Hong Kong protesters face off with police after they fired tear gas during a rally against the controversial extradition bill outside the government head office. Photo: AFP / Anthony Wallace

More details have emerged of the ugly face-off between police and demonstrators in Hong Kong on June 12, including news that two British police were heavily involved in clashes when special squads fired rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds as protesters charged against police cordons near the city’s Legislative Council.

Opponents of a bill to amend the extradition law said they were shot in the head and torso – the first time this has happened in Hong Kong since leftist riots in 1967. The injured included a driver of a press vehicle who was shot in the head and rendered unconscious, plus a protester shot in the eye by a ricocheting canister of tear-gas.

As seen in various clips taken at chaotic scenes in and near the Admiralty area, some riot police and members of the elite Police Tactical Unit (PTU) leveled shotguns and rifles at the heads of unarmed people when they fired. In some cases, no prior warning was given.

Amid the backlash stirred by the police’s controversial handling of the clashes, the Hong Kong government ultimately buckled down and shelved the extradition bill on June 15, after days of confusion.

Hong Kong police fire tear gas near the city’s government headquarters and Legislative Council to disperse demonstrators against an amendment that would allow fugitives to be sent to mainland China. Photo: Wpcpey / WikiMedia
Members of the Hong Kong Police’s Special Tactical Squad fire rubber bullets at protesters. Photo: WikiMedia

It has now been revealed by local papers that two Brits serving in the police were closely involved in the heavy-handed crackdown on the protesters on June 12. They appeared to give direct orders to fire rubber bullets during the clashes when the mass rally by tens of thousands of agitated Hongkongers deteriorated.

Led by chief superintendent Rupert Dover, a reinforcement contingent team drawn from the Police’s New Territories South Region to guard the LegCo Complex fired the first salvos of rubber bullets at a scrum of people, according to the Apple Daily.

Dover, who joined the police well before the 1997 handover and has three decades of experience of policing in the UK, got a namecheck from Hong Kong’s top leader for his role in policing Hong Kong’s Occupy Central protests in 2014, a similar rally that also saw main thoroughfares occupied and the firing of tear gas.

Above him is Patrick Laidler, the Assistant Commissioner of Police and Regional Commander of New Territories South, who joined the police as an inspector in 1988, having previously served as a constable in a UK Police, according to the HK police website. However, he is believed to have been on sick leave and understood to have played no role in the policing of the protests.

In a clip uploaded to FTVV, a YouTube channel, an expat commander believed to be superintendent Justin Shave is caught on the camera giving orders to fire tear-gas at lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, chairperson of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, outside the LegCo Complex in Admiralty on June 12. Wu shouted ‘I want to see the commander’ in Cantonese and English. He later said he wanted to talk to the commander and urge the police to hold fire and let the crowd disperse.

The police mustered no less than 5,000 officers from contingency teams stationed across the city during the thick of the June 12 rally, including a paramilitary Special Tactical Squad (STS) led by chief superintendent David Jordon that was tasked with riot control and later a clearance operation ordered by the police’s top brass.

Jordon, holding the rank of commander, was a former Royal Navy officer. He reportedly suffered head injuries near the government headquarters in Admiralty when commanding a crowd control operation when the Occupy movement broke out in September 2014, and he coordinated the clearance of major roads in Admiralty that marked the end of the 79-day rally and sit-in.

The Times and Daily Mail in the UK also reported that the two expat officers had been “singled out” in protests against the Hong Kong police during a blockade of police headquarters that ended in the wee hours of last Saturday.

Chief superintendents Rupert Dover, first from left, and David Jordon, third from left, are seen with another commander during a police operation in Causeway Bay. Photo: DBC screen grab
Report by The Times about the British officers’ involvement in the handling of the June 12 protest in Hong Kong. A picture of Chief superintendent David Jordon, who led the paramilitary Special Tactical Squad, is also seen in the newspaper. Photo: The Times

When questioned about the seemingly disproportionate use of force against largely peaceful protesters, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo stressed that it was frontline commanders’ decision to fire rubber bullets. But an anonymous officer told reporters that, in the chain of command, frontline commanders must obtain approval from officers of the “commissioner’s rank” before any escalation of force.

Speaking in the House of Commons in London about recent developments in Hong Kong, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on June 25 that he remained very concerned with the situation in Hong Kong and he had already raised those concerns with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive on June 12.  

“I today urge the Hong Kong SAR Government to establish a robust, independent investigation into the violent scenes that we saw. The outcome of that investigation will inform our assessment of future export license applications to the Hong Kong Police. And we will not issue any further export licenses for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong unless we are satisfied that concerns raised on human rights and fundamental freedoms have been thoroughly addressed,” said Hunt.

The British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, meanwhile, declined to comment on the police’s tactics, noting however that the Hong Kong Independent Police Complaints Council had announced on June 19 that they would be compiling a report on the disturbances.

Hong Kong’s pan-democratic bloc and human rights observers have condemned the police for excessive use of force in clamping down on the protest, saying police showed no qualms about spilling blood because of their brutal tactics. They have urged police to stop labelling the June 12 protest as a riot, and to launch an independent probe of the use of force that day.

Critics say that police response violated a requirement in Chapter 29 of the Police General Orders, which stipulates that, among others, the level of force to be used by officers must be minimal and reasonably required under the prevailing circumstances.

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