SCDF ragging case: Commanders' jail terms increased after appeal over Kok Yuen Chin's drowning in pump well
SINGAPORE: A rota commander and his deputy were handed longer jail terms on Monday (Apr 26) over the death of a full-time national serviceman under their charge after appeals by the prosecution and the deputy.
Former Tuas View Fire Station rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and his deputy Nazhan Mohamed Nazi were given 11 months and 10 months' jail respectively.
The jail terms were for one charge of intentionally aiding their servicemen to cause grievous hurt to 22-year-old Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, by doing a rash act which endangered human life.
They had failed to prevent servicemen under their charge from making CPL Kok enter a 12m-deep pump well at the fire station in May 2018, as part of a ragging ritual for the celebration of his impending Operationally Ready Date (ORD).
CPL Kok later died of drowning, after spending more than half an hour in the water, during which the rota's men tried frantically to rescue him to no avail.
READ: 'Faster go down': SCDF officer who found NSF Kok Yuen Chin's body at bottom of well recalls rescue attempt
Justice See Kee Oon said it is "extremely disquieting that there are commanders who condone ragging as horseplay as boys will be boys".
"The sentences I impose will be substantial to drive home the message that there is no place for ragging in NS," he said, adding that prohibitions against ragging must be enforced and NS commanders must take their responsibility to stamp out ragging seriously.
The prosecutors had asked for at least a year's jail for both men, saying they had "recklessly turned a blind eye to the ragging", leading to CPL Kok dying just three days shy of his ORD.
"(The commanders') sustained failure to rein in the servicemen and to prevent them from endangering CPL Kok’s life was an abuse of their authority and a breach of the trust reposed in them as commanders," they said.
Chong's lawyer asked for 10 weeks' jail, which Chong had already served while waiting for the appeal, while Nazhan's defence counsel called for a fine of S$6,000.
Chong and Nazhan had been sentenced by a lower court to 10 weeks' jail each in September 2020 for reduced charges of committing a negligent act to endanger human life.
The district court judge had reduced the charge after finding that the prosecution had not proven its case beyond reasonable doubt.
The prosecution later appealed to the High Court against the decision, asking for the more serious charges to be restored, while Nazhan appealed against his conviction and sentence. Chong did not make any appeal and instead served his 10 weeks' jail sentence. After Monday's sentence, he will have to serve another eight months and two weeks' jail.
Justice See Kee Oon ruled in the prosecution's favour, saying the weight of the evidence "fully supports the inference that CPL Kok was never a willing participant".
CPL Kok's father, who attended most of the hearings, told the media after the lower court's sentencing that the commanders should have stopped what happened.
"What else can I feel?" He said about the outcome then. "(My son) is gone. He's in another world ... We have to pass the days, we have no choice."
For abetting the causing of grievous hurt by a rash act, the commanders could have been given four years' jail, a S$10,000 fine, or both.
The rest who were involved in the case have been dealt with. The man who pushed CPL Kok into the well, Nur Fatwa Mahmood, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year and four weeks' jail in October 2018.
Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, who had asked Fatwa to push CPL Kok into the well, was jailed for 13 months in November 2019.
Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi was jailed for one month in December 2018 for deleting incriminating evidence.