Little India Riot: Police officers unable to recognise suspect

DSP N. Subramaniam (left) and Special Operations Command officer Lim Ke Wei said they could not recognise Mahalingam Thavamani, the first of 25 charged over their alleged role in the riot to claim trial. -- ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG
DSP N. Subramaniam (left) and Special Operations Command officer Lim Ke Wei said they could not recognise Mahalingam Thavamani, the first of 25 charged over their alleged role in the riot to claim trial. -- ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG

Lawyer says police 'made mistake' over man accused in Little India riot

The police officer who ordered the arrest of construction worker Mahalingam Thavamani on the night of the Little India riot told the court yesterday that he could not recognise the Indian national.

Thavamani, who was initially charged with rioting on Dec 8 last year, faces an amended charge of obstructing Deputy Superintendent of Police N. Subramaniam, for which he could face up to eight years in jail and/or a fine if convicted.

But DSP Subramaniam, who was called to the stand by the prosecution, admitted: "I'm not able to recognise the accused now, as my encounter with him then was brief."

Special Operations Command officer Lim Ke Wei, who assisted in the arrest by handing over the cuffs, also testified he could not recognise the 27-year-old in court.

That was because he had been focusing on a group of rioters who were pelting his officers with projectiles from across the road.

The third witness yesterday was a police sergeant who held the accused man's hands together while he was being cuffed. But his testimony was heard behind closed doors to protect his identity as an "intelligence officer".

Defence lawyer B.J. Lean is arguing that the allegations made against his client - the first among 25 men charged over their alleged role in the riot to claim trial - are false, and the police "made a mistake".

The DSP testified yesterday that he ordered Thavamani's arrest as he "was determined to enter Belilios Road" - an area in the vicinity of the riot that was being cleared by the police - despite being warned not to.

But Mr Lean said his client merely wanted to wait for his younger brother, whom he thought had gone to a nearby toilet. The lawyer added that Thavamani is certain he had not seen DSP Subramaniam that night.

Officer Lim also said he could not identify the arresting officers at that point in time as he did not know them.

Today, the prosecution, led by Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan, is expected to call one more police officer - Assistant Superintendent of Police Jonathan Tang, who was one of the first officers at the scene.

Two foreign workers who were with the accused that night are also expected to testify.

Thavamani will likely be the defence's sole witness.

The Dec 8 riot was the worst case of violence Singapore has seen in more than four decades. It left 49 Home Team officers injured and 23 emergency vehicles damaged.

Six other Indian nationals have pleaded guilty to failing to disperse. They were sentenced to between 15 and 18 weeks in jail each. The cases of the other 18 accused are pending in court.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg