SINGAPORE: The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer who pushed full-time national serviceman Kok Yuen Chin into a pump well at a fire station, causing his death, took the witness stand on Tuesday (Jun 11).
Staff Sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, 34, gave testimony for the prosecution in the trial against rota commander and deputy commander Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, and First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 41.
The two men are contesting charges of causing grievous hurt to 22-year-old Corporal (CPL) Kok by not stopping the servicemen at the fire station from making CPL Kok enter the pump well.
Fatwa, who is currently on home detention while serving his sentence of one year and four weeks meted out in October last year, told the court that CPL Kok was well-liked by the other officers and that he personally considered him a friend.
On the day of the incident, CPL Kok was smiling when told about "kolam" or the ritual of entering the 12m-deep pump well, he said.
The prosecution showed a series of videos to Fatwa that showed CPL Kok smiling with a cake to celebrate his impending Operationally Ready Date (ORD) in a control room at Tuas View Fire Station on May 13 last year, along with videos of CPL Kok being carried by a group of men to the pump well that night.
Fatwa, who appeared leaner than when he was first charged in court over the incident, told the court that Nazhan and Chong were in the control room when CPL Kok's cake-cutting ceremony and plaque presentation took place.
The video showed CPL Kok grinning as the men laughed in the background, and he later gave a speech, which was not shown in court. Fatwa said CPL Kok told the group that he loved them and thanked them, and he received a plaque from Chong.
When Fatwa told CPL Kok "come, go kolam", the younger man smiled and told him "no, Encik", a term used to address someone older and more senior in rank.
While the "teasing" was going on in the control room, neither Chong nor Nazhan said or did anything, he said.
Fatwa said that while CPL Kok was being carried to the pump well from the control room at about 9pm, he thought he would enter the well voluntarily "for sure".
LTA CHONG TOLD GROUP NOT TO FILM
At one point in the closed-circuit television footage shown to the court, the group of about 10 men gathered near the pump well raised their hands and showed their phones.
This was in response to Chong telling the group not to film the incident, said Fatwa, who was unable to recall where exactly Chong was at that point.
Clips shown to the court depicted CPL Kok removing parts of his clothing and belongings, while Corporal Sok Leng also took off his boots.
This was because CPL Sok Leng was a swimming instructor and a good swimmer, said Fatwa.
Before Nazhan left the scene, he is shown raising his arm near the well. Fatwa explained that he did this as he was telling CPL Kok to jump nearer to the edge of the well if he could not swim.
Fatwa, who is due for early release in July, told the court that he did not know that CPL Kok could not swim.
He also said that nobody instructed the group to stop the activity, and said that if Chong or Nazhan had told him to stop, he would have as they were his supervisors.
After he is shown pushing CPL Kok into the well, following an alleged suggestion by co-accused First Warrant Officer Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, the men are seen scurrying around and removing their boots.
WE PANICKED, I DOVE IN BUT IT WAS DIFFICULT: WITNESS
"We started to panic," said Fatwa. "Because CPL Kok didn't resurface."
He said he had not known the actual depth of the well, which was 12m-deep and measured 1.8m across, and had never seen the bottom of the well before.
He had not been inside the well at Tuas View Fire Station before, but said he had been inside the well at Jurong Fire Station as part of horseplay between 2007 and 2009 when he began service there.
The men who jumped into the murky water to look for CPL Kok included Farid, CPL Sok Leng and himself, said Fatwa.
Sharing about his own attempt, he said he dove in legs-first and tried several times but could not find CPL Kok.
The men used tools including a ladder, a lifebuoy and ropes in their attempts, and began drawing the water out of the well even as rescue attempts continued.
After some water was taken out, CPL Sok Leng noticed a smaller hole at the bottom of the well. This was 6m deep, said the prosecutor.
Fatwa then asked for breathing apparatus that the officers used for firefighting, and used it to dive into the water.
It was difficult without it, he said, as there was water pressure, discomfort in his ears and he could not hold his breath that long.
Another officer who was in the well with him managed to enter the small, square hole and retrieved CPL Kok. Together they brought him to the surface, but he later died in hospital.
WITNESS SAYS HE HAS NIGHTMARES OVER INCIDENT, FEELS GUILTY
When cross-examined by Chong's defence lawyer Wee Pan Lee, Fatwa admitted that he has recurring nightmares about the incident and suffered insomnia.
He also feels guilt over it and saw a psychiatrist, he said.
However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan objected, saying the defence lawyer was trying to diagnose the witness on the stand.
The lawyer also questioned Fatwa about whether he would be able to recall the incident without the assistance of the videos he was shown, but Fatwa insisted that he could.
The officer, who has been suspended, told the court that SCDF is "very strict on ragging cases" and does not tolerate ragging.
However, when asked if he considered kolam to be ragging, he said: "I'm not so sure about that."
Fatwa, who has served in SCDF for 14 years, said there was one other kolam incident at Tuas View Fire Station that he recalled, on the last day of an officer's service there.
The trial continues this afternoon and is slated to run until Jun 21.
If found guilty of causing grievous hurt by a rash act, the commanders face a maximum of four years' jail, a S$10,000 fine, or both.
Other than Fatwa, Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi has also been sentenced, receiving one month's jail.
The remaining officer to be dealt with is Farid, who is set for a trial.