A prostitute's bloodshot eyes deterred a businessman from having sex with her, and yesterday he was cleared of having commercial sex with the underage girl.
Mr Ng Kheng Siang was the first of 12 men to claim trial in an online vice ring case, which has seen eight others jailed for up to 12 weeks after they admitted having paid for sex with the girl, who was 16 at the time.
The 44-year-old - a former chief executive of an environmental engineering company - was accused of paying the youngster $330 for sexual services at Hotel Nostalgia in Tiong Bahru Road in February last year.
During a trial over six days which began last November, Mr Ng maintained that no sex took place because he was put off by the girl's appearance, behaviour and demeanour - in particular her very bloodshot eyes.
The court heard that he lay on the bed in the hotel room answering his mobile and waited 20 minutes for the minor to emerge from the bathroom.
After seeing her bloodshot eyes again, he became uncomfortable and decided not to continue.
However, the minor testified that she remembered having sex with Mr Ng because of his "smart" attire, his height - he is over 1.75m tall - and he was the only client to tip her.
In his verdict, District Judge Lim Keng Yeow said the key fact in dispute was whether the minor and Mr Ng actually engaged in sexual intercourse.
While her evidence on the occurrence of sex was clear, various other parts of her evidence were not so, he said. Judge Lim said the fact that she could not recall key facts seemed to indicate that she was hiding something or there were sizeable and strange gaps in her recollection.
The judge also found her evidence about tipping "doubtful" and her testimony about payment inconsistent.
Describing aspects of her evidence as "perplexing, unreliable and doubtful", he said: "A conviction based on it would, in the circumstances, be wholly unsafe."
Judge Lim also found the existence of Mr Ng's telephone conversations was "in conflict with the minor's evidence" and also raised doubts in his mind as to whether sex occurred.
The minor was tricked by pimp Malcolm Graham Head, 33, into believing that she was going to be a social escort with "fast cash" and "high pay". Later, she realised that she was to provide sexual services of all kinds to clients.
When she did not want to serve them, she would be fed Ice to keep her awake or assaulted by Head and his then girlfriend Veronica Patricia Rio, 19. Earlier this year, Head was given seven years' corrective training and seven strokes of the cane plus a 16-year driving ban, while Rio was sent for reformative training.
Mr Ng's lawyers - Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, Ms Melanie Ho, Mr Paul Loy and Ms Jocelyn Ngiam - said their client was pleased with the outcome but the episode had affected his career and family. He relinquished his position because of the case.
"While he is not proud of the services he sought, he has always maintained he did not engage in sexual activity with the escort nor was he aware of her actual age," they said in a statement. "The acquittal vindicates his position, which he has maintained since the start of investigations."