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Teacher who taught at Hwa Chong Institution gets jail for drug-related charges

Teacher who taught at Hwa Chong Institution gets jail for drug-related charges

Christopher David Burge leaving court on Jan 23, 2020. (Photo: TODAYRaj Nadarajan)

SINGAPORE: A teacher who taught at Hwa Chong Institution was sentenced to nine months' jail on Thursday (Aug 27) for taking methamphetamine, despite his lawyer's argument that he be put on probation instead.

Christopher David Burge, 67, was arrested by Central Narcotics Bureau officers on Sep 20, 2018 at his home, where drugs and other related utensils were found. 

He later confessed to taking drugs on three occasions, including the morning of his arrest. 

Burge admitted to three charges of consuming methamphetamine, as well as the possession of drug utensils and about 6.12g of vegetable matter, later found to contain a substance found in synthetic cannabis. 

His lawyer, Withers KhattarWong partner Chenthil Kumarasingam told the court that Burge had been found to be suffering from a number of mental disorders, including adjustment disorder.

This came in the wake of the death of his 95-year-old father in March 2018 from injuries sustained in a car accident in December 2017 when Burge, who was driving the vehicle, fell asleep at the wheel.

When told by his sister that their father's condition had worsened in March 2018, Burge returned to Britain to see his father but arrived at the hospital 20 minutes after he had died.

Burge was later found culpable for causing his father's death in a British court.

READ: Hwa Chong Institution teacher faces drug charges including taking meth

However, the fact that he managed to escape more serious charges only added to his own sense of guilt for causing his father's death, Mr Kumarasingam said. 

Prior to the 2017 accident, the defence noted that Burge had only met his father irregularly over the years.

This was because Burge had to take care of his granddaughter while her mother - his daughter - was incarcerated on drug charges, and subsequently went through a divorce from his wife.

Findings by the defence's psychiatrists that Burge suffered from at least one mental disorder were confirmed by psychiatrists from the Institute of Mental Health, said Mr Kumarasingam.

Burge had a clean record at his advanced age, said Mr Kumarasingam, adding that the drugs had been privately consumed over a relatively short period of time, and that his client had been cooperative since his arrest.

He added that Burge had sought professional help after his arrest, as well as support from former students and colleagues from his three decades as a humanities teacher with Hwa Chong Institution.

The lawyer said a "vast group" of ex-students had come out in support of Burge, giving testimonials to the dedication and pastoral care he had shown as a teacher.

In response to queries from CNA, Hwa Chong Institution said Burge had been suspended from service since September 2018. 

"We expect all teachers to uphold high standards of conduct and to be good role models in both their professional and personal capacities. We are very disappointed with Christopher Burge’s transgressions," said a Hwa Chong Institution spokesperson. 

Deputy Public Prosecutor Rebecca Wong had asked that Burge be given 14 months imprisonment, noting that during investigations he had, by his own admission, said he enjoyed taking drugs and would have continued doing so had he not been arrested.

Mr Kumarasingam however argued that his client's sentence should be proportionate to his culpability, and called for him to be placed under a "suitably phrased" probation order instead.

In her judgment, District Judge Ong Luan Tze said Burge's circumstances were not exceptional enough to warrant probation, though she noted some leniency could be shown given the mitigating factors.

Mr Kumarasingam said he would be appealing the sentence. 

Burge remains out on bail. 

Source: CNA/az(rw)

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