Original Source: The Standard, Hong Kong
A few days ago newspapers carried a rather strange case of a theft being reported [in Hong Kong]. The matter involved two people who knew each other and one of them alleged that the other had stolen something of his. The matter ended with the two protagonists settling the issue.
The report hinted at some mischief on the part of police officers investigating the case, in that they deliberately persuaded the complainant to settle the matter. There was a comment from the police that should this “settlement” have been reached under suspicious circumstances, appropriate action would be taken to find out if the investigating officers acted illegally.
This incident brings to mind some of the difficulties faced by investigating officers as allegations of crime are sometimes made “on the spur of the moment.”
For example, two people playfully push each other and one of them decides to report a case of assault. There may be sufficient evidence to justify the allegation but, after the moment of anger passes, the complainant regrets getting the police involved.
Yes, the police often mediate not because they wish to avoid prosecuting the case but more because the matter is not serious and there is no mens rea – or guilty mind.
In the above situation, by pacifying the complainant and helping the pair remain friends, the police will be doing all parties a great service. However, under no circumstances should there be any coercion, coaxing or bias.
Furthermore, the wish to reconcile should be motivated by the protagonists not the officers, otherwise they may be liable for compounding a felony: an antiquated offense or miscarriage of justice.
There was one case that a young inspector attempted to write off and which is worth retelling.
A theft was reported and the property stolen was a pig. The inspector in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department team took over that file. When the file was transferred to a division, the file came up for review.
As all statements were taken down in Chinese, the crime was one of low priority and the inspector did not get the statements translated but relied on his interpreter, who told him the case was one of a “lowstead” pig being stolen and there was nothing to indicate who the suspect might be.
Thinking there would be no way a lost or stolen pig could be recovered after several months, he wrote: Pig could have wandered off and became lost. Reclassify as Lost or Stolen.
Reading the case, the senior officer called the inspector in and asked him: How can a ROAST PIG wander off on its own?
Moral of story: Always check your facts before committing yourself to a definite course of action and make sure you do not lose anything in translation. Some people cannot roll their “r…r…r…rs.”
JS Lam served with Hong Kong police – `Asia’s Finest’ – for 32 years, reaching the rank of senior superintendent before retiring in 1996.