Hong Kong mechanic whose repairs resulted in deadly garage explosion in Wong Tai Sin says he was only following employer’s instructions

Lawyers for a mechanic facing jail after his repairs resulted in a garage explosion that claimed three lives told a Hong Kong court on Tuesday that he was only following his employer’s instructions.
But Madam Justice Judianna Barnes observed that Lai Chun-ho, 39, knew he was not qualified in repairing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tanks when his handling of a taxi resulted in an explosion at a garage on Wan Fung Street in Wong Tai Sin on April 26, 2015.
“Evidence shows that there had been similar repairs before that … and he became increasingly bold when nothing happened,” the judge said. “He was basked in a false sense of security.”
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Their exchange came after Lai was convicted of three counts of manslaughter, punishable by life imprisonment, by a jury of four men and three women, following seven hours of deliberations on Friday.
Lai was found guilty of unlawfully killing his employer Wu Hon-wai, 47, taxi driver Chan Kam-por, 61, and neighbour Ng Oi-ha, 65, by gross negligence through breaching a duty of care he owed to the deceased, in failing to ensure there would be no leakage or accumulation of LPG, and to prevent its ignition.
He will be sentenced on August 17.
The High Court heard Lai was not a competent person qualified to maintain, repair and replace LPG vehicle fuel systems or associated components in Hong Kong, and the garage in question was not a government-approved workshop for such works.
While there was no direct evidence showing what happened in the garage before it was engulfed in flames, prosecutors argued that Lai had deliberately meddled with the taxi’s fuel tank and released 48 litres of LPG into the garage in his attempt to replace its fuel pump.
Prosecutor Susanna Ku Pui-fong also argued that Lai had rolled down the metal gates to prevent outsiders from seeing what he was doing, while also switching on an electric fan for comfort, before leaving the garage to wait for the tank to empty.
Ku further argued that it was this fan that kept the gas within its flammability limit and created the spark that caused the explosion when it fell into the service pit.
The explosion at 3.41pm shattered all the glass windows of a care home opposite and caused a fire that spread to multiple nearby buildings.
Shop owner Ng Kin-yuen testified to leaving his neighbouring shop to collect his salted fish, before he turned to find his building consumed by flames, while his wife, Oi-ha, was in the attic packing for their trip to the United States the following day.
Firefighters arrived to find Ng trying to save his wife as she screamed for help, but none of the rescuers could get through the thick smoke as the fire escalated.
It was not until 5.25pm that they managed to enter the scene and find her burnt body.
Wu also lost his life at the scene, while Chan was certified dead in hospital. Autopsies found both men had died of multiple injuries and extensive burns.
Lai was sent to hospital in a critical condition, with inhalation burns and serious burns to 35 per cent of his body surface.
In mitigation, defence counsel Francis Cheng said his client had followed Wu’s instructions to repair vehicles, as he could not refuse tasks unless he quit.
“He was faced with a dilemma and he chose the wrong option,” Cheng said, adding he would have made a different decision if he could go back in time.
The counsel also revealed that Lai was his family’s main breadwinner and a car lover who had been repairing vehicles for more than a decade before the incident, which has since left him under great pressure.
The court heard the case waited five years for trial as it depended on the clarification of gross negligence, prompted by a medical case involving the same charges, which ultimately went to the Court of Final Appeal.
“I hope your lordship will consider the unique circumstances in this case,” Cheng said.
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