The Fire Services Department said on Thursday police repeatedly told medics there were no casualties in a subway station, causing an hour delay before ambulance personnel could treat injured people on August 31.
The department held a 2.5-hour press conference to refuted again rumors that up to three people were beaten to death during a police operation to arrest protesters in Prince Edward MTR station on that night two weeks ago.
But they revealed that police officers twice refused to allow paramedics to enter the station to treat the injured.
At 11.30pm on August 31, a lone medic, down on the platform to assess the situation, called for backup as there were several injured people, three of them with serious injuries.
The lone medic was assisted by a group of firefighters, some of whom had basic first aid training.
Tsang Man-ha, deputy chief ambulance officer said at 11.46pm, the lone medic called a batch of ambulance personnel waiting outside the station to come down to help. But they were unable to enter because the entrance was locked.
Video showed that unidentified riot police refused to let the team of medics enter, saying “no one is injured on the platform”.
The team went to another entrance and the police officer stationed there also refused to let them enter, citing the same reason.
But at 12.30am – an hour later, a total of 19 ambulance staff were able to get in the station after a police officer got permission from his commander to let them in.
John Tse Chun-chung, chief superintendent of the police public relations branch, admitted the incident at the daily press conference, saying it occurred because of a communication error. He said the officer might have meant “there was nobody injured within his view”. He said the officer did not obstruct the rescue maliciously.
Tse said after the officer communicated with colleagues on the platform, he arranged for ambulance personnel to go down to treat the injured.
Deputy chief fire officer Derek Chan said the delay was not desirable from a perspective of attempting to rescue injured people. He said there were communication problems with police on the site that night.
To avoid such an incident happening again, the fire department will liaise with police to work out a better way to collaborate, Chan said.
The conference held by the Fire Services Department came after a joint-departmental conference with the fire services team, police, the Hospital Authority and MTR Corp on Tuesday, which sought to dismiss rumors that there were fatalities on the platform.
On August 31, media was kept out of the station by the police when arrests took place, and the number of injured people reported inside the station was revised down. All these incidents added to speculation that the authorities had something to hide.
However, the public did not seem to believe official statements despite repeated clarification by government departments and people kept placing flowers or other symbols of mourning on the gates at the MTR station.
Meanwhile, a pro-democracy lawmaker on Wednesday revealed an internal document from the fire services department allegedly showed a discrepancy in the number of injured people on August 31.
Claudia Mo cited the documents, which showed the number of injured people inside the station was cut from 10 to seven. She alleged that the three reportedly suffering serious injuries had “disappeared”.
But Tsang said on Thursday that the sole medic did not bring a “triage card” when he went into the station and it was possible that he count the injured people repeatedly.
Mo asked the department to reveal its records of the operation, while other lawmakers called on the railway operator to disclose full surveillance camera footage from the subway station to ease public concern.
The MTR Corp only disclosed some screenshots from the footage on Tuesday.