Role of police arm shield in Tong Ying-kit crash under question in court

Here are the key takeaways from Day 3:

  • Moments before he crashed, defendant Tong Ying-kit’s motorcycle brushed past a policeman who had an arm shield.
  • Defence floated the idea that the shield could have been a cause of Tong’s crash.
  • A police witness denied that colleagues beat Tong after he fell off his motorcycle.
  • Protesters threw objects at police from a footbridge and an officer fired pepper balls in response. 

The High Court on Friday heard further testimony on how Tong Ying-kit, the first person charged under Hong Kong’s national security law, crashed his motorcycle into three police officers last year, with the defence raising the possibility that it might have been an accident.

On the third day of the 15-day trial, the prosecution called three police witnesses, one of whom said Tong’s vehicle passed next to him just a hair’s breadth away. The officer wore an arm shield, which came off around the time Tong brushed past him. 

Tong, 24, allegedly drove into police officers on a motorcycle on July 1, 2020, injuring three. His vehicle bore a flag that had the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times”.

The defendant has pleaded not guilty to one count each of terrorism and inciting secession under the national security law, crimes punishable by up to life imprisonment. He also denies a backup charge of dangerous driving. 

The reasons behind Tong’s collision with police are hotly contested.

On Friday, Detective Police Constable Ng Tai-shing testified that he was part of a police checkline at the junction of Jaffe and O’Brien roads, the location where Tong was eventually stopped and arrested after riding his motorbike across several neighbourhoods on Hong Kong Island. The defendant overtook a brown car and drove at the checkline at nearly 40km/h, ignoring warnings to stop, he said.

Ng said Tong’s vehicle went past him so closely that it “almost rubbed my body,” putting the gap at 30cm to 40cm. The officer said he tried to grab the motorcycle but failed. By the time he turned round, the motorcycle had ploughed into his colleagues, who were knocked off their feet and pushed into another car on the side of the road, Ng said.

One main point of contention between prosecution and defence was an arm shield worn by Ng shortly before the collision.

Earlier in the day, the court heard from Chief Inspector Armen Ho, who was part of the same checkline as Ng. Like his colleague, Ho recalled Tong’s motorcycle accelerating to around 40km/h and running into the group of police officers.

Defence lawyer Clive Grossman SC drew Ho’s attention to a dashboard camera video taken from the brown car that Tong overtook. In the clip, Tong’s motorcycle passed right next to a person dressed in black and wearing a small, rectangular arm shield of the kind worn by Hong Kong riot police covering their forearms. 

At one point, the shield looked as if it was “about to leave his hand”, and was nowhere to be seen afterwards, Grossman said. The defence lawyer asked Ho whether the person had thrown the shield, and Ho said he did not know what happened to it, though he agreed that the black-clad person had nothing on his arm later in the video.

“If the shield had hit [Tong] or had distracted him, then this would just be an accident?” Grossman asked, immediately drawing an objection from prosecutor Anthony Chau. Grossman said he was simply asking whether it was possible.

“I am not going to speculate on the reason for the crash,” Ho replied.

Detective constable Ng, who testified in court after Ho, said he was the one wearing the shield, but lost hold of it as the motorbike moved past him. It was a “natural reaction” borne out of fear, and he reckoned the shield could block the vehicle from hitting him. 

“Eventually, the shield somehow sprang away,” Ng said, adding that the motorcycle could have hit him if he was not holding the shield.

Ng will be cross-examined by the defence when trial resumes on Monday.

Officer says he could not see police hitting Tong with batons after the crash.

After falling down, Tong crawled slowly on the ground, according to Ho’s testimony. The defence put to Ho that the motorcyclist made no attempt to escape, but Ho said he could not tell.

Grossman showed the officer a video clip filmed by Tsang Chi-ho, a former television and radio host, who recorded the collision and its aftermath from above the site. The footage showed Tong falling onto the ground and police officers subduing him.

“Can you see that he was hit by batons by the police?” Grossman asked, pointing to a freeze frame.

“I disagree,” Ho replied.

“So what was he hit with?” Grossman continued.

“I am not able to see him being hit by anything,” Ho said.

Ho’s answer was met with murmurs in the public gallery. Judge Esther Toh reminded spectators not to disturb the court proceedings by making any sounds, and that disruptions would not be in the interests of either prosecution or defence.

After the collision, protesters threw objects at police from above.

As Tong was overpowered by the police, around 10 people threw “hard objects” such as water bottles at the officers from a footbridge overlooking O’Brien Road, Ho said. He counted a total of five or six objects. 

Ho used his loudspeaker to order the people on the bridge, whom he identified as “protesters”, to leave. When they failed to follow the instructions and kept hurling down items, a colleague shot a few rounds of pepper balls to disperse them, Ho said.

When challenged on the relevance of the thrown objects to the case, the prosecutor Chau said the court should grasp the full picture of Tong’s collision. “It is also relevant to the incitement issue,” he said.

Constable amends testimony on when he fired two pepper balls at Tong.

On Friday morning, Constable Lo Chung-lai went back on his testimony after prosecutors picked apart video footage submitted by the defence the day before. In the clip, white flashes could be seen at the police officers’ position around the time Tong’s motorcycle turned at a junction into Jaffe Road.

Lo had agreed with the defence on Thursday, upon watching the video, that the shots were fired after the motorcycle made the turning. The testimony had contradicted his own statement made on the night of the incident.

Upon a second round of questioning on Friday, Lo said he had been misled by the video. The white flashes, which appeared four to five times, could have been “light reflections” bouncing off the metal cylinder of his weapon and had nothing to do with the timing of his shots, he added.

“The light reflections led me to believe wrongly that it was the moment I made the pepper ball shot,” Lo said.

Pressed by judges for a definitive answer, he replied: “My first shot was made before [Tong] turned into Jaffe Road. My second shot was made when he was abreast with me.”

By Holmes Chan

Correction: Our article covering Day 2 of the trial incorrectly described a video submitted by the defence as showing two plumes of smoke. In fact, the video appeared to show multiple white flashes coming from where police officers were standing, and one plume of smoke near a car parked on the side of the road.

Day 1: Hong Kong’s first national security suspect Tong Ying-kit goes on trial
Day 2: Police fired pepper balls at Tong Ying-kit’s speeding motorbike, court hears