Caretaker behind church blaze jailed

Yeo Liang Chai, who set fire to a room in St Hilda's Church and tried to cover his tracks, was jailed for 11/2 years yesterday.
Yeo Liang Chai, who set fire to a room in St Hilda's Church and tried to cover his tracks, was jailed for 11/2 years yesterday.ST FILE PHOTO

Angry with what he considered to be a security lapse at his workplace, a St Hilda's Church caretaker decided to set fire to a room at the Ceylon Road place of worship on Easter - April 16.

Yeo Liang Chai, 60, pretended to know nothing about the blaze and tried to put it out when it was discovered. When the police arrived, he showed an officer a note with the word "jihad" he had written, in an attempt to pin the blame on friends of one of the church's Malay contractors.

He was jailed for 11/2 years yesterday after pleading guilty the day before to one count each of committing mischief by fire and intentionally perverting the course of justice.

Yeo had started working at the church on Dec 1 last year.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Andrew Tan said: "During his stint as a full-time caretaker, the accused discovered that there were many practices which he considered to be security and safety lapses. He aired his views and suggestions on numerous occasions. However, his superiors and fellow colleagues did not think the lapses were significant."

At about 7am on April 16, Yeo found a room unlocked. Incensed by what he felt was a security lapse, he took a bottle of kerosene and set fire to another room.

The fire caused over $32,000 in damage, the court heard.

No one was injured, according to an earlier police statement.

Yeo showed police the "jihad" note to mislead investigators.

DPP Tan said: "The accused recalled a previous incident in December 2016 whereby one of the church's in-house Malay contractors was arrested for theft. The accused believed that he could use the note to create the impression that the friends of the Malay contractor wanted to seek revenge for the arrest."

Yeo was taken to Bedok Police Division for questioning on the day of the fire and finally came clean at about 4pm that day.

DPP Tan urged District Judge May Mesenas to jail him for at least 11/2 years, saying Yeo's note could be "construed as racially and religiously inflammatory".

He added: "It is indisputable that attributing an arson to a jihad is an extremely serious offence, and has significant potential to damage racial and religious relations in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'Caretaker behind church blaze jailed'. Print Edition | Subscribe