On August 14, FactWire broke a story about the alleged kidnapping of Democratic Party member Howard Lam Tsz-kin, which has since attracted widespread attention. However, we notice that, while some people have recognised our efforts in the investigation, others have raised legitimate questions and criticism on how the story was reported.
Public trust and support is the cornerstone of FactWire’s success, and it is vital that our work is put under public scrutiny. After careful reflection, we agree that our reporting of the story, including the choice of words in the headline and certain parts of the article, was indiscreet and imprecise, and that the CCTV footage should have been interpreted with greater care and accuracy. FactWire apologises for the errors and the necessary corrections.
We must stress that, FactWire remained independent during the entire reporting process, and made no contact with any government bodies or law enforcement agencies. All CCTV footage was acquired by our own reporters from shopkeepers on the scene, and the authenticity of the said footage has been carefully verified.
FactWire strives to serve the public by seeking truth with the utmost integrity and political impartiality. We promise we will continue to abide by the highest ethical standards of the journalistic profession, no less than by admitting our own mistakes. Our investigative reporting will also be subject to more stringent editorial oversight going forward.
Multiple CCTV footage obtained by FactWire appears to contradict democracy activist Howard Lam Tsz-kin’s own version of events in his alleged kidnapping by Chinese agents.
On August 11, the Democratic Party member told reporters that he was snatched and drugged by two Putonghua-speaking men the day before at around 4pm, moments after buying a football shirt from a shop in Yau Ma Tei and on his way to the MTR station on Pitt Street.
Lam said he was then tortured and interrogated over his plan to send a signed photo of Lionel Messi to Liu Xia, widow of Chinese Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, at an unknown location before being released at a beach.
However, FactWire can reveal that multiple CCTV footage appears to show Lam leaving Portland Street, where he was allegedly abducted and forced into a car, after 5:30pm.
Alone and unscathed, Lam walks into a 22-metre section of Portland Street that is not covered by any CCTV for 41 seconds right after leaving the sports store on camera. A man whose outfit, build and walking posture that match Lam’s is then captured on CCTV walking towards Pitt Street along Portland Street with a cap, surgical mask and sunglasses on.
The masked man then crosses the road to reach the opposite pavement, walks back in the direction of Hamilton Street, before turning right towards Nathan Road.
The route took around three minutes. Except for the 41 seconds that was not covered by any CCTV, no suspicious persons mentioned by Lam can be seen during the three-minute walk.
After watching the clips, Lam denied being the masked man, stressing that he did not put on a surgical mask or cap on that day. He added that the whole thing was ‘bizarre’ and someone might want to discredit him by using a body double.
To reconstruct the incident, FactWire collected nine pieces of CCTV footage from August 11 to 14 from six shops on Portland Street near Hamilton Street and Pitt Street, showing various locations between 3 to 7pm on the day of the incident. Lam and the masked man appear in one and six of the nine clips respectively.
One footage captured by a shop camera on the corner of Portland Street and Hamilton Street, which points at the store from which Lam bought a shirt, shows him emerging from the shop at 17:41:48 (note: the clip shows that it is 17:43:38 when Lam emerges but FactWire can confirm that the CCTV runs about one minute and 20 seconds faster than the actual time).
Lam, who is wearing a black T-shirt, dark blue shorts, white-rimmed black trainers and a dark-coloured watch on his left hand and carrying a dark-coloured backpack, then turns right and walks along Portland Street towards Pitt Street. Both of his feet point inwards as he walks. Lam then leaves the frame of the first footage at 17:41:37 and is out of view of any CCTV in the next 22 metres along Portland Street.
The second and third footage, each pointing in the direction of Hamilton Street and Pitt Street respectively, were filmed by two cameras in a noodle restaurant located 50 metres from the first CCTV camera.
41 seconds after Lam appears in the first clip, one camera catches a man in shorts emerging at 17:42:18 from the direction of Hamilton Street and stopping for about 28 seconds. Only his feet are captured due to the distance between the camera and the said man as well as unfavourable camera angle. Both of his feet point inwards as he walks.
Already with a cap and sunglasses on, the man is then captured at 17:42:46 putting on a surgical mask and his left hand through the left strap of his backpack as he moves from one side of the pavement near the road to the other near the wall.
Although the camera can not capture the face of the man, his outfit, build and walking posture match Lam’s in previous footage. The shop’s second camera pointing in the opposite direction also catches him, back against the camera, walking towards the direction of Pitt Street.
According to the fourth camera set in a shop 20 metres away, near the corner of Portland Street and Pitt Street, the same man then walks across Portland Street to the other side of the road at around 17:43:06 (note: the footage shows that it is 17:17:06, but FactWire can confirm that the CCTV runs around 26 minutes slower than the actual time).
Two other tapes obtained from a restaurant along the same pavement then show that he starts walking back towards Hamilton Street at 17:44:01 (note: the footage shows that it is 15:27:28, but FactWire can confirm that the CCTV runs about two hours, 16 minutes and 33 seconds slower than the actual time). With his head down, the man keeps on walking and eventually turns right into Nathan Road.
The CCTV camera at a shop next to the restaurant also catches him walking back towards Hamilton Street along Portland Street at 17:43:59 (note: the CCTV shows that it is 17:34:51, but FactWire can confirm that the CCTV runs about nine minutes and eight seconds slower than the actual time).
Since each CCTV camera was set to a different time, FactWire calculated the disparity based on Hong Kong Standard Time and confirmed the exact time when each footage was taken, proving that the seven pieces of footage are coherent.
There is a 41-second gap between Lam leaving the first CCTV and the masked man appearing in the second CCTV footage.
FactWire reporters went to the scene and confirmed one has to cross Hamilton Street and walk past Hamilton Street Rest Garden between the two spots. The route is about 22 metres long. A review of the nine clips also found no suspicious persons or the alleged kidnappers.
When told by FactWire reporters at his home in Ma On Shan on August 14 that a masked man who resembles him was captured leaving Portland Street, Lam initially refused to provide response or watch the footage.
As he gave in and watched the clips, Lam said the masked man was not him and stressed that he did not put on a surgical mask or cap on that day.
Lam said that the whole thing was ‘bizarre’. He said: ‘It is horrible. I don’t know whether someone wanted to do something behind my back…people in my attire that day can be found anywhere. If someone wants to put me into trouble, they could have arranged a body double.’
Lam stated that the police has requested shop owners not to hand the CCTV footage to reporters. He also questioned the source and credibility of the footage due to their time differences as marked on the screens, adding that it should have been the police instead of reporters to confront him on the matter.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, present at Lam’s apartment in the evening of August 14 for a farewell dinner, agreed that upon watching the footage the man in a mask, sunglasses and cap resembled Lam. However, since his face is covered, it should be up to Lam to confirm whether he is the man in the footage. The lawmaker reiterated that he was away ten days ago on vacation with his family, and only learnt about the incident after returning to Hong Kong.
In the press conference on August 11 as well as the live interview on social media two days later, Lam has repeatedly claimed that he was abducted a day before the press conference (August 10) at around 4pm as he left the sports store in the direction of Yau Ma Tei MTR station, although CCTV shows that he left the store about an hour later.
In a radio interview on August 14, Lam also emphasised he did not leave temporarily or go to the restroom after arriving at the football store.