Last of the Colonial Coppers
Four plane-crashes, the SARS outbreak, bomb incidents, hostage takings, suicides, murders and riots. Plus moving an airport overnight and preparing for a terrorist event. Some of the things I encountered in 35 years with the Hong Kong Police. It has been fun.
In early 1980, as I arrived in Hong Kong, the place immediately grabbed me, then swept me along in a new life. With twists and turns, leading to unexpected outcomes. The Royal Hong Kong Police Force was still reeling from the efforts to stamp out corruption.
Memories of the near mutiny of October 1977 are still fresh in people’s minds. A Force that gained a reputation for steadfastness in the riots of 1967 is now chastened. Taking its toll was the relentless work of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. This necessary intervention put paid to the idle remark ... “The best police force money could buy.”
On my arrival in Hong Kong, the newspapers were full of dark stories that the Force had assassinated one of its own. The Inspector MacLennan case was starting to gather momentum. Media attention focused on shadowy allegations of murder involving the gay officer. Tales of a high-level conspiracy circulated. This single episode was my introduction to the village atmosphere that pervades Hong Kong.
As I underwent training, the trickle of Vietnamese refugees entering Hong Kong turned into a torrent. This was to have a profound impact on my police career. It remained an issue until about 2001, when I did my last repatriation flight to Hanoi.
North of Hong Kong, a restive giant, was about to awaken. 1997 and the return to Chinese sovereignty seemed light-years away. The Cold War was still ongoing, Britain had yet to fight for the Falklands. While China was starting to shake off the awful years of Mao’s cultural revolution.
During my first week in Hong Kong, as I stood at the border, spread out north of me was a small town called Shenzhen.
Over the next 20-years, this area would explode with unprecedented development. The pace of change was never seen before in human history, giving rise to a city rivalling New York. This ignited changes that saw China emerge as a strategic power to match the United States.
I had a ringside seat for this revolution of commerce and political power. This shook the world and continued to reverberate to this day.
I find it astonishing to encounter residents of this breathtaking city who display little knowledge of its history. So here, with my only agenda to report things as I saw them, I give my take on Hong Kong.
Perhaps my small effort can help fill some of the gaps; albeit from the perspective of one of the last of the colonial coppers.
For the record, this is not an autobiography. It's an account that borrows from many experiences, yet underpinned by real events. Walter is a composite, although the following is a mostly true story.