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A Suspicious Death Changes Gay Hong Kong: Murder or Suicide? - Part 2

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Homosexuality in Hong Kong

In 1967, the government in Westminster had decriminalised homosexuality. The law had been on the UK statute books since 1861 and immediately became law in all British colonial possessions. The repeal of the law was initially confined to England and Wales, although later confirmed also in Scotland and Northern Ireland. By 1967 Britain had already relinquished power in almost all of its former colonies, but the homosexuality law in these countries had not been repealed. It therefore remained – and in close to forty countries still remains – as law, including Hong Kong (eventually repealed in 1991 – see below), Singapore, Malaysia, Jamaica and Uganda.

It was known that despite the law there were many homosexual men in Hong Kong, some in the higher echelons of the government, the Police Force and the Judiciary. More than a few had steady Chinese boyfriends. Yet during the 1960s homosexuality rarely appeared on the radar of law enforcement in Hong Kong and police made little attempt to enforce the law against private homosexual conduct. This was to change towards the end of the 1970s.

Some incidents involving homosexual blackmail and even murder occasionally appeared in the Hong Kong media. In October 1980 a noted Australian antique dealer and homosexual, Ian McLean, was found dead in his expensive Peak apartment. His Filipino servant discovered his naked body lying on his bed with an arm and leg bound together with an electric cord. He had been suffocated. His home had been ransacked and his car stolen. It was later discovered he had taken two young Chinese youths back to his home for the purpose of sex. They had murdered him.

Worse for the authorities, two years earlier in 1978 33-year old Richard Duffy, a prominent English lawyer practicing in Hong Kong, pled guilty to charges of “buggery and gross indecency” involving four 15-year old Chinese boys. He was sentenced to three years in prison. In a petition for clemency, he named many “highly-placed” men in Hong Kong who were homosexuals, gay prostitution rings some involving young boys in their early teens, and the triads who ran them. So well-looked after was Duffy in prison by his triad acquaintances that he continued to enjoy so much sex he contracted a venereal disease!

Howard Lindsay was a highly placed lawyer in the Attorney General’s chambers. He had been threatened with prosecution for “buggery”, refused to bow to police pressure but was soon charged and appeared in court. As he later told the broadcaster Aileen Bridgewater, “In court I was confronted by male prostitutes of very questionable integrity, whose evidence was full of loopholes. The magistrate found no case to answer and I was duly acquitted [4].” Lindsay was eventually dismissed and left Hong Kong to recover from what for him had been an extremely trying time.

It quickly become very clear that the government was desperate to ensure that the claims made by Richard Duffy in his appeal for clemency be kept totally under wraps. 

Partly as a result, in August 1978 the Hong Kong government set up another division – the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the RHKP. Its main function as described to parliament in London was “to investigate cases of homosexuality which may involve procuring or the abuse of young people or in response to complaints made by members of the public [5].” The penalty for homosexual behaviour could be from two years to life in prison. The new policy to ‘out’ and prosecute homosexual men was given the name Operation Rockcorry.

In pursuit of this new policy, triad gangs were consulted and young male prostitutes questioned to provide evidence that would ensnare key government officials.

At this time, despite the law, Hong Kong did have a thriving underground gay community. It also had two bars/clubs that catered almost exclusively to homosexuals – Waltzing Mathilda in Kowloon and Dateline in a basement in the Central District of Hong Kong, and a mostly gay nightclub Disco Disco in the increasingly popular Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district also in the centre of Hong Kong. Waltzing Mathilda was known as a hangout for gay men and not a few rent boys. One of the barmen, Dick Stanford, himself gay, was also an informant for the police. 

A different means of identifying clients at Dateline was chosen. Access to the basement bar was by a long set of steps down from Wellington Street. These steps were brightly lit by a floodlight placed above and behind that entrance on Wellington Street. This light was less to do with assisting patrons to down the steps. It was there only because in a rented apartment on the opposite side of the small one-way street the SIU had set up a camera to photograph everyone exiting Dateline.

Fearing a witch-hunt, a number of academics, lawyers and social workers began to criticize the SIU and the laws that it sought to enforce. In mid-1979, 424 individuals petitioned the government to bring Hong Kong into line with England and Wales and decriminalize homosexual conduct between consenting adults. The petition had no effect.

Inspector John MacLennan

In 1973 John MacLennan, a young 22-year old Scot, flew to Hong Kong to join the RHKP. After passing through the police training academy, he was posted to the area of Kwun Tong in Kowloon. With a close friend, a fellow Scot and member of the RHKP Christopher Burns, MacLennan spent much of his spare time trawling the girlie bars and low-life nightclubs. Burns assumed his friend was a womanizer. It is known that he frequented occasionally with female prostitutes. He also enjoyed longer relationships with three women including a Filipina maid. It now seems as though Burns might have been mistaken – if only in part.

It has been alleged that MacLennan was either bisexual or even a closet homosexual. On his nightly meanderings he had discovered the city’s underground gay scene and met a triad pimp named Molo Tsui. Tsui, it was alleged, found young Chinese men for him. It was also alleged that MacLennan was a regular at the Waltzing Mathilda bar.

Towards the end of his tour of duty, MacLennan was temporarily transferred to the Police Special Branch (a different RHKP branch from the SIU and comprising almost 1,000 officers). Special Branch was considered a highly professional security apparatus, pursuing anti-corruption and anti-triad duties in addition to intelligence and counter-subversion operations.

Leaving for a vacation back in Scotland and with a new contract in his pocket, MacLennan knew he would again be transferred to Special Branch on his return. 

Digging through police files in his new assignment, he was shocked to discover that Special Branch had been building cases against likely gay men for at least a decade. Many were in prominent positions in Hong Kong including in the RHKP. He was later to tell a City Councillor, Elsie Elliott [6], that the files he had seen were “political dynamite that would blow the lid off the territory.” Many civil servants, senior and junior, were named in the files. He was thus able to confirm much of the information provided earlier by Duffy. One, named by his gay friends as “Brenda” with a penchant for underage youths, was none other than the territory’s Chief Justice, Sir Geoffrey Briggs. Briggs very quickly left Hong Kong. Another on MacLennan’s list was his boss, the new Police Commissioner, an unmarried fellow Scot, Roy Henry.

Police Commissioner Roy Henry

On leaving the British Army in 1948 aged 21, Roy Henry had joined the Colonial Police Service as an Assistant Superintendent in the Malayan Police. After several promotions and the award of the title “Datuk” (the equivalent of a knighthood in the UK), he left the new Malaysia to serve as Police Commissioner in Fiji. 

In 1973 he again moved, this time to Hong Kong as Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations. The following year he was promoted to Deputy Commissioner. He was named Commissioner in March 1979, taking over a Force that was plagued by corruption scandals, a breakdown of discipline and a lack of public confidence. By all published accounts, he was known as a steadfast, upright man who transformed the force into a modern, efficient and sophisticated law enforcement agency. But there might have been more behind that mask.

As he tackled the major restructuring and “clean up” of the Force, he maintained his former ties in Malaysia. He shared his home with old friends from his days in Malaya, Jack and Eileen Cradock. He is also alleged to have travelled for weekend trips to Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Although the majority Muslim population and Malaysian law were anti-homosexual as a result of the old English Colonial “sodomy” Law, Kuala Lumpur had always had an active homosexual underground. Its one openly gay bar, Blue Boy, was packed every evening, especially at weekends. Whether Henry visited the bar on his Kuala Lumpur trips we do not know. But it would have been a convenient and – in terms of his Hong Kong career – a virtually anonymous venue for trysts with Malaysian youths. It was also known to insiders that he had a Chinese boyfriend in his mid-30s who lived on the island of Penang.

Adding to the suggestion that Henry might have been homosexual, the journalist Aileen Bridgewater (whose husband Ken had written one of the first books about the MacLennan affair) later met him in Kuala Lumpur where he lived in retirement after leaving Hong Kong in March 1984 aged 57. Aileen was conducting seminars in the city. As Ken wrote in his fictionalized version of the events in Hong Kong (thereby adding considerable doubt to the following quote): “Roy Henry retired to Malaysia and lived openly as a gay [7].”

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