- Of 30 local businesses located near the attack that spoke to the Post, just two said they had been approached by police
- Security footage made available to local media within days of the attack never requested, one shop owner says
Key witnesses to the Yuen Long MTR station attack say they have yet to be interviewed by law enforcement agencies or asked to turn over security camera footage, six months after one of the most shocking outbreaks of violence during the ongoing Hong Kong protests.
The July 21 attack, in which a group of white-clad men armed with wooden sticks and metal poles injured 45 civilians and protesters, quickly provoked an outcry over the police response, with officers accused of colluding with the thugs by arriving late to the scene and failing to make arrests that night.
Police, for their part, have said they were stretched thin, as they were forced to deal with large anti-government protests the same night.
A total of 37 people " some with links to triads " have since been arrested for their roles in the attack, seven of whom have been charged with rioting, and police have said they were continuing to collect new evidence.
But the city's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Tuesday confirmed in its annual review that they were investigating complaints centred on that night's policing, although no officers have been found guilty of misconduct at this point.
In a reply to the Post, the watchdog said they were following up on the complaints seriously. "Without (the Operations Review Committee's) discussion and endorsement, the ICAC will not conclude an investigation," it said.
As the Yuen Long attacks approach their half-year anniversary, the Post visited shops and restaurants in a key area near the station, Fung Yau Street North, where some witnesses shared surveillance camera footage with local media in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
The street, just a five-minute walk from the MTR, is where dozens of white-clad men gathered before the attack, and where pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu was filmed shaking hands with the group and thanking them.
Of the 30 shops and restaurants whose staff spoke to the Post, just two said their employees had been approached by police attempting to gather evidence. Another 15 businesses were either closed or unwilling to talk to media.
According to staff at the two stores that did speak to police " a chemist and a shop selling car accessories " their employees were interviewed by police officers in late July, although no request was made for surveillance camera footage.
In footage that the chemist owners provided to local media, dozens of men in white tops can be seen walking along the street at about 8pm on the evening of the attack, while police vehicles were seen passing by the unusual gathering three times without interfering. The attack inside the MTR station started after 10pm.
The store owner, who asked not to reveal his name, said he was surprised by the questions raised by the police.
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"Officers just asked me briefly about what I saw, but quickly shifted to ask in detail whether ICAC officers came over to conduct investigations," he said.
"I wonder how much effort the police officers have put in finding out who the attackers are."
He and an employee of the car accessory shop, who both witnessed the gathering of white-clad men on July 21, said there were no follow-up visits by police and they were not asked to identify suspects.
But a government source said police had already presented evidence to the Department of Justice in several cases and were waiting for approval from the department to press charges.
Asked why officers had not collected security camera footage from most shops and restaurants on the street, a police spokesman said the force would "continue to conduct thorough investigations and collect evidence with a view to bringing offenders to justice".
Officers just asked me briefly about what I saw, but quickly shifted to ask in detail whether ICAC officers came over to conduct investigationsYuen Long shop owner
The spokesman also said its Complaints Against Police Office was looking into 54 reportable complaints and 20 notifiable complaints it received in relation to the incident.
Edwin Cheng Shing-lung, a former member of the Independent Police Complaints Council, said it would have been more reasonable for the police to go shop by shop to ask for verbal evidence and CCTV footage, as would be typical in investigating a robbery.
"I am not sure why the police approached only two shops if they were not located in very significant and unique places," he said. "It would be a more thorough and reasonable approach for the police to ask the shops one by one."
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He also said police should double down on their efforts in the investigation.
"Half a year is already too long for such a serious case of public concern," he said. "Society has been relatively calm recently and the police should deploy more manpower in the investigative jobs."
Fear stemming from the indiscriminate attacks still lingered in the community, shop owners told the Post, and businesses had seen profits tumble for months.
A beef brisket restaurant on the street reported monthly revenues dropping by half. Its owner, who gave only his surname, Hui, said his business managed to survive because his landlord had recently reduced the monthly rent by about HK$3,000 (US$386).
"We used to target diners who return late from work. But now many choose not to eat out, but go home as early as they can," he said. "Who is to blame for the fear?"
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An owner of another car parts shop on the street said when monthly protests commemorating the July 21 attacks take place, he is forced to close four hours earlier than normal to ensure their employees are not affected.
Properties in Yuen Long, located along the West Rail Line in the western New Territories, were once popular among mainland buyers, but an agent in the district said he had seen a significant drop in interest in flats in the neighbourhood in recent months.
"Once the sense of security is gone, it's hard to be restored if people do not get hold of what had actually happened (in the incident)," the agent said, on condition of anonymity.
A man surnamed Chui, a Yuen Long resident who had his hands injured by the white-clad thugs, said he was not surprised by what he saw as the passive attitude of law enforcement in collecting evidence.
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"I had lost confidence in the police long ago, since the attack. I won't count on them but ourselves to reconstruct the truth," he said.
Chui said he and some others injured in the attack were planning to launch a civil lawsuit against the force, in the hope it would force police to speed up the investigation into the attackers and surrender details of their deployment that night.
Meanwhile, the Yuen Long district council, in which 33 of 45 members hail from the pro-democracy camp " which has made the July 21 attacks a consistent talking point " created a task force earlier in the month to look into the incident.
The council's chairman, Zachary Wong Wai-yin, has vowed to press ahead with plans to organise a public hearing in the council.
He planned to invite commanders involved in the operation, witnesses, rural villagers and MTR staff to give evidence, with an eye toward releasing an interim report in the first half of this year, and a full report within next year.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung
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