Three men have each been jailed for more than three years for stealing 600 toilet rolls in a bizarre armed robbery during the initial coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong last year.
The District Court heard the robbery took place at about 6am on February 17, when a delivery man was unloading goods outside a Wellcome supermarket in Mong Kok.
Police recovered all 600 rolls of Virjoy toilet paper, worth HK$1,695 (US$217), the same day.
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At the time, Hong Kong was experiencing the first wave of Covid-19 infections, which triggered weeks of panic buying aggravated by online rumours of an impending shortage of certain foods and essentials.
Shoppers wiped out shelves of toilet paper from stores across the city, prompting shops to impose quotas and reassure customers that any shortage would be temporary.
On Thursday, warehouse worker Ho Chi-leung, 27, transport worker, Lee Yan-to, 34, and steel bender Lee Yip-tong, 30, pleaded guilty to one joint count of robbery.
The offence is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison, but the term is capped at seven years when the case is heard in the District Court.
In mitigation, the trio expressed remorse, with Ho apologising to the delivery man.
Their defence lawyers said the robbery did not involve elaborate planning or valuables, and the stolen goods had all been recovered.
But Deputy District Judge David Cheung Chi-wai observed the market value of the stolen goods could not be defined by their nominal price, given the circumstances in the city at the time.
The judge also noted that the three defendants had worked together and were equipped, which suggested that there was a plan, albeit a simple one.
Prosecutors said Ho first approached delivery man Ng Chi-man, 32, to ask what time the store opened, before returning a minute later with a fruit knife pointing three inches away from the latter’s waist. The knife measured three inches.
“Don’t move,” Ho was quoted as saying.
At the same time, the two other defendants took away 50 packs of Virjoy toilet paper and loaded all 600 rolls onto a cart.
The three then fled the scene with their loot, while Ng called police.
Officers subsequently conducted a sweep of the vicinity and recovered all 50 packs from a nearby guest house in Kwok Chai Building on Sai Yee Street, situated a block from the Mong Kok Road supermarket, at 7.30am.
Each defendant was jailed for 40 months, after the judge considered their guilty pleas and that all of the stolen goods had been recovered.