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What Really Happened at Helios Bar?
Interviews from All Sides Involved
By Mark Basquille
Irish Correspondent
The incident that happened in Helios bar in Itaewon has seen unprecedented coverage on internet bulletin boards and forums. Many lies and half truths have been raised concerning both sides, so here now in exclusive interviews with The Seoul Times all sides have been given their opportunity to explain what happened that Friday night(Sept. 12 2003).

The following interviews have been obtained from Mr. Jo Shin, bar owner present on the night, Mr. Lim, bar security guard and Team One member, Itaewon Police officer Mr. Min, and foreigners involved in the incident.

The following is an in interview with Helios owner only known as Mr. Shin.

Q: Mr. Shin could you describe what happened inside the bar that night?

A: At 2:30 we have last call every night and it was the same as usual on this Friday, I was behind the bar and gave the group of 30 to 40 foreigners and extra 40 minutes to finish there drinks, at 3:10am I approached the table and asked them to leave, they asked to sing a song which lasted for 15 minutes, I had let most of my staff go and wanted to close up but this group weren't listening to me so I called for back up from Team One, a security team that are based around the Itaewon area. I asked the security team to escort the guests outside. At this point some of the foreigners started to use bad language(which was understood fully by Mr. Shin who is Kyopo or Korean-American) there was pushing inside and one of the foreigners hit Mr. Kim (security staff) with a 500-cc beer glass across the face breaking it into pieces on the carpet. At 4:10 a.m. the foreigners left the building where upon Mr. Shin bolted the doors and went back upstairs.

Q: Do you think that your actions and that of the security staff inside where witness reports of been arm locked, pushed and the use of bats only inflamed the situation?

A: No, I told the security team to escort the guests outside and even when one of my security team was attacked with a 500-cc glass I told the security team I don't want any violence inside"

Q: So did you see how the fighting started outside?

A: No, I was inside and after three to five minutes after I bolted the door I heard a gun shot and went onto the balcony where down below I saw the five Korean security guards surrounded by 30 to 40 foreigners.

Q: Who started the incident?

A: As the security team were returning to their other jobs in Limelight, UN Bar and King Club etc., one of them, Mr. Lee was hit by a foreigner, where upon they had to defend themselves as there lives were threatened.

Q: Do you think the use of weapons such as tear gas and CO2 pellet guns is heavy handed?

A: It was five Korean security guards and 30 to 40 foreigners so they had to defend themselves.

Q: I understand you have agreed to pay compensation to the victims, four of whom have had hospital treatment?

A: I was going to pay compensation today in front of The Seoul Times, but as the victims have not turned up and since this incident has caused my business a lot of damage I refuse to pay there medical bills. (Note* As this interview was finishing one of the victims appeared but Mr. Shin refused to change his mind)

The following part is an interview with a Team One security guard called Mr. Kim(Mr. Kim was the lone security guard present inside Helios that night).

Q: Mr. Kim I understand that you were hit with a 500-cc glass. Can you explain how this happened?

A: When I was helping to escort the foreigners outside, there was a lot of pushing, one of the foreigners was holding a 500-cc glass which accidentally hit me on the cheek.

Q: So it wasn't intentional?

A: No it wasn't.

Q: Why was there glass on the floor?

A: The reason for that was I saw the foreigner standing with the glass in his hand and fearing that he might use it as a weapon I knocked it out of his hand, breaking it.

Q: Were you outside when the fighting broke out?

A: No, I came back inside with Mr. Shin.

Q: What triggered the fighting outside?

A: A security guard was hit so there was mayhem, the first time the tear gas was shot was an accident but the second time was on purpose as the foreigners were calling to other foreigners to come and help out. There was hysteria especially by the women which didn't help.

The follwing is an interview with the Itaewon Police officer only known as Mr. Min.

Q: Why weren't any details of the victims or the security team taken, as only one of the victims were asked. Did they want to make a statement despite the fact that there were at least four badly injured victims there?

A: Mr. Min denied the allegations that they deliberately disregarded foreigners' "pleas" for legal assistance. We have three statements, two from the security team and one foreigner girl.

Q: Can you describe the scene that you arrived at?

A: When we arrived we said they had to break up the physical violence between about 30 Irish people and six Korean security guards. He said both the foreign victims and the guards were hurt during the violence.

The following witness account was based on the interviews with the foreigners present. (11 men: 8 Irish, 2 Candians, 1 American and 13 women) who were on the scene on that night.

At 3:00 a.m. a bouncer asked us to leave, we asked to for time to sing one more song after the song finished the bouncer returned and we again asked for time to sing one more song, immediately a man, manager comes around the back of the group with a baton, he started cursing and screaming his lungs out, tapping the table and the backs of the chairs with it, he was by now backed up by five men in grey suits Team One not the black version of the bouncer, they(security team) surrounded the group some of whom had batons drawn.

I was armlocked by two men with grey suits on my left arm and the black uniformed bouncer on the right arm, and pushed out the door where I then went down the stairs, finally when all the customers had left the five or six security staff stand on the steps in a show of strength one with a riot shield. All the foreigners are outside and heading away when the security man runs past with the riot shield, I follow him where I find people on the pavement, people been hit with batons, a gun is pointed in the face of one of us, some four to five shots are let off and then the tear gas is released dispersing most of the crowd, including me where I make my way to a convenience store to wash out my eyes.

Then what actually happened on that night? Based on all parties involved in the incident the real story goes like this.

At roughly 2:30 and 2:55 a.m. last drinks were served. At 3:00am the foreigners were asked to leave by the bouncer in the black uniform, where upon they asked for time to sing a song and finish their drinks. This time they were given but when the bouncer came back a second time they asked for yet more time.

By this time the bar manager had to let most of his staff go home and was left with just one bouncer, manager says the foreigners became rude and used bad language which he fully understands as he is Kyopo or Korean-American. The foreigners say he produced a bat from behind the bar and proceeded to tap the table and chairs and started cursing and screaming.

He proceeded to call for help from Team One, the local security team which is based in the Itaewon clubs and bars like Limelight, UN Bar and King Club. This produced five security guards in grey suits. These also carried bats some of which were produced. the manager says he asked the Team One to escort the guests outside?

Pushing and shoving started as irate customers are forcibly removed, in this melee the black suited bouncer says he was accidentally struck on the cheek by one of the foreigners, He then hits the glass out of the foreigners hand thus breaking the glass on the carpet, this is in direct disagreement with the manager who said his bouncer was attacked by been hit in the face, prompting him to reiterate his comment "to escort the foreigners outside" while also giving the order "I don't want any violence in here."

Between 3:20 a.m. and 4:10 a.m. all foreigners have left depending on which report. the manager says the foreigners had left the building by 4:10 a.m. despite a medical report for one of the victims been at 3:59 a.m.

After everyone has left, the security team gather on the stairs, one of which has a riot shield. The foreigners are outside at least five to 10 meters away, the security staff are reportedly returning to their positions in the other Itaewon bars when fighting breaks out.

Who started this is THE key point as the security team are not allowed to use their weapons or attack anyone unless they are attacked first.

The foreigners say they were hit first they kept physically pushing us and guys had already been whacked with the bats until finally I just had enough, I pushed one of the guys(security team) back and he threatened me with his bat, then we started wrestling?

While on the Helios side they say that a security team member a Mr. Lee was struck first outside, causing all hell to break loose.

What cannot be disputed is the damage both physical and mental that followed, four foreigners needed treatment, two needed stitches and two x-rays. A total of 10 foreigners received blows from bats and of the remaining 13 women and one man most suffered from the tear gas.

A lot of controversy surrounds the Itaewon Police and their actions in this incident. Two foreign women have said they approached the police officers there and asked to make a statement but were refused. One victim with a blood wound was asked to make a statement by the Itaewon Police translator with the reported quote "Talk now or never, tomorrow no."

Three statements were taken, one from a foreign woman and two from Team One security staff. Reports from a witness of the police standing by as he was been hit with a bat on the ground and security guards with their guns drawn has proved alarming to the foreign community.

What are the reasons? This situation demanded strong policing but has again highlighted the problems and failings of the Itaewon Police Force, where language problems have again arisen.

What often incenses foreigners is why in the Itaewon area there are so few bi-lingual officers? This case has again proved the inadequacies of the police force who have left the foreign community feeling angered and alone. Strong policing is needed in these situations, and those involved should be made to make statements. Foreigners lack of trust in the police force was highlighted by victims refusing to give statements due to fear of there words been misconstrued by independent ranslators.

Certainly, there have been cultural differences in this incident, it is a well known fact that a lot of the foreigners involved (the Irish) love to sing, which can understandably be annoying and an inconvenience to patrons who wish to go home, how management deal with this is the key. When you are dealing with a group of 23 people most of whom have been drinking and are oblivious to your predicament it is a difficult situation that requires the patience.

Foreigners are well used to hearing the phrase "Time up" but never take it as literally as there Korean counterparts. The sight of a Korean girlfriend waiting at the door of a bar with her coat on while her boyfriend finishes his drink is well known.

It is this gap between taking the literal meaning of "Time up" to the foreigners version of "when the drink is finished"is the initial disagreement in this incident. It seems obvious the foreigners overstayed there welcome and were accommodated up to a point but the Helios management and the security teams methods in escorting the guests outside have proved a mistake.

Their inability to deal with this situation properly from the use of bats inside as a means of reinforcing there point to the arm-locking and pushing of guests only inflames a situation.

Why the security team decided to return to there other posts in Limelight etc while disgruntled foreigners mingled outside is puzzling. Any bouncer with a shred of common sense would wait till the crowd had left, one wonders what training these men got?

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    Seoul Gaels Clinch Third Asian Football Title
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    David Copperfield to Captivate Seoul Audience

Mr. Mark Basquille, who previously served as art director for The Seoul Times, is now serving as special correspondent. The famed publishing design expert is also artist and ardent writer. He lives nowin Dublin, Ireland. His website is






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