SINGAPORE — Two fire station commanders who were sentenced to 10 weeks' jail each over their roles in the ragging death of a 22-year-old full time national serviceman in May 2018 will now face harsher jail terms after the prosecution on Monday (5 April) successfully appealed to the High Court against a district judge's decision to amend their charges.
Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 40, and First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 42, had originally been charged with abetment by intentionally aiding their servicemen from Tuas View Fire Station to cause grievous hurt to Corporal Kok Yuen Chin by doing a rash act which endangered human life.
Chong was the commander while Nazhan was the deputy commander in charge of Tuas View Fire Station’s Rota 3 officers. A total of five SCDF servicemen, including Chong and Nazhan, were charged over Kok’s death in July 2018.
The charges stated that the commanders had failed to prevent the servicemen from making Kok enter the pump well at the Fire Station and, as a result, Kok drowned.
After a trial at the State Courts, the district judge reduced Chong and Nazhan's charges from committing a rash act to committing a negligent act which endangered human life by failing to prevent the servicemen from making Kok enter the 12m-deep well.
In his oral remarks disagreeing with the lower court's decision on Monday, Justice See Kee Oon said, "Properly evaluated, the evidence plainly and cogently led to the compelling inference that both the accused persons, like all the other servicemen, knew that it was virtually inevitable that CPL Kok would have been thrown or pushed into the pump well if he had not voluntarily entered it."
The judge added, "Both accused persons had full knowledge of the servicemen’s intent and the expected outcome. They did nothing to enforce the prohibition against ragging. Their conscious and deliberate inaction was a clear sanction for the servicemen to carry on with the activity. Having regard to their evidence, it is clear that there was advertence to the obvious risks associated with the “kolam”. They chose to ignore the risks or to trivialise the possible dangers. Their illegal omissions would constitute rashness."
Justice See will hear arguments on an appropriate sentence and the offenders' mitigation pleas at a later date.
While the amended charges are punishable with up to three months’ jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500, the original charges carry a harsher jail term of up to two years and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
About the case
On Kok’s last day of duty on 13 May 2018, he was celebrating his impending operationally ready date (ORD) in three days’ time. Rota 3 officers gathered at the Fire Station’s watch room on the ground floor at about 8.30pm to commemorate his ORD with a cake and a plaque.
Staff Sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood then suggested that Kok partake in an ORD ritual of entering the pump well, or “kolam”, despite it being a form of ragging explicitly prohibited in SCDF.
Kok was reluctant to do so and he was carried to the well, which was filled with water to a depth of 11m. He was egged on to remove his personal belongings and sat at the edge of the well. Eventually, another officer, First Warrant Officer Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, told Fatwa to push Kok.
Fatwa did so and Kok fell into the water without resurfacing. He was found 36 minutes later and was pronounced dead by paramedics.
During the commanders’ trial, the court heard that Chong did not accompany his subordinates to the well but stuck his head out of a room window to tell the group not to film the incident.
Meanwhile, Nazhan followed the group to the well but left for his office before the incident occured.
Farid, who instigated Fatwa to push Kok into the well, was jailed for 13 months for abetting Fatwa to commit a rash act.
Meanwhile, Fatwa was jailed for one year for committing a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide and abetting Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi in the obstruction of justice by asking him to delete a video of the incident.
Adighazali, who filmed Kok being pushed into the well on his phone, deleted the recording at Fatwa's instigation. He was jailed for one month for obstructing the course of justice by deleting the evidence.
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