Sunday 2 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 8

Violence hindered rescue ops: SCDF officer
Rioters turned on her team as they were evacuating accident victim
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2014

THE commander of a rescue squad was shocked when rioters turned on her team even as they were evacuating victims from the scene of the fatal accident in Little India on Dec 8.

"I was quite perplexed - why were they throwing projectiles at responders?" said Lieutenant Tiffany Neo from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). "It was quite confusing and a bit disheartening because we were trying to help."

Testifying on the eighth day of the public hearing into the riot, Lt Neo told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) how the violence had unfolded and hindered her 10-man team from Central Fire Station while they conducted rescue operations.

Rioters who had initially been lobbing projectiles at the bus turned their attention onto the first responders, after they had extricated the accident victim's body and were trying to move it from the scene on a stretcher.

"Some in the crowd shouted, and others also joined in the shouting," said Lt Neo. "It was really, really noisy - even though I was able to communicate with my operations centre, I couldn't hear if they communicated back. I had to shout to my team almost at the top of my voice."

The 26-year-old officer added that when the SCDF officers started to move the body away with the help of police escorts, the crowd began hurling projectiles towards them.

"I also got hit twice on my back by a member of the crowd using his hand, but I did not turn back to look as I was focused on getting the body to the ambulance," she said.

After they had done that, Lt Neo and a fellow SCDF officer boarded the damaged bus to rescue the timekeeper and bus driver. But the mob did not stop lobbing items at them, even while they were in the bus.

Video footage taken from a camera inside the bus showed Lt Neo covering bus driver Lee Kim Huat's head with her arms, as items such as beer bottles and stones whizzed by.

As Mr Lee ducked for cover, Lt Neo could be seen standing over him and shielding him with her own body.

She handed Mr Lee a helmet before the group left the bus, protected by police officers holding shields.

The missiles continued to fly at them with no respite, said Lt Neo, hitting one of her men in the ribs and immobilising him.

Nonetheless, the Home Team officers managed to convey both the driver and the timekeeper, who were both injured, to a waiting ambulance.

Lt Neo told the inquiry that after they had completed the rescue, she made the decision to round up her team and leave the scene.

"I believed we had completed the task we were supposed to do, and I felt that staying there compromised me and my team's safety, so I decided to pull all of us out," she added.

This decision by Lt Neo was defended by SCDF Deputy Commissioner Jackson Lim, who also appeared before the inquiry yesterday. "The focus really was on the road traffic accident, and to save all the injured, and we even took pains to remove the dead man pinned underneath," said Mr Lim, who testified in the afternoon.

"Even after doing all of that, our people still continued to be attacked," he added.

"The decision to withdraw, to me, was a good decision," he added, noting that it was "temporary" as the fire engines returned later to put out the fires started in the police cars and ambulance.

Another SCDF witness, Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Seet, also homed in on his subordinate's decision as an example of a "sound decision despite the lack of an established SOP (standard operating procedure)".

The committee also praised Lt Neo's decision to break with protocol when she ordered her men to move the body of the victim away from the mob before the situation worsened.

Under normal conditions, the body of a victim in a fatal accident should not be moved from the scene, but instead should be handed over to police for investigation.

She had also overruled the paramedics, who did not want the body in the ambulance as it broke with standard operating procedure. But she reasoned that none of the nearby emergency vehicles had the space to take both the stretcher and the body.

"We didn't want other people to grab hold of it, or to take pictures of it," said Lt Neo.

This drew praise from committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam, who said: "What you decided at that time was the common-sense call: to break the practice that you had to hand over the body.

"Common sense on that day was a rare commodity, and I'm sure they (committee members) all join me in commending you."

The inquiry resumes next Monday with police officers from the Special Operations Command expected to testify.

'No danger' of officer being crushed
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2014

IT WAS a close shave for the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer who reached under a bus to pull out the body of an accident victim in Little India.

The vehicle, which was jacked up on one side for the extrication of the body, suddenly dropped after it was rocked by a mob of foreign workers riled up after one of their own was run over and killed by the bus on Dec 8.

The SCDF rescuer, however, would not have been pinned under the 41-seater bus, said his commander, Lieutenant Tiffany Neo. This is because the officer had only reached into the undercarriage of the bus with his arms, rather than crawl under it, as testified by a police officer earlier.

Lt Neo clarified this yesterday when she appeared before the Committee of Inquiry into the riot.

Senior Station Inspector Akhbar Ali, one of the first police officers on the scene, had told the inquiry on Thursday that the SCDF officer crawled under the vehicle moments before the hydraulic jack holding it up collapsed.

Video footage from a camera on an SCDF vehicle played in court also showed the bus, which was elevated on one side at first, suddenly dropping to its wheels.

State Counsel Tan Soo Tet had said: "It was a very dangerous situation, he could have had quite serious injuries."

But Lt Neo replied: "At most, he would have been hit a little. He wouldn't have been crushed."

When asked by the committee if she knew what actually caused the bus to fall, Lt Neo said she found out only a few days after the riot.

"Apparently some guy was trying to climb into the bus. It shook the bus and it went off its position," she said.

Plan for police and SCDF to share live footage
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2014

THE Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) plans to share live footage captured by cameras on its vehicles with the police, as part of an information sharing initiative to help both agencies work better together during a crisis.

Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Seet yesterday told the Committee of Inquiry into the Dec 8 riot that the SCDF operations centre at its Ubi headquarters had a live feed of what was happening on the ground during the unrest in Little India.

The footage was captured by a camera installed on the fire engine that was deployed to the scene, he said.

This, however, could not be directly transmitted to the police, said the commander of the 1st SCDF Division.

"So that night, it was picking up the phone and telling them what was being shown on our screen," he said.

Lt-Col Seet added that the rescue force is now looking into creating a technical link to share the live video feed with the police.

In the meantime, the police are also fast-tracking plans for new camera technology, which will be rolled out by this year.

"We are looking at putting cameras on vehicles and on the officers so that they don't have to call back or radio back to relate the information (of what is happening on the ground)," Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar told the committee last week.

This is aimed at resolving communication issues, such as jammed airwaves, that its ground officers encountered during the incident in Little India, he said.

Both Home Team agencies are also developing joint standard operating procedures to deal with civil disorder scenarios.

"Before, it was only for deliberate operations, such as in 2006 when we hosted the World Bank meeting," said Lt-Col Seet.

He said the SCDF will also be equipping ambulances with more helmets to give its paramedics more protection in the event of a civil unrest.

This was among a string of initiatives the force has planned following an after-action review in the aftermath of the riot.

Two commissioners on leave at time of riot
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2014

THE commissioners of both the police and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) were on leave when the riot broke out in Little India on Dec 8.

Their duties that night were covered by their deputies, both of whom have testified before the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the unrest last year.

But the absence of the two chiefs during the incident was not lost on COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam.

Yesterday, he remarked: "In both cases, the commissioner was on leave."

Commissioner of police Ng Joo Hee and his SCDF counterpart Eric Yap were, however, kept fully abreast of unfolding developments that night, their deputies told the committee.

For instance, SCDF deputy commissioner Jackson Lim, who appeared before the COI yesterday, said he had rung Mr Yap, who was then abroad on vacation, to update him on the situation.

Mr Ng, who was also on leave but not overseas, returned to work that evening.

In fact, he was already at the scene of the riot when his second-in-command T. Raja Kumar arrived with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran later in the night.

Mr Lim yesterday gave the inquiry an overview of SCDF operations and the rationale behind the ground decisions that were made by its officers during the unrest.

His evidence before the COI came after the deputy commissioner of police gave the committee a similar report on police actions.

Mr Yap has not been scheduled as a witness for the public hearing, which has heard from 18 Home Team officers.

Mr Ng will testify just before senior narcotics officer Adam Fashe Huddin, who is leading the COI investigation team, wraps up the proceedings as the final witness.

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7

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