Mindef explains stance on NSF Dominique Sarron Lee's death

Full-time national serviceman Dominique Sarron Lee died from an allergic reaction to fumes from smoke grenades in a 2012 training exercise.
Full-time national serviceman Dominique Sarron Lee died from an allergic reaction to fumes from smoke grenades in a 2012 training exercise. PHOTO: MINDEF

It would 'overstep its powers' if it punished officers involved beyond their level of offence

The military would have overstepped its powers and be legally challenged if it had punished two of its officers beyond the level of their offence in a 2012 training exercise in which full-time national serviceman Dominique Sarron Lee died from an allergic reaction to fumes from smoke grenades.

The Ministry of Defence said it would also be unfair to the two Singapore Armed Forces regulars - the exercise's chief safety officer Chia Thye Siong and Private Lee's platoon commander Najib Hanuk Muhamad Jalal. The latter threw six grenades, instead of two, flouting training safety rules.

Pte Lee's family tried to sue the military over his death but failed as the High Court threw out the lawsuit on March 3. This sparked a public outcry on social media.

In a forum letter published in The Straits Times today, Ms Lim Chuen Ni, Mindef's director of public communications, said that key findings were released during a 2013 coroner's inquiry, a transparent process that was open to the public.

 

During the hearing, Pte Lee's relatives and their lawyer were also allowed to ask questions relating to Pte Lee's death and question the two officers .

She noted that some members of the public, including Pte Lee's family members, have disagreed with the coroner's findings. "They feel instead that the two SAF regulars should bear greater liability for the cause of death and receive greater punishment," said Ms Lim.

"It would be wrong to punish SAF servicemen beyond the level of offence which has been determined by independent and impartial judicial processes. Mindef/SAF would be overstepping its powers and would be legally challenged."

The level of punishment, Ms Lim noted, has to take into account the coroner's findings that "the cause of death was an unforeseen allergic reaction that was unlikely to have been predicted". Arising from those findings, she said, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) decided not to prosecute anyone.

But the AGC informed Mindef to consider taking disciplinary action against the servicemen who had breached training safety Regulations.

"Mindef has done so, with penalties consistent with other servicemen who have committed similar offences, including fines and delay in promotions," said Ms Lim.

While each death of a servicemen is "greatly regretted", Ms Lim said it is even more important when such incidents arise that "we maintain societal trust and integrity in respecting the due independent judicial processes to determine the facts and mete out the appropriate punishment where required".

"The AGC has in the past prosecuted SAF servicemen who have been responsible for causing death due to rash acts or negligence."

And when found culpable, these servicemen were jailed.

She reiterated that a compensation package based on "the maximum extent of the compensation framework" was offered to Pte Lee's family.

Such compensation is generally two to four times that of the amount provided by the Work Injury Compensation Act for incidents arising from training and operations and is "no less than what would have been awarded by the court in cases where compensation was ruled to be payable", she said.

"We recognise that it is difficult for the family to find closure in this case and will continue to support them wherever possible."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'Mindef explains stance on NSF's death'. Print Edition | Subscribe