With regard to the two Government Departments whose actions have so largely come within the scope of this enquiry we wish to place on record the conclusions we have come to respecting same.
Public Works Department
We regret that the Director of Public Works has not in previous years laid down definite standards of construction for these race stand matsheds. Admitting that the lack of reliable data as to the strength of the material customarily used in matshed construction makes the efficient checking of plans difficult, this is hardly a valid reason for dispensing with all criticism of contractors drawings; neither is the fact that no such check on the methods of construction has been exercised in former years sufficient to exonerate the Director of Public Works from the charge of failing to carry out his duties as laid down by the Hong Kong Ordinances. We are of the opinion that the public matsheds during construction and on completion should have been inspected by a qualified engineer. Not having the history of the development of the Water System of the Colony before us, we suspend judgement on the question whether the administration of the Water Authority has been negligent in not making provision for a better supply of water in the neighbourhood of the Happy Valley. It must be borne in mind however that his attention was drawn some years ago by the Police Department to the fact that the supply was insufficient for fire purposes. We are of the opinion that the present water supply is inadequate.
We consider that the Captain Superintendent of Police erred in not taking on his own initiative obvious necessary precautions for the safety of the public, and the fact that he was not officially notified by the Public Works Department with regard to these sheds does not exculpate him. While it is an open question whether the great loss of life could have been prevented, or even curtailed, had an ample water supply, the necessary fire appliances, and the assistance of experienced firemen been immediately available, still that does not excuse the failure of the Captain Superintendent of Police to foresee and provide against such a contingency as an outbreak of fire in the matshed race stands.
We would add in conclusion that there appears to have been a regrettable lack of consultation and co-operation between the Police and Public Works Department with regard to arrangements which immediately concern both Departments.