Jail for mum who held chopper to social worker's neck

As the alarm sounded around her at about noon, social worker Joanne Tan Pei Yuen heard a colleague say "she has a knife''.

Ms Tan, 36, looked down the lobby of her Social Service Office @ Taman Jurong and saw a woman holding a chopper in her left hand and a knife in her right. The angry woman was looking for her.

She called the police and rushed down to see Neo Mui Liang, 46, who was upset that her supervised access to her newborn son had been cancelled two hours earlier that day. When Neo saw her, she held the chopper to Ms Tan's neck for an undisclosed time.

Then Ms Tan pushed her hand away and managed to disarm Neo with the help of other staff.

On Tuesday, Neo was jailed six months after admitting to criminal intimidation and unlawful possession of the chopper and knife. The term was backdated to March 10.

Neo, who delivered the baby last October, was found incapable of taking care of him. The infant was placed in foster care by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), which allowed Neo supervised access to her child every Friday from 4pm to 5pm.

On Feb 24, she was told at about 10am that the supervised access that day was cancelled. This was after MSF found out that Neo had a dispute with her boyfriend and decided it would not be suitable for her to see her child that day due to concerns for the baby's safety.

Upset, the unemployed divorcee decided to confront Ms Tan as she felt that it was the latter's fault that the session had been cancelled.

She brought along a 15cm-long chopper and a 7cm-long knife and put them in her pants' pockets.

When she arrived at the Corporation Drive office, she held the knife against her own neck and demanded that the counter officer call Ms Tan. The alarm in the building was triggered. Ms Tan then saw her and went to meet her.

In mitigation, Neo's lawyer, Mr Genesis Shen Luda, said his client had a troubled past marked with various psychiatric conditions. Estranged from her family, Neo has a daughter, 16, from her previous marriage, who is in a girls' home.

He said Neo was feeling stressed and upset over an unrelated dispute, and the MSF had "taken away her one source of joy and emotional stability in the world".

He said her primary intention was to compel access to her son, and not to cause hurt or intimidation to any other person. He also said Neo had cut her own wrist when confronted by the staff.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'Jail for mum who held chopper to social worker's neck'. Print Edition | Subscribe