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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.