SINGAPORE: A year into his new maid's employment, a man grew unhappy with her work and started to physically abuse her - slapping her repeatedly on her face, splashing hot water and throwing a filled water bottle at her.
The abuse culminated in the 24-year-old Myanmar national attempting to jump from the corridor on the ninth floor, said the prosecution.
On Thursday (Nov 26), 48-year-old James Ong Teck Keong was found guilty of five charges, mostly of causing hurt to a domestic helper. He was acquitted of a sixth charge of hitting her with a rolled-up newspaper.
Ong had contested the charges at trial, but the judge found him guilty of most of the charges after reviewing the evidence, including his admissions in police statements.
The victim was employed by Ong and his wife in August 2014 as a domestic helper, with the abuse beginning in late 2015.
He slapped her face on three occasions between late 2015 and 2016, when he was unhappy with her attitude or her work. He also threw a filled water bottle at her shortly after the second slapping incident.
In late 2016, they had a dispute about the temperature of the water used to make the milk for Ong's son.
Ong splashed hot water on the maid's waist and left arm, causing a burn that left her unable to shower or sleep properly for two weeks.
She could not call her mother as her employers had locked up her phone, said the prosecutors, so she sought help from another domestic helper living in the same block to call home.
On Jul 13, 2017, Ong returned home angry because his wife had been calling him repeatedly, saying the victim took a packet of milk powder without permission.
Ong had purportedly used a rolled-up newspaper to hit his wife, his son and the maid and scolded them. However, this event was disputed at trial. The prosecution claimed that the scolding was so loud the other maid two floors up heard it, but Ong's wife said the hits were done in a joking manner.
The next morning, after Ong's wife lectured her, the victim tried to commit suicide by jumping from the corridor on the ninth floor. Ong's wife, along with the other maid, restrained the victim.
The abuse was uncovered when the police investigated the attempted suicide.
JUDGE'S REASONS FOR CONVICTION
Explaining her reasons to convict Ong of five of the six charges, the judge said she kept in mind that the victim had left Singapore in 2018 and did not return to testify.
Therefore, the prosecution relied mainly on Ong's police statements and testimony in court to prove their case that he had been abusing the victim since late 2015.
The defence accepted that some incidents did take place, but said their client did not commit the offences stated in the charges, adding that the incidents involving the hot water and filled water bottle were accidents.
They argued that one of the slaps was "an accident" while the others were "merely friendly taps" to get her attention.
The judge pointed to inconsistencies in Ong's explanations for the different incidents given in his police statements, during examination and cross-examination.
For example, for one slapping incident, Ong initially admitted that he had swung his hand "in the sky" and slapped the maid. However, he testified in court that he had swung his hand as he did not want to listen to her any more and thought he had hit or touched her face accidentally.
During cross-examination, he agreed that he was standing about 6cm away from the maid as the kitchen was very small and conceded that he knew he was certainly going to hit her.
THE HOT WATER INCIDENT
The maid had maintained in her written statements that Ong had deliberately poured or thrown the hot water at her.
Ong said this was an accident, but gave several conflicting versions about how it occurred, said the judge. These include: accidentally splashing the water on her when the maid threw her arms around and hit his hand; spilling it on her when he was shaking the bottle; and accidentally spilling it on her when he showed her it was hot.
"In my view, Mr Ong's vacillation in his accounts and inability to provide a consistent position on how he had accidentally splashed the water on (the victim) reinforces the prosecution's case that it was not an accident after all," said the judge.
"This was further bolstered by Mr Ong's agreement in court that he knew that there was a high chance that the water will come out from the kettle and splash on the woman."
On why she acquitted Ong for the newspaper charge, the judge said Ong had consistently maintained in his statements and evidence in court that he had used the newspaper to hit the maid, his wife and his son "lightly" and that they would smile and take it as a joke.
Ong's wife also corroborated his evidence by giving a similar account. The judge said the prosecution had not proven this charge beyond a reasonable doubt and acquitted him.
Parties will return at a later date for mitigation and sentencing.