Saturday 22 February 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 2

The bus driver: I thought worker was already dead
He says he did not move bus after accident as he was 'not supposed to'
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2014

THE driver of a private bus that ran over an Indian foreign worker was grilled yesterday on why he did not try to render assistance to the victim in the immediate moments following the accident, which sparked a riot in Little India on Dec 8.

The Committee of Inquiry into the incident also asked Mr Lee Kim Huat why he had not turned on the monitors for his four bus camera feeds, which would have shown 33-year-old Sakthivel Kumaravelu running alongside the bus while it was moving.

To the first question, Mr Lee, 55, said via a Hokkien interpreter that he was overcome with fear when he saw the man under the wheel of his bus, especially when a crowd formed around the scene.

He told the inquiry it felt like the bus had gone over a hump when the accident happened, and he immediately stopped. It was only when he got down to take a look that he realised a fatality was involved.

When asked by former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam why he did not move the bus at that point, the driver said he was "not supposed to move anything" after a collision.

Pressed on whether moving the bus might have saved the construction worker's life, Mr Lee said his first thought was that Mr Sakthivel was already dead, given the size of the bus. "To my mind, since a big vehicle went over him, he must have been dead," he said.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage from the bus showed Mr Lee was the third person to get down after the accident, with most of the passengers following suit. Many people, including Mr Lee, are then seen squatting down to look at Mr Sakthivel's body pinned beneath the undercarriage.

"At that point in time (following the accident), I was very scared and it did not occur to me (to move the vehicle)," he said.

Mr Lee said timekeeper Wong Geck Woon - whom he knew as Xiao Mei - arrived shortly after from her station at nearby Tekka Lane, and told him the dead man was "the same drunk man" that had earlier been ejected from his bus. She was the one who had escorted him off the bus while it was still in Tekka Lane boarding passengers.

Mr Lee remembered he had seen Mr Sakthivel walk unsteadily towards the bus minutes before, and he had trouble getting on.

"The worker slipped while boarding the bus, but managed to hold on to the railings at the side of the steps," said Mr Lee in his recorded statement for the hearing.

He was expressionless when shown a roughly 30-second clip in which Mr Sakthivel could be seen walking beside the bus, lagging behind as it sped up, before catching up and falling into its path as it turned. His last view of Mr Sakthivel was after he had moved off, he said, but he lost sight of him as the bus sped up.

Another point of contention raised by the committee was why Mr Lee did not turn on the monitor that would have shown the feeds from four constantly running CCTV cameras of the front, sides and interior of the bus.

Mr Lee said he had not turned on the monitor as it reflected on the windscreen. He added: "Even if it were on, I don't think I could have seen him... because of the poor lighting of the road lights and the lamp posts."

Mr Selvam countered: "But we can see it very clearly on the screen, there's no lighting problem."

Mr Lee said his attention was focused on the people walking around. "Safety was the primary concern and the front was more important."

The Good Samaritan: Driver mistakes him for rioter
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2014

WAS the stranger trying to hit him - or help him?

Bus driver Lee Kim Huat had to look twice at a video clip he was shown in court yesterday, before he realised that a man he thought was a rioter was in fact trying to shield him from the violence during the early minutes of the mayhem on Dec 8.

When first shown the closed- circuit television footage, taken after the fatal accident that killed construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the 55-year-old almost immediately fingered the burly man in the footage as "the Indian man who wanted to hit me".

But Senior State Counsel David Khoo asked Mr Lee to keep watching the clip, which was taken from a CCTV camera mounted to the bus' side mirror.

It was only a few minutes later that Mr Lee came to understand that the Good Samaritan was actually protecting him and timekeeper Wong Geck Woon from the mob that night.

Dressed in a checkered shirt, the mystery man was the only person between rioters on the ground and Mr Lee.

The hero could also be seen trying to dissuade rioters from destroying the bus later on, after Mr Lee had closed the door to protect himself and Madam Wong.

Mr Khoo had said on the first day of the inquiry that efforts were made to find the hero, but while investigators had established his identity, he had since left the country.

There was also a media blitz in the early days after the riot to locate him after video clips surfaced online showing how he stood between rioters and the bus.

When asked again by Mr Khoo if he still felt that the stranger was trying to attack him, Mr Lee replied: "He protected me, (though) at first I thought he was trying to hit me."

The timekeeper: I've never racially abused workers
Woman denies she had history of being rude to foreign workers
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2014

BUS timekeeper Wong Geck Woon yesterday flatly denied allegations that she had a history of being rude to foreign workers.

"Sometimes, I can be quite hot-tempered in the course of my work and, sometimes, I raise my voice at them," she admitted.

But the 38-year-old insisted that she had never roughed up any worker during her five years working part-time as a time- keeper with the Singapore School Transport Association. Neither had she ever hurled racial insults or vulgarities at them nor called anyone names, she added.

Madam Wong was responding to questions from the chairman of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into last December's Little India riot, as she took the stand for the first time.

Former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam said: "Quite a number of people have told me that there is a long history of you being rude to the workers, humiliating them, calling them names, and that complaints were made against you."

The committee was seeking to establish why the mob directed its anger at Madam Wong, following the accident on Dec 8 last year that killed 33-year-old Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu.

She said she raised her voice at the workers at times, particularly when crowd control measures were necessary to manage those who were drunk and rowdy in queues along Tekka Lane.

She said she used a "very stern" tone of voice with Mr Sakthivel that night when telling him to get off the private bus. This was after he dropped his bermuda shorts while on board.

He would be run over and killed by the same bus minutes later. The sight of his body pinned under the vehicle is believed to have sparked the riot that night.

At yesterday's proceedings, Madam Wong was reserved, giving brief replies to most queries. She showed little emotion, even when video footage of her ordeal was screened in the courtroom.

Her account of how the violence unfolded was presented to the inquiry yesterday.

Madam Wong said in her statement that she could not tell if Mr Sakthivel was drunk when he first asked her which queue to join for buses heading for Jalan Papan.

This was because she could not smell the alcohol on his breath as her nose was blocked, she said.

Later, after the bus arrived and workers filled the seats, Mr Sakthivel jumped the queue, annoying other workers in line, who said he was drunk, she said. After boarding the bus, he walked to the rear and dropped his shorts.

When she told him to get off, he complied and was not "pushed or manhandled" by anyone, she said. While alighting, he tripped and landed on his buttocks on a step, before standing up and walking towards Race Course Road.

Madam Wong turned her attention to the next bus, which had just pulled in. Less than a minute later, two foreign workers told her the earlier bus had hit Mr Sakthivel. She rushed over to where the bus was, but was hit on the head before being hurried into the bus by a Good Samaritan wearing a checkered shirt.

On the steps of the bus, she turned around, raising her hands in a gesture, and told the mob "not to be so angry".

But as windows were smashed and projectiles like beer bottles and stones were thrown into the bus, Madam Wong cowered under a raincoat near the driver's seat.

Two men climbed on board and assaulted her before she was helped by police and firemen.

She suffered injuries from blows to her head, and cuts from the projectiles thrown.

"I have heard that these male Indian workers are very close- knit in that when something happens to one of them, they become protective," said Madam Wong in her statement.

Towards the end of her testimony, COI panel member, former commissioner of police Tee Tua Ba asked: "Are you afraid to go back to work?"

She merely answered: "I want to rest for the time being."

He then rephrased the question, asking: "Are you afraid to go back, for the time being?"

Her reply: "I don't know."

Claims of molestation, lack of police follow-up
By Lim Yan Liang and Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2014

BUS timekeeper Wong Geck Woon recounted yesterday how she was once molested by a foreign worker from India - but never heard back from the authorities after filing a police report.

The alleged incident took place while she was at her post in Tekka Lane on New Year's Day in 2012. It involved a worker she believed was drunk and who was seated at the bus queue area.

"I felt someone touch my backside as I was about to reach for my walkie-talkie," Madam Wong told the Committee of Inquiry convened to look into the Dec 8 Little India riot.

"I grabbed his hand, and accused him of molesting me, but he denied it."

The ensuing commotion drew a crowd, she said, including auxiliary police officers who escorted the foreign worker away and spoke to him. They then took her to a police station where she gave her statement to the police.

Madam Wong claimed that no documents were given to her, nor was there any follow-up.

However, before proceedings wrapped up yesterday, Senior State Counsel David Khoo reported to the court that an auxiliary police officer had called "999" on the night of the incident to inform the police of her allegation.

Mr Khoo said that in July 2012, Tanglin Police Division had, in fact, sent Madam Wong a letter informing her that its investigations had been completed and that after considering the facts and circumstances of the case, police had issued a warning to the perpetrator in lieu of prosecution.

"We also found out that the accused person was repatriated soon after the warning was given out," added Mr Khoo.

How Little India became a watering hole
Two witnesses point to proliferation of shops selling liquor in recent years
By Walter Sim And Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2014

IN RECENT years, more and more foreign workers tanked up on alcohol have been making a nuisance of themselves by vomiting and even urinating in the private buses that take them from Little India back to their dormitories.

The problem worsened to such a point that two years ago, the bus drivers decided not to ferry any worker who looked intoxicated.

Two witnesses made these statements in separate testimonies at yesterday's Committee of Inquiry hearing into last year's Little India riot, drawing from their own observations.

Both also pointed to the same root cause - the mushrooming of shops selling alcohol in the area.

"Nowadays, almost every shop sells liquor - even those selling vegetables and groceries," said bus timekeeper Wong Geck Woon, 38, who has worked part-time at her job for five years.

She noted that in the months leading up to the riot, more workers had to be turned away for drunkenness than before.

"Whether a drunk passenger is allowed to board the bus is ultimately up to the driver. Some may still be kind enough to let them board," she noted.

"Others would not allow (it) as they would worry about their vomiting and the subsequent cleanup."

Madam Wong, who was stationed at Tekka Lane to coordinate bus arrivals and direct workers to the correct queues, also observed: "Some workers would sleep at the open field in the vicinity of Tekka Lane when they were drunk. Some would take a taxi back to their dormitories."

She said that while the workers were generally well-behaved, more of them tended to get drunk on the first weekend of each month after receiving their salaries. There were also more frequent patrols by the police on the first two weekends of each month, she said.

Despite the agreement among the bus drivers, some intoxicated foreign workers still managed to board the buses.

Bus driver Lee Kim Huat, 55, who has ferried workers between their dormitories and Little India for 12 years, told the court: "Occasionally, about once a month, one of these workers will vomit in the bus on the return trip.

"For the past five years, this had been a regular occurrence. It is part of my job to clean up any mess."

While final conclusions have not been drawn, alcohol has been considered one likely factor which led to the violence on Dec 8. As a result, the Government has put in place restrictions on the sale, supply and public consumption of alcohol in Little India.

The Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill, passed in Parliament on Tuesday, empowers the authorities to cancel or suspend a permit or licence on short notice if a licensee flouts the alcohol ban.

Third man sentenced gets 18-week jail term
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2014

THE third man dealt with for his role in the Little India riot yesterday received an 18-week jail term, backdated to his arrest on Dec 8.

Indian national Selvaraj Karikalan, a 28-year-old driver with an engineering contractor, was originally charged with rioting, which carries a sentence of up to seven years' jail and caning.

But he admitted his guilt yesterday to an amended charge of continuing in an assembly after it was ordered to disperse, under Section 151 of the Penal Code.

Another 22 Indian nationals, who face rioting charges, have their cases pending.

According to court documents, Selvaraj - who has a fiancee in India and arrived in Singapore about three years ago to earn money for their marriage -made his way along Race Course Road at about 10.30pm on Dec 8.

He had intended to board a bus back to his dormitory when he came upon the mob.

He ignored two orders to disperse, and proceeded to take multiple pictures of the unfolding fracas, even running forward to snap close-up photographs of the damaged vehicles.

He subsequently "knowingly joined an assembly of more than 30 persons who were likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace", some of whom were still pelting objects at vehicles.

Selvaraj ran onto the road carriage and made gestures to the group which "bolstered the rowdy assembly", said Deputy Public Prosecutor Agnes Chan, who urged the court to jail him for at least four to six months.

He even "swung an object in the general direction of Race Course Road".

Considering the above, Selvaraj had shown blatant disregard for authority, and obstructed police efforts to restore calm, peace and order, said District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim.

She added that his culpability was "certainly higher" than that of the other two workers sentenced earlier, who had not been in the immediate vicinity of the destruction.

Little India Riot COI: Day 1

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