Saturday 1 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 7

Cop who charged at mob lauded for bravery
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 28 Feb 2014

A LONE traffic policeman, captured on camera charging at a violent mob in Little India with a baton in hand, was commended yesterday for his bravery by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot.

Sergeant Fadli Shaifuddin Mohamed Sani had testified earlier that he charged into the crowd two more times, before he was ordered to stand down. He had to pull back later to avoid being cornered and possibly having his firearm snatched from him.

His evidence, presented on the seventh day of the public hearing, was the first time the committee had heard of a police officer engaging the rioters with force. In the past few days, COI members had repeatedly asked why the police failed to "gravitate" towards the rioters or engage them before their vehicles were burned during the riot.

Sgt Fadli told the inquiry that he was dispatched to the scene at about 10pm on Dec 8. When he arrived in Race Course Road on his police motorcycle, glass bottles and other projectiles were being thrown at two police cars down the road.

About 50 of these "active" rioters standing near Kerbau Road began throwing projectiles in his direction. He then decided that his duty - to divert traffic away from the accident scene - had to take a back seat to restoring some semblance of "law and order".

"Instinctively, I charged at them with my baton drawn as I wanted them to know that the police were still in control of the scene," said the 27-year-old officer from the Traffic Police.

Video footage presented during yesterday's inquiry showed Sgt Fadli, who still had his helmet on, rushing at the crowd with his baton raised, and single-handedly scattering the mob towards Kerbau and Serangoon roads.

He is seen later back-pedalling to Race Course Road. Asked why he did so by State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy, he replied: "To have eye contact with the rioters and to show them I mean business."

It drew nods of approval and praises from the committee. COI member and former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba said: "What you have done is a very brave act; you wanted to assert control."

Two cops, two different reactions from COI
Young officer praised for charging at mob, veteran criticised for evacuating
By Lim Yan Liang And Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 28 Feb 2014

ONE young officer was praised, a seasoned veteran chastised.

Such were the contrasting reactions from the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on day seven of the hearing into the Little India riot on Dec 8 last year.

Even as Sergeant Fadli Shaifuddin Mohamed Sani was commended by the committee for confronting the violent mob with only a baton in hand, Senior Station Inspector Muhammad Adil Lawi had to defend his actions, which were recorded on video.

The clip, which showed a group of auxiliary police and Home Team officers, including SSI Adil, running out of an ambulance, was circulated widely on the Internet after the incident.

The same footage was played during the inquiry while SSI Adil was on the witness stand yesterday.

"You were the law, and you were running away, how does that reflect on the police force?" former NTUC president John De Payva asked the Traffic Police officer.

SSI Adil replied that the eight men in the ambulance - which was immobilised - would have been burned alive if they did not beat a retreat. He added that the vehicle was set on fire shortly after they had evacuated from it.

State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy told the inquiry that an auxiliary police officer had overheard a foreign worker say in Tamil as he closed in on the ambulance: "I want you all to die today."

The inquiry had earlier heard how SSI Adil found himself under siege from the moment he arrived on Race Course Road.

"I was in the midst of assisting the officers with traffic control when the crowd began hurling projectiles at my officers," said the 42-year-old.

He told the inquiry that there must have been an estimated 200 rioters against his team of four.

"At this point in time, projectiles were being thrown at us from various directions," he said.

"Nevertheless, I directed my officers to stand their ground, as it was vital that Race Course Road remained unobstructed and accessible from Bukit Timah as I knew (Special Operations Command) vehicles were en route."

SSI Adil said he and his men held their ground, but the "increasingly rowdy crowd" forced him to decide to direct his men to take cover in an ambulance nearby.

"When I heard one of the paramedics say (the rioters) were going to burn the ambulance with us inside, I felt that our lives were at stake," he added.

He then decided that it was time to leave the ambulance and regroup in Bukit Timah Road, where he knew other officers were stationed.

To ensure the safe evacuation of the officers, SSI Adil made it a point to be the last man out. "So that if anyone of them gets in trouble along the way, I will be there to assist," he said.

His action was praised by Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar at the inquiry last week.

But when asked by the COI if his decision to retreat was an "act of cowardice", SSI Adil disagreed and said: "At no time was I afraid."

The COI noted that his actions were in contrast to those of Sgt Fadli, 27, who had arrived earlier on a police motorcycle.

"We've heard testimony from many other police officers that they all hesitated to act because they felt that if they moved forward to effect arrests, they would be more or less overwhelmed, and maybe their guns taken away, and their lives at stake," COI member and former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba said to Sgt Fadli when the officer took the stand.

Video footage showed Sgt Fadli charging towards a group of about 50 rioters with just a baton in hand. He testified that he did the same thing two more times, before he was ordered to stand down by SSI Adil, his team leader.

This was because his initial success at dispersing the rioters did not last. The same footage showed a rioter re-emerging and throwing a rock towards him.

The young sergeant said about 40 of the "active rioters" returned shortly after, more incensed than before.

"They became rowdier and they were shouting loudly," he said. "I realised that they continued damaging the vehicles and hurled projectiles when I pulled back."

SSI Adil told him to stand down. "He said, 'Anything can happen to you, but you are holding a revolver with a lot of bullets - innocent parties can lose their lives.'"

SCDF officer nearly crushed during rescue
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 28 Feb 2014

A RESCUER who had crawled under the bus that ran over and killed a man in Little India to recover the victim's body pinned underneath, was nearly crushed by the 41-seater vehicle.

This happened after an angry crowd around the bus started pushing and shoving against the vehicle, causing the hydraulic jack used by Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers to raise the bus for the extrication to collapse.

The rescuer, an SCDF officer, got away just in time, and even managed to pull the victim's body out in the process, said Senior Station Inspector Akhbar Ali.

The deputy team leader from the Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre was testifying yesterday on day seven of the Committee of Inquiry into the Dec 8 riot.

In a video clip taken from an SCDF vehicle that was shown during the public hearing, the bus, which had been raised on its left rear end, was seen collapsing from the rocking caused by the crowd's shoving. "The hydraulic jack suddenly gave way," said SSI Akhbar.

The 44-year-old was one of the first responders to the scene of what was initially reported as a traffic accident.

He told the inquiry that his main priority at the time was to fend off the unruly crowd, which was pelting the bus with projectiles during the rescue operation.

He was also seen in the video trying to calm down some of the foreign workers, even as one man was shoving him and gesticulating in his face.

This was the first time that the committee heard how the lives of SCDF officers were put in peril as they carried out the extrication. Previous witnesses said that while projectiles were pelted in the direction of the bus, they were aimed at the bus driver and timekeeper, who were then seeking refuge on the vehicle.

The court also saw footage taken from Land Transport Authority closed-circuit television cameras, of SSI Akhbar's vehicle being flipped by rioters.

He said he was "frustrated" by the mob overturning his car, but did not intervene because rocks were "raining" down on him even as he was trying to control a separate crowd.

He sustained a few cuts and scratches on his head.

"It was the first time in my life I saw something like that," said the policeman of 25 years.

"The people near my car were jumping and clapping, and (from) the way they shouted, it was like they were so happy."

Witness list trimmed to cut repetition of testimony
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 28 Feb 2014

THE witness list for the public hearing into the Little India riot has been trimmed after the Committee of Inquiry decided not to call 39 of the 117 witnesses scheduled to testify.

This was decided after the Attorney-General's Chambers' team established that the evidence from the 39 witnesses "will be a repeat of what other ground officers have testified", said Senior State Counsel David Khoo yesterday. Their statements have been submitted to the committee, and chairman G. Pannir Selvam said: "We will take them as read."

The move cuts the total number of scheduled witnesses to 78 - with 24 people having already testified since the inquiry started last week. This does not include auxiliary police sergeant Mahmood Masdar, a last-minute witness called on Wednesday to clarify evidence given by one of his men, constable Srisivasangkar Subramaniam. Three Singapore Civil Defence Force officers will appear today - the eighth day of the hearing.

Police officers from the Special Operations Command, including its deputy commander, will appear next Monday. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim, the commander of Tanglin Police Division and the incident manager of the Dec 8 riot, will give his evidence next Tuesday.

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6

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