Father gets jail for killing mentally ill daughter in 'tragic case'

Father gets jail for killing mentally ill daughter in 'tragic case'

Exterior view of Singapore's Supreme Court
File photo of the exterior of Singapore's Supreme Court.

SINGAPORE: Depressed and suffering caregiver stress from caring for his jobless and mentally ill daughter, a man strangled his "beloved" child, before calling the police to say he had just killed his daughter.

Tan Tian Chye, 66, was sentenced on Monday (Oct 12) to two years and nine months' jail after pleading guilty to a charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The court heard that Tan, a Grab driver, lived with his wife and daughter, 35-year-old Tan Jiaping Desiree, at a flat in Bedok South Road.

Ms Tan graduated from university in 2006 but could not hold on to a full-time job, so her parents continued to provide for her.

In 2012, she fainted at a train station and Tan took her to a hospital, where she was assessed to have panic attacks with agoraphobia and hypochondriacal preoccupations.

After this, Ms Tan became very anxious about leaving the flat on her own, and grew very dependent on her parents and her boyfriend, who moved in to stay with her.

HER GROWING DEMANDS

Ms Tan became more particular and demanding towards her family members and her boyfriend, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Bhajanvir Singh.

She would ask her parents to clean any item in the flat that she felt was dirty and to do so repeatedly until she was satisfied.

If her parents got her food orders wrong, she would send them back to the stall to change the order, otherwise she would grow angry and scold them.

Tan often took time off from his job to take his daughter on outings so she could overcome her anxiety issues and later bought a second-hand car for her boyfriend so he could do the same.

In 2017, Ms Tan told her parents that she wanted to apply for a Build-To-Order flat with her boyfriend and began asking for more money, growing "more insistent and abusive".

She blamed her parents for not loving her and not providing enough for her, constantly berating them even over small matters.

On her insistence, her brother returned S$50,000 that his parents had spent on his education and this sum was given to Ms Tan.

Tan also borrowed S$10,000 from his brother and gave it to his daughter.

The daughter also demanded to be named the sole beneficiary of her parents' Central Provident Fund monies, growing very upset and scolding her mother when she realised she was not the sole beneficiary.

Her parents apologised to her and her mother changed her CPF nomination so that Ms Tan was the sole beneficiary, sending her a photo of the change to appease her.

WORSENING BEHAVIOUR AND CIGARETTE SMOKE ISSUE

In mid-2018, Ms Tan's behaviour worsened, constantly finding fault with her parents and scolding them with vulgarities. She started to complain about cigarette smoke in the flat, demanding that her parents find its source and making them fan away the smoke with cardboard and purchase powerful fans.

Tan and his wife did whatever necessary to pacify Ms Tan, apologising to her and bowing before her. On one occasion, at the urging of his wife, Tan slapped his wife in front of their daughter to appease her.

On Oct 22, 2018, Tan took his daughter to Changi General Hospital for her distress over the cigarette smoke and she was diagnosed with unspecified anxiety disorder.

However, she declined psychiatric medication "over self-perceived fears of psychological dependence on it".

She was discharged a day later and moved to her aunt's place to escape the smoke, but continued her "overbearing behaviour" towards her parents, asking them to transfer money to her, the court heard. She also told her father to drive more frequently to earn more money.

Ms Tan's mother could not handle her, leaving it to her husband to tackle their daughter's behaviour and demands.

"The accused felt very stressed by the deceased’s constant demands and scolding. He felt that she had caused both him and his wife to be almost on the verge of committing suicide," said the prosecution.

On the morning of Nov 19, 2018, Tan fetched his daughter from her aunt's home as she had instructed him the day before. He cancelled any Grab bookings he had as she instructed, and arrived at the home with boxes for her belongings.

As he was helping her pack, his daughter scolded him for coming late and being a "lousy" parent, and Tan apologised to her before driving her to a mall for lunch.

During lunch, Ms Tan continued nagging and scolding her father, clenching her fork tightly and saying that she felt like killing him with it.

Tan was frightened and kept apologising to her. When they got back to the Bedok flat, Ms Tan went to the kitchen.

THE INCIDENT

Afraid that his daughter might take something from the kitchen to harm him, Tan went to his son's former bedroom and took a metal pole from a partially dismantled drum set to arm himself.

He went to the kitchen with the pole and saw his daughter holding a knife and pointing it at him.

Tan hit his daughter with the pole until she fell to the floor, before taking a nearby cloth and pressing it down on his daughter's neck.

After a while, he realised she had stopped moving and released his grip, feeling shocked at what he had done.

He called the police, before calling his brother and calling the police a second time to say: "I just killed my daughter. I grab the pole and whack her. I think she die already."

Police arrived to see Tan in a crouching position at the entrance to the kitchen, with his daughter lying motionless on the kitchen floor. The towel was on her neck, while the knife and pole were nearby.

She was pronounced dead, with an autopsy finding her cause of death to be strangulation.

Tan was remanded for forensic psychiatric assessment and found to be suffering from a major depressive episode at the time of the crime, which substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts.

He felt that his daughter had placed himself and his wife "under such mental torment as to drive them to commit suicide", the court heard.

The psychiatrist also found that Tan had significant caregiver stress at the time of the offence, and both this and his depressive episode qualified Tan for a defence of diminished responsibility. 

A TRAGIC CASE: PROSECUTOR

Deputy Public Prosecutor Bhajanvir Singh asked for three years' jail, calling it a "tragic case" and agreeing with the defence that "this case deserves some sympathy".

"The accused was a doting father who was the deceased's main caregiver," said Mr Singh, adding that the victim's various psychiatric conditions had placed "tremendous stress" on the family.

Due to this stress, Tan was later diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and significant caregiver stress, both of which contributed to the offence and led to him taking the life of the deceased, "whom he loved dearly".

Defence lawyer Derek Kang asked for two years and nine months' jail, saying that his client had used a metal pole in the attack but said this was because his daughter was holding a knife.

She had also told him during lunch that she felt like killing him, which was a direct death threat, said Mr Kang.

"Ultimately, whatever sentence Your Honour decides, is not going to be a greater punishment than he has already suffered for killing his beloved daughter," he added.

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said this was a tragic case as agreed by both sides.

JUDGE FLAGS IMPORTANCE OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

"From all accounts, Mr Tan, you have been a selfless, loving and devoted father," she said, adding that he spent years caring for a daughter who suffered from psychiatric conditions but refused treatment.

She pointed to the defence's point that this case serves "as a stark reminder about the importance of mental health issues and families needing to stay alert" to such issues developing or affecting family members.

She said it was critical for society to enhance access to treatment for mental health issues and said it was "unfortunate" that the Tan family did not seek or was not given much help, support and intervention for Ms Tan and later her father.

She said Tan is now responding to treatment and urged him to comply with his treatment plan, and for his family to support him in the process.

She said that while Tan will no doubt continue to suffer pain and anguish for what he has done, she hopes the family will in time come to terms with what has happened and find closure.

Tan cried and said he understood, thanking the judge and all involved: "Thank you everybody. May God bless all of you."

For culpable homicide not amounting to murder, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years, fined or both. He cannot be caned as he is above 50.

Where to get help: Samaritans of Singapore operates a 24-hour hotline at 1800 221 4444, or you can email pat@sos.org.sg. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.

Source: CNA/ll

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