Multiple CCTV clips obtained by FactWire appear to contradict democracy activist Howard Lam Tsz-kin’s own version of events in his alleged kidnapping by Chinese agents.
Last Friday, the Democratic Party member told reporters that he was snatched and drugged by two Putonghua-speaking men last Thursday at around 4pm, moments after buying a football shirt from a shop in Yau Ma Tei and on his way to the MTR station on Pitt Street.
Lam said he was then tortured and interrogated over his plan to send a signed photo of footballer Lionel Messi to Liu Xia, widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. The incident allegedly occurred over a few hours at an unknown location, before he was released at a beach.
However, FactWire can reveal that multiple CCTV clips appear to show Lam leaving Portland Street, where he was allegedly abducted and forced into a car, at around 5pm. Alone and unscathed, Lam put on a cap, surgical mask and sunglasses before walking back towards Hamilton Street and then towards Nathan Road. No suspicious persons mentioned by Lam were seen during the three-minute walk.
To reconstruct the incident, FactWire collected nine items of CCTV footage from six shops on Portland Street near Hamilton Street and Pitt Street, showing various locations between 3pm to 7pm on the day of the incident. Lam appears in seven of the nine clips.
One clip captured by a shop camera on the corner of Portland Street and Hamilton Street, which points at the store from which Lam bought the shirt, shows him emerging from the shop at 5:41pm.
Lam is wearing a black t-shirt, dark blue shorts, white-rimmed black trainers and a dark-coloured watch on his left hand, and he is carrying a dark-coloured backpack. He then turns right and walks along Portland Street towards Pitt Street. Both of his feet point inwards as he walks.
The second and third clip, each pointing in the direction of Hamilton Street and Pitt Street respectively, were filmed by two cameras in a noodle restaurant located 50 metres from the first CCTV camera.
One camera caught a man emerging at 5:43pm from the direction of Hamilton Street. Already with a cap and sunglasses on, he is then captured putting on a surgical mask and putting his left hand through the left strap of his backpack as he moves from one side of the pavement near the road to the other near the wall.
Although the camera could not capture the face of the man, his outfit, build and walking posture match Lam’s in previous footage. The shop’s second camera pointing the opposite direction also caught him, back against the camera, walking towards the direction of Pitt Street.
Hamilton Street cuts through Portland Street, and the two shops mentioned above are located on each side. From the store at the junction of Hamilton Street, one would pass by Hamilton Street Rest Garden, two vacant shops, then a coffin shop and an electrical appliances store before reaching the noodle restaurant.
No security cameras were installed at the above locations, while the only camera installed at a building next to the garden also points in another direction.
According to a fourth camera set in a shop 20 metres away, near the corner of Portland Street and Pitt Street, the same man then walks across Portland Street to the other side of the road at around 5:43pm.
Two other clips obtained from a restaurant along the same pavement then show that he starts walking back towards Hamilton Street at 5:44pm. With his head down, the man keeps on walking and eventually turns right onto Nathan Road.
The CCTV camera at a shop next to the restaurant also caught him walking back towards the direction of Hamilton Street along Portland Street.
The seven clips are coherent. It took three minutes in total for Lam to leave the football store on Portland Street, cross Hamilton Street towards the junction with Pitt Street, before walking to the opposite pavement and heading back to Hamilton Street. He was out of CCTV coverage as turned right onto Nathan Road.
Lam appeared to be alone the whole time. A review of CCTV footage also found no suspicious persons or the alleged kidnappers.
FactWire reporters have completed the same route on foot in two and a half minutes at a normal pace.
When told by FactWire reporters at his home in Ma On Shan that he was captured leaving Portland Street safely, Lam initially refuse to provide a response or watch the footage.
As he gave in and agreed to watch the clips , Lam said the masked man was not him and stressed that he did not put on a surgical mask or cap on that day.
Lam said that the whole thing was ‘bizarre’. He said: ‘It is horrible. I don’t know whether someone wanted to do something behind my back …people in my attire that day can be found anywhere. If someone wants to get me into trouble, they could have arranged a body double.’
Lam stated that the police requested shop owners not to hand CCTV footage to reporters. He also questioned the source and credibility of the footage due to the time differences as marked on the screens, adding that it should have been the police instead of reporters to confront him on the matter.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, present at Lam’s apartment for an arranged farewell dinner, agreed that upon watching the footage the man in a mask, sunglasses and cap resembled Lam. However, since his face is covered, it should be up to Lam to confirm whether he is the man in the footage. The lawmaker reiterated that he was away ten days ago on vacation with his family, and only learnt about the incident after returning to Hong Kong.
At the press conference last Friday, as well as Sunday’s live interview on social media, Lam has repeatedly claimed that he was abducted at around 4pm as he left the sports store for Yau Ma Tei MTR station.