SINGAPORE: A veteran athletics coach with 35 years of experience was sentenced to 21 months in jail on Wednesday (Jul 22) for molesting a teenage athlete twice in 2013.
Loh Siang Piow, 75, also known as Loh Chan Pew, was found guilty in June of two charges of using criminal force on the woman at Tampines Stadium in order to outrage her modesty. The trial began in January 2018.
In sentencing, District Judge Marvin Bay said there was an “egregious abuse of trust” as young trainees are placed in the care of coaches with “legitimate expectation” from trainees, parents and the public that they will be protected from harm and exploitation.
“It is clear that the court must take a firm stand against offences committed against young persons who are placed in vulnerable situation where they may be susceptible to sexual exploitation or violation by the very persons entrusted with their welfare,” Judge Bay said.
He said there was “clear premeditation and devious planning” by Loh to sexually exploit the victim.
“There is no doubt that Ms C (the victim’s pseudonym) had suffered considerable psychological trauma, and had reported the offences only in 2016 when she had been concerned that Mr Loh might be given more trainees from her old school,” Judge Bay said in his verdict.
Though there was no skin-to-skin contact, the acts themselves were “prolonged”, particularly in the second instance which was comparatively more extensive than the first and caused her to experience what she eventually believed to be an orgasm, he added.
He added that though he had no doubt Loh was a "dedicated coach and sincere in his desire to promote athletics in Singapore”, it is the “other aspect of Loh (that is) the principal business of this court”.
“Despite his salutary contributions and public persona of dedication to sporting excellence, Loh has a darker side,” said Judge Bay.
"Loh is not beyond taking the opportunity afforded by the high regard of his coaching work.”
Loh will be appealing the sentence, his lawyer Mr Victor Lee told reporters.
Three other charges related to a second victim will be dealt with at a later date.
Loh first molested the woman, then 18 years old, in early March 2013.
They were on a bench along a corridor leading to the gate below the spectators' waiting area when he molested her while massaging the back of her thighs.
He committed the second offence that same month, on a massage bed inside an equipment room at the now-defunct stadium.
Again, he molested her while massaging the back of her thighs.
The victim was an aspiring national-level athlete who had some success in short-distance sprints and was coached by Loh.
The teen testified that Loh organised one-on-one training sessions for her about two months after she started training under him, from end-January 2013 to mid-March 2013.
During the first instance of molest, Loh massaged the back of her calves to her thighs.
The victim testified that she could feel Loh molesting her but told herself that the contact was probably accidental or that he was being clumsy, even though she felt confused and uncomfortable.
The second time Loh molested the victim, he had asked the victim if she wanted a massage and she said "no".
In response, he said "just massage" and "cool down massage", the victim testified. She tried to decline, but said Loh persisted.
She relented as she felt she had to comply given that he was her coach.
He took her to the equipment room and made her lie down before massaging her legs and molesting her. She told him to stop, but he said "just relax".
For the first and second offences, Loh was sentenced to eight and 13 months’ jail respectively. The two jail terms will run consecutively.
“PERSON OF GOOD CHARACTER”: DEFENCE COUNSEL
Defence counsel Mr Lee, who was representing Loh, argued for a shorter sentence of seven to 10 months in which the sentences for both charges ran concurrently.
This on account of several factors including his medical condition that puts him at risk of a stroke and heart attack and his many years of service to the public and athletics scene in Singapore.
They had submitted a set of testimonials about Loh’s character from people such as law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Associate Professor Eugene Tan and Mr Alexander Charles Louis, the president of the United Nations Association of Singapore.
Mr Lee also said that the 24 months’ sentence for the charges prosecution was seeking was “excessive” given that there was no skin-to-skin contact.
He also noted that Loh had “passed (through) most of life with a clean record (and) this is a one-off stain”.
“We are not crying old age. We are just saying to be fair to the man. He must pay the price, but the price must be fair,” Mr Lee said in court.
“More than the issue of age is the issue of the fact that (he is a) person of good character.”
Mr Lee also reiterated that the victim only lodged a police report in June 2016, more than three years after she was molested the second time.
“USED HIS POSITION TO ABUSE … TRUST”
In response, Deputy Public Prosecutor Gail Wong said that Loh’s ill health should not account for a reduction in his jail term, as nothing in his medical report showed that he would suffer disproportionately if he were incarcerated.
She also read out a reply from the Singapore Prison Service, which said that they have “vast experience” managing senior offenders and they have the healthcare resources available to manage an inmate’s health conditions.
Ms Wong pointed out that some of the testimonials are either undated or date back to more than 30 years ago, and said that no weight should be placed on Loh’s records, especially since he had used his position to abuse the trust of the victim.
She added that the sentencing must make sure to deter other coaches from abusing their authority over the young.
“The offender was good at track, but not so much as a person,” she said.