Local police demand equal rights

The handover of power in Hong Kong will have a final, unexpected and unpleasant sting in the tail for police officers of Hong Kong Chinese birth in the colony, who are likely to find themselves tens of thousands of pounds worse off than their white colleagues.

One of the officers, Ken Chik, is to seek a judicial review in the High Court today against the Foreign Office's interpretation of a little-publicised law rubber-stamped last year. This gives public servants in Hong Kong cash compensation and greatly improved pensions should they decide they cannot continue to serve under Chinese rule after 1 July.

Mr Chik, 38, takes his role in the Royal Hong Kong Police force seriously, including the oath officers are required to swear to the Crown. He joined in 1976 and has risen to the rank of senior inspector.

"We take the oath of allegiance very seriously indeed. We sometimes have to act against the Chinese people to safeguard British colonial interests. That's a considerable conflict of interest for people like me and could put me in conflict with China after the change over. That is why I have decided very reluctantly to leave the police force."

However, Mr Chik, along with15 other Hong Kong officers intending to leave the force, discovered they were not eligible for generous compensation payments offered to civil servants serving in the colony who were born in the UK.

Unlike most Hong Kong nationals, Mr Chik's occupation was considered sensitive enough to require protection. He is currently considering whether to leave Hong Kong altogether before July to start a new life in the Britain.

A law introduced last year enables UK civil servants intending to leave Hong Kong to draw their pensions early and guarantees compensation worth up to pounds 120,000.

The legislation also applies to officials of Hong Kong Chinese origin. However, when Mr Chik applied to the Foreign Office he was told that this affected only judges and magistrates. Police officers were not included.

Mr Chik estimates that this will cost him pounds 10,000 a year for the next 17 years until he reaches his official retirement age of 55.

The ruling was made despite the fact that Hong Kong Chinese officers in the force were granted British citizenship in 1992.

Mr Chik is bitter. "We are very upset about this. We think it contravenes international law on human rights. The majority of local officers support us. All the 15 applicants are British. We're as British as the white officers."

Time is running out for the 15 police officers as the handover approaches. Louis Charalambous, Mr Chik's solicitor, said: "We hope the courts recognise how pressing this is and allow us to challenge the Foreign Office's interpretation of the legislation as quickly as possible."