SINGAPORE: A 39-year-old man who left his suitcase unattended at Hougang MRT station in April, sparking a security scare and the shutdown of the station, was fined S$1,000 on Friday (Jun 9) for “causing annoyance to the public”.
Construction worker Wang Jianpo’s “grossly inconsiderate and thoughtless” act of leaving the blue suitcase unattended at the station platform while he ran an errand affected more than 4,000 commuters, including 663 who were evacuated from the station, deputy public prosecutor Daphne Lim said.
Wang, a Chinese national who has worked in Singapore for more than five years, left the suitcase at the station platform at about 2.10pm, before boarding a train to Chinatown to run an errand. Two commuters reported the suspicious item to the station manager when they noticed the suitcase was unattended.
The station was evacuated and shuttered, and train operator SBS Transit suspended train services, announcing all trains would skip the station “due to a security incident”. The police were called, and quickly identified Wang, the owner of the suitcase, through CCTV footage.
Officers also checked the contents of the suitcase, which contained household items, the police said. Train services resumed at about 4pm, after a shutdown that lasted nearly one-and-a-half hours. Wang was arrested at about 4.40pm, when he returned to Hougang MRT station to pick up his suitcase.
COURT NEEDS TO SEND A MESSAGE: PROSECUTION
“This is one of the most serious instances of the offence of public nuisance," Ms Lim said. “Significant hindrance was caused not only to SBS Transit in its provision of an essential public transport service; (commuters) also faced unnecessary travel disruptions as a result (of his actions)," the prosecutor said.
Seventy-one police officers were deployed to deal with the situation, aided by 15 SBS Transit employees. Thirty-six trains had to bypass the situation and as a result, 29 free bus services were deployed to ferry affected commuters, Ms Lim told the court.
She called for a fine of S$1,000 for Wang, which is the maximum for causing a public nuisance. “In this heightened security climate, this court (should) send a message that such acts … will be (met) with appropriately severe sanctions," she said.
"AN IGNORANT FOOL": DEFENCE
Defence lawyer Ng Shi Yang, who took on Wang’s case under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, urged the court to impose a fine of S$700.
“While Mr Wang’s case is severe, others are clearly more aggravated, causing twice the length of disruption and wasting twice the amount of public resources," Mr Ng said, pointing to the Woodleigh MRT incident, which took place just two weeks after Wang’s arrest. There have been other similar incidents in recent weeks, including at Aljunied MRT station.
Mr Ng noted that this is the first case to be prosecuted since the SGSecure movement was launched, and will mark “a milestone precedent”. He urged the court to carefully consider Wang’s sentence. If Wang is ordered to pay the maximum fine of S$1,000, “what room does it leave the court (for more aggravated cases)?”
He said Wang "is not the prankster or troublemaker that (the law) sets out to punish", and was instead an "ignorant fool". He had left his suitcase unattended because he felt it was safe for him to do so in Singapore, that it would not be stolen.
"The irony of the situation is not lost on him," Mr Ng said.