"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
YIP Kai-foon, notorious robber and gunman, died this week. His passing attracted much media coverage. I never met the man, although he had a significant impact on how I did my job. In the early 1990s, whilst attached to Emergency Unit Kowloon East gun crime was an issue. Most of the culprits were ex-military types armed with either black star pistols or AK 47s. The latter was a real worry. A military grade weapon, it could lay down a lot of fire and it out-gunned the Royal Hong Kong Police. Armed with only revolvers, shotguns and the odd semi-automatic AR15, the Police were at a distinct disadvantage.
Tactics, equipment and firearms needed to evolve to address the threat posed by YIP and his sort. He was not alone in bringing gun crime to the fore, yet his escapades caught the public imagination. This was due in part to an iconic photograph. More on that later.
Some of the media coverage given to YIP this week is distasteful. A few sought to portray him as an honourable sort. This is a gross insult to the many people he harmed. It also denigrates the brave police officers who brought him to justice. Don’t forget this is a guy who fired an AK 47 on a busy Hong Kong streets, whilst throwing hand grenades to foil capture. Once wheelchair bound, paralysed from the waist down, and facing years in jail, he got God. Aimless, isolated in prison and profoundly vulnerable, he was easy pickings for those peddling religion. To now laud the man is contemptible.
YIP is thought to have started his criminal career in the early 1980s. A series of armed robberies he staged in 1984 brought him to the attention of the police. Caught in a sting operation in December 1984, he attempted to murder an undercover officer. With his cover blown, the officer had to act fast. YIP was in possession of two pistols. After a fierce struggle, YIP was eventually restrained.
Sentenced to jail, he escaped in 1989 by feigning an illness that meant he was sent to the hospital. From there he fled to resume a life of crime.
By June 1991, YIP was back with his gang. In a daring operation, they robbed five goldsmiths shops in one raid on Mut Wah Street, Kwun Tong. During this audacious crime, they fired 54 shots at responding Police Officers, before fleeing with HK$5.7 million. YIP next surfaced on 10 March 1992, robbing two jewellery shops on Tai Po Road, Sham Shui Po. 65 shots were fired at the Police. On this occasion the gang also fired at the public.
It is suspected that YIP masterminded and led a raid in April 1994 on the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Macau that took HK$40 million in gambling chips. By 1995, he was operating in Shenzhen. There is suspicion he killed two people in Shenzhen, one a police informer.
An iconic photograph of a robber standing in Nathan Road with an AK 47 has long been associated with YIP. Yet, that robbery on 6 January 1993, during which 30 shots were fired, was not YIP or his gang. Despite this being common knowledge, the media roll out the picture at every mention of YIP.
In spite of the millions YIP made from his criminal career, he kept at it. Suggesting that his lifestyle was burning through his pile of loot in no time.
He finally met his match on the evening on 13 May 1996. Trying to sneak into Hong Kong with an AK 47, a pistol and explosives, YIP encountered a Police patrol. When challenged, he produced a pistol and began shooting at the officers. He then fled with the officers chasing. The Police returned fire with YIP hit twice. He sustained injuries to his spine that left him paralysed from the waist down. Serving 40 years in jail for his crimes, YIP had cancer. This ended his life.
The real heroes of this story are the cops who pursued Yip. The officers who put themselves at risk to bring this guy down. YIP's supporters, including a politician, have spoken of a caring man. That does not tally with the individual who indiscriminately fired an assault weapon at the Police and public. Those who utter such sentiments betray the victims of his crimes.
YIP's conversion to Christianity is late and perplexing. The detail is not incidental. It is sanctimonious rubbish to embrace a God when your whole life up to that point was about visiting evil on others. This statement no doubt dismays the religious zealots. They'd claim we are all born sinner, with redemption through embracing God. I take the position that basic human integrity must trump any doctrine.
This conversion is a conceit, supplementing the misplaced hubris that surrounding YIP. Plus, if mental and physical torture is required to effect a conversion, what does that say about religion. Lets not forget he spent his final years paralysed, confined to a wheelchair, wearing an adult diaper. Only then did he seek solace. Perhaps had he taken the Lord earlier his grubby ending may be different.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.