Quick action, calm evacuation at Hougang MRT station after alert over suspicious bag

ST VIDEO: NG JUN SEN
Police officers leaving with evidence after the incident yesterday. Train services resumed and Hougang MRT station was reopened at 4.03pm after there was no danger detected. The temporary closure of the station drew curious onlookers.
Police officers leaving with evidence after the incident yesterday. Train services resumed and Hougang MRT station was reopened at 4.03pm after there was no danger detected. The temporary closure of the station drew curious onlookers.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Police officers leaving with evidence after the incident yesterday. Train services resumed and Hougang MRT station was reopened at 4.03pm after there was no danger detected. The temporary closure of the station drew curious onlookers.
Police officers leaving with evidence after the incident yesterday. Train services resumed and Hougang MRT station was reopened at 4.03pm after there was no danger detected. The temporary closure of the station drew curious onlookers.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Station closed temporarily for 20 minutes; man who left bag traced quickly and arrested

When Mr Lau Pak Seng, 69, got an alert on the Government's SGSecure mobile app yesterday urging the public to stay away from Hougang MRT station, which he lives next to, he got a shock.

The retiree said: "I genuinely thought there had been an attack. I dared to go over to take a look only after my daughter's SGSecure app said it was safe."

The station was temporarily closed for 20 minutes because an unattended bag had been found. Staff from the North East Line's operator, SBS Transit, had found it at Hougang station at about 2.40pm.

"For the safety of all passengers, trains were made to bypass Hougang station and police were alerted," said an SBS Transit spokesman.

When The Straits Times arrived at the station at around 3.30pm, staff and police officers had begun ushering commuters out of the place. Those who stopped to ask about the closure left promptly and calmly after they were told it was unsafe to enter the station. Commuters were redirected to bus services or other train stations.

An elderly woman was injured in the process. She was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital to treat a laceration to the back of her head and pain on her right elbow, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

 

Train services resumed, and the station was reopened at 4.03pm after there was no danger detected.

In the station control room, police officers and SBS Transit staff were seen huddled over screens that showed several closed-circuit television feeds.

"Officers from the Ang Mo Kio Police Division and Public Transport Security Command, with the assistance of SBS Transit, quickly traced the owner of the bag and he was arrested at Hougang MRT (station) at about 4.35pm," said a police statement. This was within two hours from when the bag was first found.

The man, who was dressed in a white singlet, camouflage-patterned shorts and orange slippers, smiled sheepishly at cameras as officers led him out of the gantry into a secure staff area of the station.

There, he was detained for almost three hours before he was led out to a police car in handcuffs. Officers were seen carrying away a luggage- size package, believed to be his bag.

The police said preliminary investigations showed that the man had "intentionally left his bag inside Hougang MRT station while he ran an errand". He was arrested for an offence of public nuisance.

The incident comes during a time of heightened security owing to recent terror attacks, such as last month's London incident. Four people were killed and dozens more injured when a man ploughed through a crowd of pedestrians and fatally stabbed a policeman just inside the gates of the British Parliament before being shot dead.

Some commuters here were impressed by the quick reaction from the police and station staff, even though they were inconvenienced.

Said administrative assistant Albert Yeo, 31, who wanted to ride the train home but chose a cab instead: "Even if they need to shut the whole train system down, so be it. It is better to be safe than sorry."

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Darryl David commended the swift police response: "It is better to err on the side of caution because we won't know if it is a false alarm or not until we do our checks."

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Melvin Yong thanked SBS Transit staff in a Facebook post, praising their actions as "professional and commendable". He said: "This is a reminder that beyond the work of transporting people, our public transport workers are important eyes on the ground. As first responders, their alertness and quick response are crucial to ensure the safety of commuters."

An SBS Transit staff member, who declined to be named, said the incident shows that their training in vigilance has paid off. "What you see today tells others that we don't take these things lightly. Once we detect a threat, we escalate it to the police. Everyone does their part."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Quick action, calm evacuation after alert over suspicious bag'. Print Edition | Subscribe