog could have unexpected consequences!

Within my course we had Simon, a Mancunian with a nuff nuff monotone northern accent who tried really hard, and to this day, despite being married to a Cantonese woman for nearly four decades, still cannot pronounce anything in any Chinese dialect. On the other hand, Gus, a well spoken public school educated former army officer, a mimic, comedian, musician, bullshitter of note, and far too clever for his own good was a duck to water, quickly mastering the language and indeed every swear word and profanity, of which there are surprisingly many.

Cantonese class (well half of it) with left to right: Rupert (me), Ben, Gus, Stewart and Steve (giving a good impression of looking at a mobile phone that has yet to be invented for another two decades, at least)

For me, I came somewhere in the middle with my Cantonese ability. It is only now, being reasonably fluent in Mandarin, that I realise what my main problem with the Cantonese dialect actually is. I just don’t like it. To my mind it’s an ugly sounding, unnecessarily loud and vulgar dialect and the sooner everyone speaks Mandarin the better. This is, of course, a very contentious point of view, and will undoubtedly warrant rebuke from, well, Cantonese people. Still its my blog. My point of view.

As an ethnic minority in a foreign country, albeit a colonialist, I encountered quite a bit of racism, in both directions, I might add. Much of this racism was disguised or camouflaged due to the language and cultural barriers, but became increasingly apparent as our Cantonese ability improved and we realised what a lot of local people were actually saying. In Hong Kong the racial slur “gwailo” (鬼佬 – ghost guy) is often, if not always used to refer to a Westerner or European looking person. As for derogatory terms for Filipinos, Indians and Africans? Don’t ask. I always joke that for the first year of my life in Hong Kong I thought, “sei gwailo” (die foreign devil) meant “Good Morning”!

Back then in those colonial days it was a bit of “them and us” and the British system in many ways discriminated against local Chinese and so there was an underlying resentment towards the foreign colonial power that surfaced from time to time. Ironically, nowadays many older Chinese look back fondly to the colonial days. The younger generation who foolishly wave the British Hong Kong flag in defiance against communist China never actually experienced colonial Hong Kong and seem oblivious to the fact that democratic Britain never bestowed any democracy whatsoever on Hong Kong during its rule and in actual fact exercised a sort of apartheid for more than 150 years.

If the tables were turned and I joined the Isle of Wight Police Force on the southern coast of England and it was run by the Chinese and I was forced to speak Cantonese and eat chickens feet for breakfast I may also be a bit “hak hau hak min” .

Anyway, while we were struggling with guangdong wah, local Hong Kong officers were sent off to do a course that was also outside their comfort zone. The Police Adventure Training Course. A sort of outward bounds cum Duke of Edinburgh Awards course that had the locals going off into the wilds to pitch tents, make fires, paddle canoes, read maps and try to make a decision that does not involve several hours of bickering, changing their minds and collective faffing about. Later, these skills would help them with the one course they usually did quite poorly in as they were unable to rote learn how to do it from a training manual. Leadership!

It is not untrue to say that the vast majority of Hong Kong Chinese spent their entire youth rote learning “stuff” and regurgitating this “stuff” in the many examinations they had to endure. Climbing trees, riding bikes and messing about in rivers was alien to many of my local colleagues. The stereotypical Chinese student who was good at mathematics and could analyse Hang Seng Index trends, but could not tie a knot or think laterally was very much the norm back in those days.

There were a few Chinese officers who were educated overseas in the UK, America, Canada or Australia, but most had been through the Hong Kong education system that seemed to have the effect of erasing all initiative, creativity and individual thinking. That’s not to say they didn’t work hard. They work extremely hard which is why Hong Kong is so successful and I believe always will be.

However, back in the 1980s, it seemed that Rudyard Kipling’s East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet was never so true.

We were of course thrust together for all other aspects of training and lived cheek by jowl in the barrack dormitories. As our Cantonese ability was none existent, we conversed in Chinglish, a sort of pidgin English with Chinese characteristics. One of the things that the local Chinese officers were keen to talk about and share was their cuisine and I remember the joy and excitement of getting to know and try “real” Cantonese food and delicacies. The vast majority I love, especially Dim Sum, Dai Pai Dong dishes, Asian vegetables, Cha Siu pork, Chinese soups and curries. There are still a few things I steer well clear of, such as feet and innards, animals normally considered as pets, and especially locally harvested seafood that swim slower than I do!

Coming from England and not being as worldly travelled as I am today, I did find my Chinese colleagues a bit odd, in the sense that mundane things like washing habits, bodily noises, and table manners were “odd”. For instance, the locals always wore enormous baggy Y front underpants and flip flops in the shower, always carried a flannel to the “heads” like a wine waiter carries a napkin, and despite hot and cold water pouring out of the showerhead as effectively as anywhere else, always brought in a plastic bucket into the shower cubicle with a plastic cup!! The hacking phlegm dawn chorus was something to behold, as were the flip flop marks on every single lavatory seat, because the majority of Chinese squat on top of the seat for a poo rather than sit down like Westerners do.

Another cultural difference back in the 1970s and 80s was that you rarely saw Chinese engaging in outdoor activities or hiking about in the country parks and countryside, except the few Hakka and Tanka villagers going about their rural life, or indeed illegal immigrants who had swum over from China and had got lost.

This of course all changed at the end of the 1990s and Hong Kong people suddenly discovered the great outdoors, multi coloured lycra, yoga pants, and exciting toys to play with such as mountain bikes and surfboards. This outdoors revolution, some would say, was brought about because Chicken flu, Swine fever and the SARs epidemics scared the shit out of the local populace and breathing fresh air and mucking about in the great outdoors was no longer seen as some daft thing that gwailos did at the weekends.

The Officers’ Mess was a regular haunt, mainly due to the lure of beer and pies. Although I have never been in the military, the RHKP Mess traditions and customs, I am told, were fairly similar to the those in the British Army. At least very similar to all the colonial police forces around the world during the British Empire.

Every Officers’ Mess I ever went to back then seemed to have some former Rhodesian or Palestine Police “old boy”, dressed in a safari suit propping up the bar, much like the Major character in Fawlty Towers. The walls were always adorned with pictures of the Queen, Royal visitors, military and police plaques from guests, sepia pictures of colonial police stations, tiger hunting parties, and police units and sports teams from long ago.

There were rules about what items of uniform could be worn inside, rules about civilian attire, and written threats of bad things that will happen if you didn’t sign your Mess chit. Settling this bar bill seemed to take a good chunk out of our salaries at the end of the month and so with our weekend jaunts into the neon wonderlands of the “Wanch” we all seemed to save very little money. This contrasted with my training at Hendon Police College in 1982 where everything was free and I managed to save nearly all my salary which I used to buy my first car after we passed out.

We regularly dressed up in Mess kit for formal dinners and dining in new intakes. Like the UK military, there were lots of toasts to everyone, traditions such a female guests kissing the regimental duck that was paraded on top of the tables by the “Duck Major”, cigars, port, after dinner speeches and organised hooliganism such as Mess games.

Wednesday was curry lunch day and I had to endure Gus burping Vindaloo into my face all afternoon, and only English food was served in the Mess except for a once a month Chinese special that none of the locals thought very much of. Hong Kong has a tradition for superb curries because of the Indian and Nepalese communities, not least the Ghurkha Regiments that were stationed throughout Hong Kong and the Sikh officers who served in the police at the beginning of the last Century.

Whilst we were learning to use chopsticks and the etiquette required at a Chinese dinner table, the locals were battling with knives and forks. Many expatriate PIs vividly remember seeing their first Chinese officer lifting a whole fried egg off their plate with a knife and with a lot of slurping levitating it into the air and into their mouths.

Also, since having travelled to every province of China on my global wanderings and somewhat of an expert in gorging myself with all kinds of Chinese food, I now understand why Shepherd’s Pie, Beef Wellington and Cod and Chips might have been a culture shock to my local squad mates. In fact, Chinese food in China is not like Chinese food from the Happy Dragon or the Ho Li Fuk Takeaway in the West and is far more varied and delicious. You will never see a fortune cookie, Chicken Chow Mein or Emperor Pao’s Chicken.

The Officer’s Mess menu also explains why our Chinese colleagues couldn’t get out of PTS fast enough on Saturday afternoons.

They were all starving hungry.

Gloria kissing the Donald and the “Duck Major” who would walk along the tops of the tables presenting the duck to the female guests at Mess Diners. The role was always given to the smallest officers in the intake.
Toga Party in Officers Mess …author’s bum, Gus, Steve and Ben

A messy night – expat officers of PI 306-308 (Ben, Guy, Gus, Stewart, Mike, Rupert (author), Dave and Simon B)
Summer bar outside PTS Officers’ Mess where we could drink and buy food in PT kits and civvies… Guy in default gloomy mood and me looking disapprovingly at his tab.

Although I did learn some foot drill at Hendon Police College in London, it was limited to marching in a straight line, trying to halt together and turning right in readiness for our simple passing out ceremony.

In the Royal Hong Kong Police foot drill was of an extremely high standard, the drill square dominated the police training school and we would have early morning parades and drill lessons everyday. We spent more time standing on one leg than flamingos do in the Ngorongoro Crater. Tram lines were grooved into the tarmac by generations of police recruits stomping up and down to the sound of British military marching music provided by the world famous, and world travelled RHKP band with their brass and bagpipes sections, resplendent in tartan uniforms.

The insults from our Drill and Musketry Instructor, Mr Cheung during drill lesson were hilarious, not least because he usually mispronounced his English and had a very stereotype and Benny Hill type accent.

Missa Urry (me) you so tellible. Mat Ye Lai Ga… noz hairs, velly red, velly hairy, velly sweaty? Missa Lucas Aerospace why you look li thaa? You are disgwace to fworce. You so tellible. Missa Holaspooky waah you stand li thaa? Are you something strange? Missa Chan. You are fworce entwy you shoo no better than expat… DISGWACE DISGWACE. SQUAAAAD 1, AS YOU WERE. AS YOU WERE. DOH BEND KNEE. YOU ALL TELLIBLE.

Rupert (me) leading a squad and giving salute during a Passing Out Parade in July 1987

Our Pass Out Parade on November 14, 1987. The famous and well respected (and now late) Mr Willy Fullerton, Chief Drill & Musketry Instructor giving out the parade commands in his Scots Guards fashion

When in uniform we had to march around the school in pairs or squad formation, so that if you wanted to go somewhere you had to find someone going in the same direction. All this discipline was aimed at turning us from lily-livered civilians into well disciplined officers, and all under the ever watchful eyes of the DMIs and the formidable and very well respected Chief Drill & Musketry Instructor and former Scots Guards RSM, Willy Fullerton.

Foot drill was universally disliked by most recruits, apart from some oddballs like myself. It was uncomfortable and tiring for sure, especially standing out on the drill square in the scorching sun and stiflingly hot tarmac, discreetly shifting from foot to foot like an Australian desert lizard, but I found it all quite enjoyable and therapeutic. Mastering the commands and drill movements was like mastering a martial art. I also liked the music and all the pomp and ceremony. I especially liked being outside, but being bare chested all the time meant my light pink Anglo Saxon skin burnt easily under the scorching sun. A body evolved and designed for temperate west European climes, not out in the midday sun with mad dogs and other Englishmen.

The academic side was quite demanding for Inspectors, especially the Chinese Inspectors who had to pass the frequent and rather stressful examinations in English. I worked hard on my studies and usually put in two or three hours study every night, and perhaps more just before examinations and usually came in the top two of the class. It was helped by the fact that Hong Kong law is very similar to UK law and I had studied much of it before in the Metropolitan Police where I also did reasonably well. To this day, I can still recite most sections of criminal law and the Hong Kong Law Ordinances pretty much verbatim.

However, there were other strange and rather alien laws specific to Hong Kong that we had to learn, such as laws relating to street hawkers, prostitution, gambling, dog meat, bans on homosexuality in the government and civil service (illegal in those days), corporal punishment for possession of offensive weapons, laws relating to triad organisations and of course anti corruption laws, which was pervasive in the Hong Kong Police and the disciplined services (Fire, Customs, Immigration, Correctional Services), Civil Service and other Government Departments in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Drink driving laws were less strict than the UK at the time, the excuse given that Chinese didn’t drink! That did change in coming years with the introduction of alcohol breath testing equipment and associated laws in 1990s. It appeared Chinese did drink and drive after all.

The most painfully dull material to learn was undoubtedly the contents of a heavy tome called Police General Orders which were about procedure, discipline, and to my mind very colonial and outdated.

Weapons training was something new to me and to start with I struggled to do well. It was not until I received individual firearms training from a very competent instructor called Clive at Police Tactical Unit in Fanling a few years later that I mastered the marksmanship principles and started getting decent groupings on the targets. To this date I am a pretty good shot, and indeed I needed to be later on in my police career when I would occasionally be on the wrong side of an AK47.

We would go to the outdoor ranges for Colt AR15 rifle, Remington 870 shotgun and revolver training, and there was an indoor range to simulate more realistic “shoot – don’t shoot” scenarios.

At first we used Colt Police Positive revolvers and I swear you could see the bullet coming out of the barrel and lob in an arc towards the target, that is if the cartridge ignited and the bullet didn’t get stuck in the barrel. Later during our training the standard firearm was changed to the .38 Smith and Wesson Model 10 revolver, one of the most common police sidearms in the day.

Smith & Wesson Model 10 Revolver
Remington 870 Shotgun … with an assortment of rounds to fire at bad people like Joshua and his CIA sponsored mates. Later when I am platoon Commander of Emergency Unit in Kowloon the “00” buckshot round in our Remington shotguns would be successful in our fight against goldsmith robbers
PI 308 on the PTS Upper Range doing AR15 training. As I am not in the picture and Mike is holding two weapons I must be shooting the camera!

I wasn’t the worst shot, some recruits were terrible, and to get through the range course examinations some of the better shots would sacrifice a couple of rounds and fire into their “squad mates” adjacent target to get them through.

In the early days of my RHKP career female officers were not armed and were not allowed into specialist units like Emergency Unit, Police Tactical Unit, Explosive Ordnance Disposal and the counter terrorist unit, SDU.

In 1995 when I was myself an instructor at the training school ( a cushy posting I applied for so I could study for my degree) I had the first intake of females who were weapons trained, and with mixed results. One of my WPIs called Samantha was a very slight framed female, even by the slight build of most Cantonese women, and could not for the life of her pull the trigger, and, to the horror of firearms training staff, repeatedly used two index fingers to yank at the trigger. Stray rounds flying off towards the densely populated Wong Chuk Hang estate would normally be an excuse for dismissal, so this resulted in several staff meetings to discuss what to do with her and what remedial action could be taken. This was the beginnings of the political correctness and inclusivity versus meritocracy and ability.

In the end we decided that Samantha was just going to have to strengthen her fingers or leave the course regardless of mandates from upon high, and to her credit she spent several months wandering around squeezing a hand strengthening device and eventually was able to pull the trigger with one finger, although I will admit I did see her use two fingers for the final qualifying examinations that got her through. I have no idea if she actually ever had to use a revolver in anger during her police career. The vast majority of police officers never do.

Over the following years females entered all the front line tactical and specialist units, including Explosive Ordinance Disposal (“EOD”) where it was decided that if a female officer, or indeed a male officer, can operate inside a 90 kilogram EOD bomb suit in 35 degrees centigrade heat and 100% humidity then she or he can apply for the unit. After all, its not getting down to the IED in the bomb suit that is so hard, its getting back up again and making a purposeful retreat on two legs back to the command post. However, you cannot get away from the fact that there are certain jobs in the police that require above average strength and physical fitness. If a woman can do it, fine, but I remain of the view that lowering standards and making exceptions is wrong just to “tick” the woke box. I think I am vindicated in this view when I witnessed “some” female officers serving in Police Tactical Unit struggling and having to be “covered” by their male colleagues during the violence of the anti China riots in 2019.

We also had leadership training that was to my mind, and indeed to most of the other expatriates’, like a day off hiking in the jungles, messing about in helicopters and speed boats, seafood lunches and 7 Up (“chat hei”) that tasted remarkably like beer! We practiced role playing scenarios such as setting up cordons, ambushes, raiding drugs and vice establishments and so forth. We learned how to structure orders and give commands using the GSMEAC (Ground, Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Logistics, Command and Signals) operational order and briefing format that I still use today for all my fraud investigations engagements. The Romans used it, the British Army use it, and so do the Hong Kong Police. Its logical and it makes sense.

Often we were ferried about Hong Kong by helicopter which I thought was enormous fun. Sometimes in a red and white Royal Auxiliary Air Force Aerospatiale helicopter and sometimes in the RAF Wessex helicopters that were built in the 1950s and 60s. I had never been in a helicopter before and thoroughly enjoyed flying in them, sometimes, during more serious exercises and operations, at ground hugging mountain contour heights.

Later in my career I would use helicopters to green rope into the Close Quarter Battle Range (CQBR) for training, on to the top of high rise buildings under construction during operations to arrests Illegal Immigrants, or onto container ships far out in the South China sea for counter terrorist exercises.

The RAF pilots were amazing. I am in awe at their skill.

Getting about on leadership exercises on a RHKP Marine launch. I always seemed to be wet, either from the sea or sweat!
Leadership training .. waiting for a speed boat to take us into the wilds of Hong Kong. The Chinese officer on the left is Mr Cheung Kam Chun, our Drill & Musketry Instructor, watching our every move.
Leadership camp in Sai Kung…. Cheeky (Chan Tak Sing) and Tojo (Lai Siu Kwong)
PI 308 course instructor, Ken, with Gloria in the background.
Another day in paradise. UHT milk and Frosties in 35 degrees heat… special.
PI course 307 with their instructor, the indomitable Tony Tam
A leadership exercise “sweep” through the prickliest plants on Mother Earth
Map and compass …what could go wrong? Ben and Stewart at Long Ke Wan in Sai Kung … a stunningly beautiful area.
I know by the hairline and the fact that he really is asleep that this is Simon… who managed to go through entire PTS training without ever going on the drill square because, “allegedly”, he had “shin splints”! Simon spent every single drill lesson and parade on the “sicknote bench”. He only came alive when he was telling awful jokes, shagging, drinking or eating weird things like fish eyeballs, snakes, and innards. I have never heard him correctly pronounce anything in Cantonese, despite the fact he married, and remains married to the lovely Kwan whom he met at PTS nearly four decades ago. Years later he ended up as my boss in the Fraud Investigation Team of Arthur Andersen in London and Switzerland. He spends his time nowadays mostly playing bridge and complaining as Kwan has banned most of his favourite activities and fish eyeballs and snake innards are hard to come by in Yorkshire..
Like Labrador dogs … we found some water to splash about in.
Simon and Rupert (me) on a Marine launch… with the “Terrible” T shirts (Our DMI, Mr Cheung Kam Chun’s favourite expression)
Nothing to see… just Stewart up a tree. I guarantee that modern day PIs from “police college” are not doing leadership training in the New Territories wearing People’s Liberation Army caps. Nor drinking beer out of 7 Up cans. Much to the detriment of the police force I would say, although I hear Prussian marching like in China is practiced on the drill square. Hey Ho!
Leadership also involves pointing a lot and speaking into radios. (Guy, Ben, Gus)
I remember this day well. The picture is one of my favourites. Its a snapshot in time of happy days.
This leadership lark is exhausting … here at “Wanky Restaurant” in Sai Wan. Left to right….Simon, Guy, Ben, Dave, me, Mike. Beer and Hong Kong Policemen go together like Tea and Crumpets
If you ever need a sweep, cordon or ambush planned and executed in Sai Kung country park, you know who to come to.
Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in 1987 at the old stadium in Causeway Bay … Rupert (me), Stewart, Dave, Ben, Guy and some other people!

Rupert (me) on leadership training in Sai Kung
Being picked up at PTS to go off into the jungle to get lost.
Yomping at High Island Reservoir… left to right Ben, Steward, Steve, Rupert (me)
Mike and Stewart wandering around Stanley market… as we often did. Professing our support for Tojo, aka Lai Siu Kwong, who was “gated” for an alleged heinous crime, such as fidgeting on parade.

It wasn’t all fun and games, stage examinations were always a cause for stress. Local officers would work feverishly into the night, often in study groups memorising law and procedures, lesson notes and weapons parts. I also put in a lot of effort as memorising “stuff” and rote learning has never come easy to me.

For a week or so before examinations I would manage my time very precisely. Study session in my room with a fan and mosquito coil, or perhaps two burning away. Go for a run. Study a bit. Have dinner in the Mess. Study a bit. Reward myself with a beer or two in the Mess with my squad mates (many of whom would appear to have been at the bar since classes ended and yet still many managed to pass out in the end… some not). Then study a bit more and prepare and lay out kit for the next day.

Unlike Hendon where every night we diligently pressed our police uniforms with steam irons and slivers of cloth, brushed helmets and tunics to within an inch of their life and “bulled” our boots to a mirror like shine, in Hong Kong we had room boys (mostly twice our age) who took away our smelly sweat soaked kit at the end of the day and in the morning it was washed, pressed and on a hanger outside our rooms, our boots shined, polished and placed on a mat.

My PT T-shirts always seemed to smell of ammonia within seconds of putting them on. As a human being of a race evolved in a cool temperate climate, I spent nearly all my time at PTS, and indeed after I was posted to various units in Hong Kong soaked in sweat. I suffered terribly from rashes and acne and often wondered why I subjected my pink body to this tropical soup. Our local colleagues rarely sweated and used to remark what sweaty and smelly creature we Europeans were. For me, I was dripping wet from the moment I put on my uniform, except in the lovely seasons of autumn and the few weeks of winter when it was actually quite cool and we wore UK style dark blue winter uniforms and sometimes overcoats.

Recruit Police Constables (RPCs), who undertook a shorter training period than Inspectors, did not have it so lucky and spent as much time, if not more as I did at Hendon polishing, brushing and cleaning their kit, including bayonets that were affixed to old style Lee Enfield rifles for foot drill. They were always running around in small groups and always saluting at anything that moved, especially expatriates who they would assume were Inspectors as none of us were recruited at constable rank anymore. In the old days they were.

At Easter in 1987 after a few months training we were told we had about four days off and so several of us applied to leave the Colony and spend the short public holiday in Thailand.

Usually, the Kai Tak Convention is applied to such trips and that means “What goes on tour, stays on tour”. This is a sensible policy as it protects marriages, relationships, and reputations, not least incarceration. However this is my blog, time has gone by and if any wives are going to divorce us they would surely have done so by now.

As well as the usual rugby, cricket, football, hockey and “whatever sport you are into” trips, these were really an excuse for lads escaping from the missus and behaving badly on tour. Much like stag tours in England. Often social or casual sporting teams would go en masse, dressed in finest Hawaiian shirts (prizes for best parrots and pineapples), very short shorts, and a very well practiced drinking arm. Some rugby games were played against local and expatriate teams in places like Thailand, Philippines or wherever and the evening and wee small hours would be spent on pub crawls and ladies who “loved us long time”.

In April 1987 when five of us landed at Bangkok airport it was another quantum leap in our ongoing culture shock. Throughout my early life and time in the “Met” I never had any money and had never been anywhere except to Bognor to stay with my grandmother and a budget school trip to Brittany, in which I had no pocket money and spent the whole trip eating cabbage soup and being scolded for my poor French.

When I was in the Metropolitan police I was married at twenty and divorced by twenty one. I have a lovely beautiful daughter, Becky whom I was rarely allowed to see back then and she was the reason, if I am being honest, for the unsuited union with her mother. When it all went south, as it undoubtedly would, the former Mrs U employed a leftie north London lawyer that maintained “Maggie’s Boot Boyz” like me were the Enemy of the State and ate small children for breakfast. However, they were not too conflicted to take all my money for maintenance and relieve me of my very few possessions. After several years of hard work, all I had to show for it all was a rented TV, a settee that had been discarded in a skip and a Triumph Herald motorcar that usually rested on bricks or was towed around England by the AA Relay service. If I ever had a spare tenner my brother, Simon, who was in the Blues & Royal Household Calvary based at Knightsbridge Barracks, would suddenly appear, tell me how he was suffering from post traumatic stress from when he was blown up by the IRA in Hyde Park and that would be the last I saw of it. They say money doesn’t bring happiness, but its a damned sight better than the alternative!

So, this was my first real holiday and by gosh, what a holiday it was.

After a rowdy flight from Kai Tak airport and a surreal taxi ride across Bangkok we arrived at a pretty decent hotel in the heart of the city. I think it was the first proper hotel I had ever stayed in and it was all very exciting. Later, whilst having dinner in the hotel restaurant we were joined by five unsolicited hookers who sat under our dinning table and stayed there throughout our entire meal applying makeup and giggling. To this day I have no idea what it was all about and we left them to it and went off to explore the bright lights of Soi Cowboy, or wherever.

It was all very odd, bizarre and rather exciting. Being young, being with good friends, experiencing new things, having some money in your pocket, seeing the world, and with the prospect of an exciting life ahead was thoroughly exhilarating.

I can vaguely remember that our short time in Bangkok involved seeing elephants wandering down the streets, racing about in tut tuts, Thai boxing, drinking heavily, prostitutes, “Crying Game incidents” with ladyboys, eating spicy Tom Yam Kung and satays with peanut sauce, racing about in speed boats down canals, dancing, laughing and having fun.

Simon and I racing around Bangkok
Simon, Rupert and Simon in the “we really did see some temples” photograph for our Mums and Dads
Bangkok … Oriental city… where the nights are long and the girls are sometimes boys.
Guy, Simon, Dave and Rupert

The next day we took another short flight and went to Phuket, which in 1987 was largely undeveloped with very few buildings over two stories in height. We stayed at a cheap and simple bungalow complex called Capricorn Bungalows, got closely followed about and stalked by grim hookers, and mostly escaped them by hiring mopeds and spending our days on deserted tropical paradise beaches where we messed about in the sea, relaxed in the shade under palm trees that were gently swishing in the fragrant breeze, had “proper” relaxing Thai massages, drank ice cold Singha beer, and ate papaya salad and super fresh seafood grilled by our own chef who appeared out of the jungle from nowhere and cooked for us throughout the day. Halcyon days, indeed.

As the sun set and the Thai sky turned from blue, through to yellow, orange, red and purple we would ride back to town and prepare for an evening of music, dancing, drinking and pretty girls, most of whom, if not all, wanted to relieve us of our money.

All too soon it was back on a plane to Hong Kong, the seeds of misadventure firmly sown.

Over the weekends the local PIs and RPCs all left PTS on Saturday afternoons to go home and came back on Sunday evenings and got back to studying for Monday morning examinations. That meant at the weekends after Saturday morning parade, PT lessons (usually a run or swimming) and perhaps some weapons training we expats had the training school largely to ourselves, with whoever was unfortunate enough to get “gated” over the weekend (confined to school and have to report to the Duty Officer every hour in full uniform).

We would often go off in small groups to explore Hong Kong, play sports, go shopping in Causeway Bay or Stanley, see girlfriends (if we had any, most of us did not until much later), go on junk trips, sun bathe on the nearby beaches of Deep Water Bay or Repulse Bay, and sometimes further afield to the beautiful beaches on Lantau Island or Sai Kung and get up to mischief in the bars and nightclubs of Tsim Sha Tsui, Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong.

Its strange to recall pre Internet days and how we kept in touch with family and friends back in England. I used to write letters often and back then we mostly used lightweight and reasonably cheap “aerograms” that folded in three, sold in the Officer’s Mess and had the postage included in the price. I remember we all loved receiving letters and these were handed out by our course instructors and we would often share the news from our respective homes. There was a public phone box that you could make overseas calls using a pre paid phone card and very occasionally we would receive overseas telephone calls and whoever heard the phone ring would run around the Mess and accommodation blocks looking for whoever it was for.

Most of us came from England, Scotland, Wales and both Northern and Southern Ireland with a few officers coming from Commonwealth Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada or South Africa. However there were a few expatriate officers who were actually born or raised in Hong Kong, such as Dave, a fellow Metropolitan Police Officer whose father was a Superintendent at the training school. Also, Ian, who was in an intake behind us, and his father was a Squadron Leader in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and used to fly us around on training exercises in helicopters. There were a couple of guys who had been in the French Foreign Legion and one I knew who previously served in the Bermuda Police.

We would have to perform night shift “Duty Officer” from time to time that meant we practiced for the first job everyone of us would get when we got to our police stations. It involved learning how to use radios, call signs, RT procedure, filling in a log book (Occurrence book) and reporting to the CDMI, Mr Fullerton in the morning. This debrief usually involved being shouted at very loudly and receiving a de facto “bollocking”. The Occurrence book was scrutinised carefully for any errors, and given Mr Fullerton was a former British Army senior NCO with attention to detail habits like writing out long hand using a ruler, mistakes would always be found.

During one of these verbal assaults I was standing to attention, bolt upright in the CDMI’s office, eyes fixed on his cap badge, not moving an inch, when in the corner of my eye I noticed a change in light and then heard a thud. I watched carefully as Mr Fullerton’s eye line followed the source of the thud to the floor and returned to stare at me as if daring me to move. I then said, “Sir, permission to pick Inspector Wong off the floor”. The CDMI observed me closely and a faint smile crossed his face, and he then shouted, “Peeeer Mission Geer RRanted” in his drill square Scottish accent and I proceeded to heave the hapless Inspector Wong, who had evidently fainted out of sheer terror into the hallway and into the recovery position, from where he dozily emerged, muttering, “Sorry Sir, Sorry Sir” and then literally ran away.

Sadly, Mr Fullerton has since parted for the big drill square in the sky, but he was always fair to me at training school and on the occasions we met after I passed out he was always friendly and often chatted to me, mostly about his son, whom he told me joined the Metropolitan Police and was immensely proud of.

Training at PTS continued, with us ploughing through criminal law, police procedures, weapons training, foot drill, internal security training, physical training, first aid, tactical training and leadership. We were all getting fit with all the PT, with me getting seriously into running, and for a brief year or so having the record for the Brick Hill run, which involved running up steep steps underneath the Ocean Park cable car, running along the path at the top of the hill, running back down again, along Aberdeen Harbour and entering PTS from the Wong Chuk Hang entrance.

I can’t remember my time, although I was getting about 7 minutes 30 seconds on my regular 1.5 mile AFT runs (getting to my record of 7 minutes, 9 seconds at Police Tactical Unit a year or so later) and I usually came first on the long 6-12 kilometre runs, against stiff competition from Mike and a few racing snake RPCs.

All police officers have to pass the Annual Fitness Test that involves, among various exercises like sit ups, press ups, interval running, standing jump, etc., a timed 1.5 mile run and this timed run continues every year throughout our service with increasing time allowance given as we got older. I have witnessed some spectacular cheating over the years from some police officers, especially detectives from CID, married female officer, and senior NCOs whose only physical activities were inclined towards Mahjong and gambling. Having said that the RHKP really encouraged running and fitness and there were many races and competitions to enter. The Nine Dragons race over the peaks of Kowloon, the Dowman road race at High Island Reservoir, and the Sedan Chair race on the Peak, to name a few.

Later with my Platoon Sergeant , Ah Bei. My physique changed due to lots and lots of running.

At PTS, I made my time on the Brick Hill run on the down hill stage where I used to dive from the top of several steps, grab the hand rails half way down and swing onto the flat path below without having touched any of the steps. It is certainly not a manoeuvre that features in my middle age fitness regime.

I also made up for my appalling cricket and rugby ability by joining all the many opportunities to play sports. Unlike nearly all my fellow expatriate squad mates I had had a bad start as far as team sports went, with the exception of cross country running and boxing which can hardly be described as “team sports”.

Many people assume that because I was named “Rupert” and have a sort of “received” English accent that I came from a privileged middle class background. In fact, I did come from an average lower middle class family until the age of 9 or 10 years old when my parents moved from Burton Upon Trent to “the village of the damned” in the Staffordshire countryside, immediately got divorced, my father moved away, and my brother, two sisters and I were plunged into real poverty, my mother coming from a background that refused welfare and handouts, and so we went without.

I remember my mother wore the same clothes throughout my teenage years and worked tirelessly as a barmaid and pub cook to support us, sacrificing her own life and happiness so that there was always food on the table. Demands by her four children for footballs, cricket bats, bicycles, sports kit, school trips and uniforms must have been a purgatory for her. We all knew she was under great pressure and so we went without. That is until our early teens, when all of us found part time jobs that would fund the things most kids, and indeed our own kids, take for granted .

I fell off the grid from 11 years old until perhaps 13 or 14 years old and often skipped school. Formative years in any child’s development. It was a horrific time. I got bullied by the village kids, bullied at school, bashed by my mother’s boyfriend who also threatened to do the same to my father if he ever came round to see us, and I often received canings at school. I once received a public caning in the assembly hall for escaping from a religious education lesson where I told the teacher it was all “made up” and spent the rest of the day up a tree in the school grounds with all the students cheering and waving at me from the classrooms and furious teachers at the base of the tree trying to make me come down. As a master tree climber of note, it was a tree only I and perhaps a couple of other kids could climb.

Alas, I waited for several hours until school was over and everyone had gone, slunk down the tree, sidestepped the school caretaker who was waiting in vain to get me, and walked seven miles from the school in Uttoxeter to my home in the village of Abbots Bromley. Inevitably, the next day a reception party of teachers intercepted me as I stepped off the school bus and I was hauled out for my public shaming in the form of twelve of the best, administered by the head with a cane.

I can say I was caned, slippered, given the clothes brush, given the belt, whacked, slapped and even punched and beaten by various adults throughout my childhood. I didn’t like it, but once it was over it was over and sadly it sort of becomes the norm and you get used to it. Also, being small and immature for my age when others were going through puberty, and being called “Rupert” with a so called posh southern accent meant I was often in fights, which I usually lost… for a while at least.

This caning by teachers and bullying because I was different did little to bring me back to Jesus and I found solace by escaping from school to go on my various adventures and walkabouts. As an 11, 12 and 13 year old youth, instead of being at school I would often escape, spending my time swimming in reservoirs, drifting for miles down rivers all day, hitch-hiking to Dovedale or the Peak District, exploring the forests and hidden woods in Cannock Chase, sneaking into public swimming baths or Alton Towers where I would wander around the beautiful gardens (before it became a huge amusement park). On occasions these adventures were with my best friend, another “outsider” of my own age called Joe, who would go on to own a much admired Yamaha FS1E, become a soldier in the special forces, a North Sea deep sea diver and who sadly committed suicide on his 30th birthday.

Before all this, my earlier life was actually pretty happy, although quite strict by modern standards. My parents were well educated from good public schools, and we were brought up as Roman Catholics. My father was a manager at the tyre company, Pirelli and my mother was a housewife. I went to a superb Catholic primary school in Burton upon Trent and was taught by truly inspirational teachers, served at Mass as an alter boy, did reasonably well academically, was extremely adventurous and curious about everything, and more importantly I was a confident young fellow.

My brother Simon and I in 1960s… Felpham, Sussex

From 11 years old everything changed. Despite my father, who went to Ampleforth College and my mother, who went to a Catholic Covent in Dorking going completely off the Holy rails, I still went to Mass for a while, largely because my friend Joe’s family were also Catholics and encouraged me to do so. That was, of course, until the fateful day a few coins I earned washing cars was relieved from me and donated to Mother Teresa. That incident and of course my parents unholy behaviour was the end of Catholicism, and indeed all religion and adult guff for me. To borrow sentiment, if not the exact the words, from the late Christopher Hitchens, that Bitch of Calcutta got nothing from me again.

My form of escape and income in those days was working on a dairy farm about three miles from where we lived. At 12 years old, I decided to earn my own money and knocked on the doors of every farm I could think of. I was turned away by every single one, except by Graham and Jean Whirledge, who allowed me to spend weekends, holidays, after school, and occasionally when I should be at school working for 50p an hour on their Staffordshire dairy farm. Graham was quite strict, had an explosive temper, but he was also very fair and extremely kind. I found out much later he and his wife, Jean knew about all the beatings and misery at home and I suppose in a way they helped bring me up, and for that I am eternally grateful.

The reality was, I was just a young lad and pretty useless, but they persevered with me until by the time I was 14 years old I could pretty much do everything an adult farm labourer could do and could hold my own. I did everything from scraping out shit, feeding the animals, bailing straw and hay, silage making, milking, delivering calves, and tractor work down the fields. The English outdoors, its four seasons and the physical nature of farming toughened me up, made me quite independent and reinforced my love for nature, wildlife and the outdoors.

If I had not worked on the farm I would have had nothing. However, this farm work provided me with not just money, but some restoration of confidence and self esteem. I also became quite fit and I think it helped me develop the stamina, self discipline and respect for money I have today.

Anyway, before I started earning my own money, my brother and I could not afford all the required school uniform, nor any of the various bits of kit required for all the different sports and so PT lessons were a constant exercise in humiliation and shame. At my school any kids who had forgotten their kit, or just didn’t have any (like my brother and I) had to fish about in a large cardboard box before lessons for lost and discarded PT kit to wear for the gym and sports lessons and then hand it back after the lesson had finished, just so the the misery and shame was repeated every single lesson.

For many school terms my brother and I stood out from the others, not just because of the Monday morning public shaming of being named as eligible for free school meals, but visibly in scruffy uniform, mismatched and ill fitting PT kit, and the ultimate in humiliation having to do PT in your underwear. This resulted in both of us skipping either PT lessons or school entirely to avoid embarrassment, bullying, being made fun of by other students, and admonishment from teachers (as if either of us could do anything about it).

The other result of all this, and the point of this long sad old story, is that we really missed out on learning to play team sports, especially football, rugby and cricket that required boots, shirts, cricket whites and importantly someone who gave a shit with a car to take you to and from practices and games. My brother just escaped… mostly to his friend’s , farm and later joined the Junior Leaders Regiments of the British Army at 15 years old.

By the time I had my own money from working on the farm and when things had improved at home, my days of school sports was nearly over. I did eventually buy myself some proper school uniform, football boots and cricket whites and thoroughly enjoyed any opportunity to play, but by the fifth form I was immersed in catching up the missed classwork and studying to get my “O” levels.

At the same time I also discovered music that would have me hitchhiking all over the country, or later when I was 16 years old riding my 50 cc Batavus Mk4S moped, to see bands like Joy Division, The Cure, Bauhaus, Echo and the Bunnymen, Theatre of Hate, Swell Maps, and other late seventies new wave and punk bands. My desire to fit in when I was 12 years old was soon replaced by a rebellious streak at 15 years old not to.

So, when I arrived at PTS less than a decade later and was asked which sports I played, I optimistically informed the instructors I was an accomplished light heavyweight boxer, could swim very well and was quite a good runner.

I was disappointed that this, at least initially, was not particularly well received by my course instructors, nor by the rugby and cricket types who were at the training school. I got the initial impression that many RHKP officers did not think much of boxing, and the fact I did not play cricket or rugby didn’t help, not that the local Chinese officers could play either, preferring basketball, ping pong, watching football and in fact, not doing anything sporty at all if they could help it. I know looking back that I was being overly sensitive about all this, but psychological scars can run deep and last long.

Unlike the RHKP, the Metropolitan police highly respected boxing, and novice boxers like me received a lot of encouragement and support. We got time off to train, great kit, excellent facilities, we had brilliant trainers and coaches (some being former professional boxers and Olympians) and we got to compete in prestigious events like the LaFone Cup boxing competition.

I took to boxing like a duck to water, thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie, the tough training, and especially the fights themselves. Boxing also changed my physique dramatically and I became very fit indeed, and I think have remained reasonably fit with a habit for physical fitness and training ever since.

Those years of childhood bullying, mental trauma and being treated badly at school is also a reason why I have a very low threshold for being treated unfairly or unjustly, or if I perceive I am being so. To be honest, this line in the sand has served me well, but it is also a reason for my lack of tolerance and notoriously bad temper, especially during my twenties.

Despite being a fairly accomplished boxer and having studied some martial arts self defence disciplines such as Aikido and Krav Maga, I have rarely reverted to physical violence, although I am told by everyone that my vicious bark can be quite alarming. All that aside, I will not tolerate bullying (physical or intellectual), cheating, spitefulness, nor injustice. If the red mist comes down I remain unapologetic because at my core I have a strong sense of right and wrong. I am proud my moral compass always points in the right direction, even though on occasion doing so ruffles feathers and makes me unpopular. I have messed up in life many times, been carelessness, ignorant, and misplaced trust with the wrong people, but never down to lack of integrity or dishonesty.

I would dearly liked to have been good at football, cricket, rugby, or any team sport really, but I think you need to start young and receive good coaching to be really good. I know because my other half, Fanny, was a professional volleyball player and played for Shanghai and China. I am always amazed and proud how good she is, even now, but I know she started at 8 years old, had the right mental attitude, trained exceptionally hard, developed an athlete’s physique and was coached and mentored by the very best.

At PTS we all had to pass life saving examinations, much as we all had to do in the Metropolitan police. I was always a very good swimmer having taught myself to swim at Burton Upon Trent Swimming baths when I was six or seven years old. I spent an enormous amount of time throughout my childhood in swimming pools, rivers, lakes and the sea and was very comfortable, being able to swim many miles and wallow about in any condition all year round. Swimming in the English seas in winter, if I had the opportunity, was enjoyable and fun to me, although nowadays its safe to say you won’t find me in the English sea anytime soon.

I was a little surprised, however, that a few of the local Chinese officers were unable to swim when they first joined the police, and some not very well, but due to the hard work of all the PTIs everyone not only learned to swim, but passed the life saving and first aid examinations before passing out.

All Inspectors had to complete “leadership camp”, that consisted of a week of exercises in the great outdoors and designed to consolidate and test the theory and training we had learned so far. By and large the local Chinese dreaded leadership camp for reasons I already mentioned, but for expat officers it was a week of larking about, tomfoolery and drinking beer from 7 Up cans.

We were helicoptered into Sai Kung Country Park and stayed in barracks at the Police Adventure Training Centre near High Island Reservoir. In addition to all the leadership exercises, we had to prepare and cook our own food, and I remember our DMI getting annoyed because our western style chicken curry didn’t include every bit of the chicken, and there was a bit of a fracas when Mr Cheung retrieved the beaks, squeaks and innards from the bin and plopped them into the vat of curry we were preparing. Our expat revolt was quickly subdued when we tasted the curry and it was actually, alright.

I remember being quite honoured and pleased with myself to be chosen to lead an exercise in front of the Commissioner of Police and several senior ranking officers who flew out into the wilds of the New Territories from Police Headquarters to observe our training. In front of the entire top brass, including the Commandant of the training school, I gave a good show of consulting my map and compass, gave a “leadership like” briefing, pointed a lot and then proceeded to march my team off in completely the wrong direction.

Having been halted in my tracks by the “directing staff” who made it abundantly clear I had “fucked up”, they warned me, ever so nicely, of the repercussions of “fucking it up, again”. With all the top brass giving me a “standards aren’t what they used to be” look, I “about turned” my team, ignored a hissed appraisal of “idiot” from a group of course instructors, and as confidently as my acting skills allowed, marched back passed the entire entourage, nodding to Mr Raymond Anning (Commissioner of Police) and grinning like an imbecile.

I also remember an exciting night time exercise, ostensibly to raid a drugs transaction in a small village, where we approached the site in RAF helicopters, much like the Ride of the Valkyries scene in the movie, “Apocalypse Now”. The phenomenally skilful RAF pilots flew a few feet off the ground at night through the valleys and performed gut wrenching manoeuvres we all thought impossible in a helicopter. Fun? Of course it was. Dinner? Not much of it left.

In the senior stage we had to do a week of Internal Security training where Probationary Inspectors formed up with Recruit Police Constables and trained together to perform riot drills and public order exercises. It was an early taste of what to expect when a year of so later many of us would transfer to Police Tactical Unit. Under my first ever command my band of brothers and I were deemed the best platoon and were awarded a rather splendid trophy.

It was also a time when we took our final examinations and I think we all passed our Standard I Inspectors’ examination, myself with fairly decent grades in all papers. I was especially delighted when it was announced I had been awarded “Baton of Honour” as the best Inspector on completion of our training. It was hard work, but I thoroughly enjoyed PTS and count it among some of the best days of my life.

Before the passing out parade, we all had a week of attachment to the police station we were to be posted to after training. I had initially wanted to go to Marine Region and learn how to command a police launch and patrol the extensive waters and islands of Hong Kong. My course instructor, Ken told me this was not possible and I had to apply for a proper job! I replied, “OK, I want to go to Tsim Sha Tsui” which is an exciting and busy division on the southern tip of Kowloon and full of tourists, shops, nightclubs, hotels, and the notorious Sun Yee On Triads. Alas, I didn’t get that either and was instead posted to Kowloon City Division, of “Walled City” fame near Kai Tak Airport.

Stewart, Simon and Ben did get posted to Marine divisions and I have to say their shift pattern of two days “on” (48 hours) and five days “off” sounded a lot more appealing than my 6 days “on” (60 hours) and just one day “off” a week. So did charging around in speed boats and learning how to skipper a Marine launch. In fact, if you want to learn about Marine police read a book called “Small Band of Men” by my former colleague, Les Bird. An excellent read, very insightful and funny.

My attachment to Kowloon City turned out to be both interesting and a little unsettling. I found a Hong Kong police station to be very different to a London police station. One of the big differences, apart from all the discipline and the paramilitary nature of policing in Hong Kong, was that it seemed to me that police officers did not exercise much initiative and were not trusted to use any discretion. Duties were dominated by being told what to do under strict supervision and with the threat of being disciplined (defaulted) if they didn’t. For instance, Hong Kong policemen to this day are required to sign visiting books positioned around their beat to make sure they actually go on patrol. It seemed signing these archaic books was considered a satisfactory indicator of “doing your job”. Protecting life and property, keeping law and order, and preserving the peace? More like answers in a sergeant or inspector’s exam than primary aims of policing.

Compared to what I was used to in London, I found the paperwork, exhibit handling, statement taking, documentation and procedures laborious, repetitive and old fashioned. Everything was written out over and over again in occurrence books, ledgers, notebooks, and reports. There were dozens and dozens of forms, files, loose minutes and endless memos. Bagging up exhibits required dozens of people with PhDs in origami and stapling. The general interviewing skill of many of my colleagues was poor, and I am ashamed to say the tactic of thumping confessions out of prisoners with a telephone directory and a heavy object all too frequent. The few of us who were former police officers from the UK thought all of this was shameful, degrading and not least, damned right illegal. The majority of Inspectors who joined the force from other professions or straight from college, I suspect, didn’t know any better.

As an expatriate officer at Kowloon City I found it a lonely experience. I was largely ignored and the only other foreigner in the police station was the Divisional Commander, called Paul Deal who was a delightful man and a wonderful boss. If it was not for Superintendent Deal and his kindness and support I think I would have resigned.

The biggest draw back for an expatriate Inspector was our inability to speak and understand Cantonese very well, or at least in the early years, and I found this frustrating and a bit embarrassing.

In later years I came to understand the value and importance of expatriate officers in the Hong Kong police force. We were not really policemen, we were managers and leaders of policemen and brought many useful attributes and value to the task of policing an international and cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong. Our ignorance and perhaps detachment from the nuances of Chinese culture and language was often what defined our advantage because we did not get sucked into the quagmire of politics, superstition and little cliques. I have heard from many junior officers that they preferred working for expatriate officers because we were considered fair, impartial and professional, and maybe because we hadn’t a clue what was really going on. Of course, as we progressed through our careers expatriate officers like me would integrate more, speak better Cantonese, and become more like local Chinese in our outlook and thinking. Conversely, many long serving local officers embraced more western ways and become more like expatriates.

Anyway, on the second day of my attachment I was patrolling alone down a busy street in To Kwa Wan, taking in all the unusual sights, noises and smells when I heard a call on my radio and recognised the word, “da gip” meaning robbery and also recognised the Cantonese name of the road and the street number. As luck would have it I was standing underneath a road sign of the same name and quickly found the location of the robbery, which happened to be a restaurant.

As I peered inside I could see two people wrestling each other on the floor, engaged in a frantic struggle. Not unaccustomed to jumping into a fight I rushed into the restaurant, shouted “ging chaat, mo yuk” (meaning, Police, Stop) and being unable to distinguish robber from victim pulled both apart and had them spread eagled onto the floor with me on top of both of them.

Within a few minutes two Police Constables arrived and assisted me to identify who was who and arrest the villain. A red tab Constable (a red tab under the RHKP letters on his epaulette denoting a Constable who can speak English or has passed the equivalent of GCE “O” English) said he would take the arrest and so my real part in the arrest of the robber was erased from history.

This happened to me several times in the future, most notably in the early 1990s when I arrested an armed goldsmith robber when I was Platoon Commander in the Emergency Unit of Kowloon West as the robber was making his getaway at Hung Hong Ferry Pier. After what was quite an ordeal, that I will describe in a subsequent chapter, I arrested the robber and handed him over to one of my PCs who received a Commissioner’s Commendation for my efforts!

You’re welcome!

During the same week of attachment and again whilst out on my own I saw a uniform sergeant I recognised from the division, and who was supposed to be on duty, stripped off to the waist with his cap, uniform shirt, Sam Brown, revolver and radio lying on a stool and working in a hot and steamy “dai pai dong” (local restaurant) he clearly had a vested interest in. I didn’t need to pour over Police General Orders to know this was a serious breach of discipline, not least the unattended firearm. I hadn’t taken up command of a patrol sub-unit yet as I was on attachment and so I mentioned it to a local Inspector when I returned to the police station and was told in no uncertain terms to “forget what I saw” and not to cause trouble.

I was often told I didn’t understand Hong Kong during that brief attachment, but I think I was starting to.

On the morning of the 14 November 1987, together with my colleagues, I passed out of the training school in front of my mother and her partner who flew out to Hong Kong from England for the occasion. It was an especially proud moment for me and my family, as indeed I am sure it was for my squad mates and their own friends and families.

So, that was it. We were now officially unleashed onto the Hong Kong general public.

Baton of Honour
Our Pass Out Parade14 November 1987
Pass out pictureI am front row second from left with the IS trophy and Baton of Honour

Next…..Chapter 2 – One Pip Bomban