A Hong Kong court has refused to admit a report prepared by British policing expert Clifford Stott as evidence in a trial against nine high-profile democrats who took part in a peaceful demonstration in August 2019.
At the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, District Judge Amanda Woodcock dismissed the defence’s application to present a report by the Keele University professor. He was among five foreign experts who sat on the Independent Police Complaints Council’s investigation into the protests before the panel resigned from their advisory roles in December 2019.
The court also rejected the defence’s application to summon the social psychology scholar to testify in court via videoconferencing.
The case involves nine pro-democracy figures, including media mogul Jimmy Lai, the city’s “father of democracy” Martin Lee, veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan, ex-Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho, barrister Margaret Ng, activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, along with former lawmakers Leung Yiu-chung, Au Nok-hin and Cyd Ho.
They face allegations of organising and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019, which saw thousands of demonstrators congregating in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. They later marched to Chater Road in Central to oppose what they saw as police abuse of power during the months-long anti-extradition bill protests.
According to Senior Counsel Lawrence Lok, representing Martin Lee and Albert Ho, Stott shed light on the issues of crowd control and crowd psychology in his report. The document would be “highly relevant” to the defendants’ challenge of the proportionality of police operation on the day of the protest, Lok said.
The defence argued Stott’s report offered an alternative view that the defendants had directed the crowds away from Victoria Park out of safety concerns, saying the venue was reaching its maximum capacity at the time.
But Judge Woodcock questioned how the expert could assist the court in the trial, saying he could not give evidence or comment on the defendants’ intentions. She said the court could determine what the defendants intended to do based on video evidence, adding that Stott’s critique on the police operation would be all hypothetical.
The prosecution objected to the admission of the report, saying it had no relevance to the case. Lead prosecutor Benjamin Yu said they were not satisfied that Stott had the “necessary expertise” to comment on the issues in question. They said the UK-based expert did not seem to have local knowledge about crowd control in relation to a protest that occurred in Causeway Bay.
“The trial will be hijacked,” Yu argued, saying the course of prosecution would be distracted by issues about the police force that Stott “feels very strong about.”
Stott has openly criticised the local police, including alleging that the force had been “aligning to produce a coordinated attack” on the city’s pro-democracy movement. In an interview with HKFP last November, Stott said officers played a pivotal role in radicalising the widespread demonstrations in 2019, which often descended into violent clashes between police and protesters.
He also told HKFP that police lost credibility during the 2019 protests owing to “inept” decision-making by the top brass.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Au admitted committing both offences, while Leung Yiu-chung pleaded guilty to the participation charge. The seven other co-defendants said they were not guilty. If convicted, the democrats could face up to five years behind bars for each offence.