Judge clears man of raping lover's daughter, criticises police probe

Court notes 'disquieting aspects' of testimony by live-in lover's daughter, the alleged victim

Police investigations into a report of rape "should have been carried out better than they were", said a High Court judge, as he cleared a 57-year-old man of raping the daughter of his live-in lover.

No photographs had been taken by police of the interior of the cabin of the prime mover where the rapes were alleged to have taken place.

This would have been "important evidence", said Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu. Only photos of the exterior were taken by the police and the vehicle was subsequently scrapped.

The alleged victim, who is now 23, had claimed that between 2009 and 2011, when she was between 15 and 16 years old, the accused would drive her to a forested area in Punggol in a prime mover.

Over a period of two years, she was molested and raped on the rear bench behind the front driver's and passenger's seats, she said. In court, she described the bench as having a "cushion" which could sit four persons in a squeeze. The cabin was furnished with curtains stretching along the side windows and the windscreen, she said.

But the accused disputed her description. He said dirty tools and equipment would be placed on the bench. His employer, who was called to testify as a prosecution witness, confirmed that the equipment would take up half the seat and the inside of the cabin would be filthy with oil stains.

In his judgment, Justice Kan said that based on the description of the accused and his employer, the cabin was not a place where the accused could carry out the acts described by the alleged victim.

He noted that her description of the cabin was "confusing". She was also unable or unwilling to draw a sketch of the interior. The judge also noted other "disquieting aspects" of her recounting of events.

Two incidents of sexual abuse allegedly took place in the family flat in 2010. The alleged victim said one of the incidents took place after the accused told her 13-year-old sister to leave the flat to buy lunch.

But Justice Kan noted that the younger sister made no mention of this when she was on the stand, and she was not asked about it.

During the trial last year, the court heard that the alleged victim lived with her mother, older brother, younger sister and the accused from 2004 to 2011. The accused, a crane operator, contributed to the family's expenses.

The alleged victim first told her boyfriend in 2010 that the accused had raped her. He persuaded her to tell her mother, which she eventually did a year later in 2011.

The mother said the girl told her only that the accused had "touched" her and she did not want to go to the police, so nothing was done.

In December 2012, the alleged victim and her younger sister revealed to each other that they had been sexually abused by the accused, and they decided to tell their brother.

Angered by what he heard, the brother made a police report on his own.

Justice Kan said the alleged victim's description of the cabin, her contradictory accounts of the sex acts, and the lack of corroboration had a "negative impact on her credibility". Her testimony was "not unusually compelling or convincing", he said.

"When there are substantial flaws and shortcomings in the evidence as there are here, there will be reasonable doubts," he said.

After he was acquitted, the man, through his pro bono lawyer Abraham Vergis, said: "I am so grateful to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and my lawyers, who worked hard to prove my innocence despite having very little time to prepare for trial."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'Judge clears man of rape, criticises police probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe