Thursday 13 February 2014

Little India riot: Bus driver will not face charges

He could not foresee worker running after bus or falling into its path: AGC
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2014

THE bus driver involved in a fatal accident that sparked the Little India riot on Dec 8 last year will not face any criminal charges.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said yesterday Mr Lee Kim Huat, 55, was not found culpable of any offence after it "carefully and extensively studied" the evidence from the Traffic Police.

The riot erupted after the private bus driven by Mr Lee ran over and killed Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33.

A more complete picture of what happened in the minutes before he died emerged yesterday, when the AGC explained why no action will be taken against Mr Lee, who has the alias Lim Hai Tiong.

It said Mr Sakthivel, a construction worker, was "moderately to severely intoxicated" when he stumbled and fell into the path of the moving bus. Blood tests showed he had nearly three times the amount of alcohol allowed for motorists.

At 9.15pm that day, he boarded the BT & Tan bus in Tekka Lane, bound for his Jurong dormitory. When he suddenly dropped his Bermuda shorts, he was asked to get off. He complied, but then went after the bus as it moved off.

Mr Lee drove slowly through crowded Tekka Lane, heading towards Race Course Road at between 5.6kmh and 5.9kmh, the AGC said.

Mr Sakthivel caught up and touched the moving bus as he ran alongside it. Seconds later, he fell just as Mr Lee was turning left into Race Course Road and looking out for traffic from the right.

The AGC said Mr Lee could not have been expected to foresee that Mr Sakthivel had run after the bus, or that the worker would fall into its path.

Mr Lee will be a witness at the Committee of Inquiry hearing into the riot, which will begin next Wednesday.

On Monday, Indian national Chinnappa Vijayaragunatha Poopathi, 32, was jailed 15 weeks for continuing to be in an assembly after it was ordered to disperse. Cases against 24 others, who face rioting charges, are pending.

A spokesman for India's External Affairs Ministry said yesterday that India was aware of the verdict against Chinnappa in Singapore.

"We are in constant touch with the Singapore side so that all Indians are provided due process of law and legal assistance," said Mr Syed Akbaruddin.

He added that a senior ministry official will be in Singapore on Friday to discuss bilateral issues, as well as developments related to the riot.

Little India riot: First man sentenced gets 15 weeks' jail
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2014

A CONSTRUCTION worker who refused to leave the scene of last December's Little India riot was jailed for 15 weeks yesterday.

Indian national Chinnappa Vijayaragunatha Poopathi, 32, was the first of 25 accused to be sentenced. He was originally charged with rioting but pleaded guilty last Friday to an amended charge of continuing to be in an assembly after it had been ordered to disperse under Section 151 of the Penal Code.

The amended charge came after the Attorney-General's Chambers considered the extent of Chinnappa's involvement, his guilty plea and representations made by the defence.

Deputy Chief District Judge S. Jennifer Marie, who called Chinnappa's conduct "defiant and brazen", ordered the man's imprisonment to take effect from his arrest on Dec 8.

Chinnappa, who arrived in Singapore in October last year and earned $22 a day, had ignored calls for people to disperse. He continued to walk to the Kodai Canteen eatery near the junction of Kerbau and Chander Roads where groups of rioters had been hurling projectiles at Home Team personnel on the night of Dec 8.

Chinnappa joined an assembly of about 10 others gathered outside the canteen.

Court documents said he "shouted at the canteen employees, demanding that they reopen the shops and sell alcohol to them, further heightening tensions". He refused to leave until more police arrived, and was later arrested in Kerbau Road.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran Sellamuthoo urged the court to jail Chinnappa for at least four to six months, arguing that the sentence had to reflect the magnitude of the night's disorder and serve as a deterrent.

The riot - the worst violence in Singapore in more than four decades - left 49 Home Team officers injured and 23 emergency vehicles damaged.

Judge Marie imposed a 15-week sentence, which was close to the three months proposed by the defence, because she was "mindful that consideration of general deterrence be tempered by proportionality in relation to the severity of the offence committed as well as by the... culpability of the offender".

She added that Chinnappa had not been in the immediate vicinity of the riot's eruption in Race Course Road, nor had he been violent. He had also not caused any damage or impeded rescue work.

Defence counsel Sunil Sudheesan, who said the sentence was "quite fair", noted that his client had already spent about eight weeks in remand and could be released within a week on the basis of good behaviour.

Mr Sunil added: "He feels regret for his actions... He just wants to get on and go home."

Chinnappa could have been given up to two years' jail and/or a fine. Under a rioting charge, he would have faced up to seven years' jail and caning.

A second pre-trial conference has been set for the cases against the other 24 Indian nationals facing rioting charges.

At least 70 witnesses to testify at riot inquiry
Public hearing on Little India riot expected to last 4 weeks or more
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

AT LEAST 70 witnesses will give evidence at the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing on the Little India riot beginning next Wednesday.

The public hearing at Court 13 of the Subordinate Courts is expected to last at least four weeks, said the COI Secretariat in a statement yesterday.

Among the witnesses is Mr Lee Kim Huat, 55, the driver of the BT & Tan private bus which ran over and killed 33-year-old Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, thereby sparking the riot on Dec 8 last year.

Madam Wong Geck Woon, 38, the Singapore School Transport Association timekeeper who had told the intoxicated Mr Sakthivel to get off the bus after he dropped his bermuda shorts, will also testify.

Both were injured when an angry mob set upon them, as the situation deteriorated to become Singapore's worst public order disturbance in more than four decades.

Other witnesses include police and civil defence officers, and Little India business owners and residents. Dormitory operators and workers who were involved will also take the stand in the wide-ranging inquiry.

The COI's task is to establish how the riot unfolded and was managed by response teams, and consider whether current measures are adequate where foreign workers gather.

It will be presided over by a four-man panel chaired by former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam. It must submit its report to the Home Affairs Minister by June 13.

The COI Secretariat received 22 e-mails and letters from members of the public and three non-governmental organisations - Workfair Singapore, Maruah and Transient Workers Count Too - after its open call for information in December.

The panel has also spoken to workers at three dormitories on matters such as living conditions, as well as 20 of the 57 men repatriated in the aftermath.

But its job is not to determine the guilt of any individual and it will not interfere with any ongoing criminal cases.

On Tuesday, the Attorney- General's Chambers said Mr Lee, the bus driver, would not face any criminal charges as he was not found to have committed any offence in the accident.

Construction worker Singaravelu Vignesh, 23, is expected to be the second man to plead guilty next Monday to an amended charge of remaining in an assembly after it was ordered to disperse. Cases against 23 other Indian nationals are pending.

The Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill, giving law enforcement officers enhanced powers in Little India, is also up for a second reading in Parliament next Monday.

Commenting on criticism that the Bill might be discriminatory, Ministry of Home Affairs deputy secretary for operations and development Roy Quek said existing laws allow police to search suspects. He told the Singapore Public Service magazine, Challenge, that the intention was not for officers to go into Little India to do strip searches.

Similar laws to ensure safety and security are found in the Public Order Act, which covers special events such as National Day and the Formula One Night Race. Mr Quek added: "We just ported (the laws) over to the special zone that is now Little India. So it's no different from what we already have."

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