The Hong Kong police have admitted that they had sent plainclothes officers to Yuen Long on July 21 last year before a white-shirted mob attacked passengers and protesters at the local MTR station. The revelation comes three days after public broadcaster RTHK uncovered more details about the incident in a show aired on Monday.

On July 21, 2019, over 100 rod-wielding men stormed Yuen Long MTR station, leaving 45 people injured, including journalists, protesters, commuters and pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting. Several other beatings took place in the area, as white-clad men were seen chasing after people with sticks.

RTHK July 21, 2019 Yuen Long Police
The man in a red circle on the right is suspected to be a plainclothes officer. The other man in circle appear to have a weapon in his hand. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The police were accused of colluding with the attackers and criticised for arriving late to the scene. Few arrests were made and uniformed officers were spotted walking away from the station as emergency calls went unanswered.

In Monday’s episode of RTHK’s Hong Kong Connection, security footage from shops in Yuen Long showed at least one man wandering along Fung Yau Street North with what appeared to be a police warrant card in his hand.

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He walked past a group of white-shirted men holding Chinese flags and weapons of different shapes and sizes. But the man, who was suspected to be a plainclothes officer, let them walk away without taking action.

The shop owner who supplied the footage told RTHK that he did not believe it was a regular identification document: “Don’t tell me it was a library card. Don’t tell me you put the identity card into a card holder and put it up like that.”

RTHK July 21, 2019 Yuen Long Police
The man in circle appears to have a police warrant card in his hand. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

RTHK approached Eric Ho, the Yuen Long District Commander, for comment at a District Council meeting earlier, but Ho said he could not respond based on a single video.

‘Ceaseless’ investigation

The force issued a statement on Facebook on Wednesday, admitting that they had sent plainclothes police to Yuen Long to survey the situation, conduct risk assessments and plan their actions. Police said they understood public concern over the incident and said the relevant department has “persistently” and “ceaselessly” investigated the case.

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So far, 37 people – aged 18 to 61 – have been arrested in connected with the case. Seven of them were charged with rioting and conspiring with an intent to wound. Several others remain wanted, and the force said more people may be arrested. But local media reported that the arrest and prosecution figures have not changed over the past eight months, as the current numbers were the same as what the force announced last November and December.

“Police stress that, regardless of the identity or background of the people involved in the case, the force will treat all equally and professionally enforce the law based on relevant legislation and the actual situation,” police wrote.

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A report by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) released in May revealed that officers who arrived at the MTR station saw crowds of people but “did not witness any violence.” Officers also witnessed some people dressed in white leaving the concourse, whom they said “did not exhibit any disorderly behaviour or violence.”

The police watchdog said the force had shown “inadequacies” in collecting and collating actionable intelligence in a timely manner to enable timely action. Officers were also “inadequate” in considering preventive measures to avert impending public disorder. But the IPCC, which lacks investigation powers, cleared the force of misconduct over the July 21 incident.

Police show scrapped

On Monday, RTHK announced that its Public and Current Affairs Section would cease its co-production of Police Report with the embattled force. RTHK’s Head of Corporate Communications and Standards Amen Ng said the public broadcaster and the Police Public Relations Branch arrived at the decision after they deemed they could not continue the current form of production.

Police Report
An episode of Police Report aired on July 15, 2020. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The police show, which has run since 1973, promotes anti-crime messages, reports on the latest crime trends and introduces the functions and gives updates on different police departments. The show will air until mid-August.

RTHK is currently under investigation by the government after it was forced to axe a satirical show about the police. It also came under fire after a reporter asked a World Health Organization official about the status of Taiwan.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.