Norwegian jailed 6 weeks for beating up taxi driver over midnight surcharge

A Norwegian man who grabbed a cabby by the neck, shoved him across a hotel lobby and hurled him into a lift, was jailed for six weeks yesterday.

All because Christian Myhrhagen Sindre, a ship charterer who earns $10,500 a month, had initially refused to pay the cabby a $4 midnight surcharge.

The 27-year-old was also ordered to pay compensation of $1,699 to part-time cabby Lee Chin Chye, 49, for his medical expenses and loss of earnings.

District Judge Eddy Tham, who called Sindre's action "both shocking and deplorable", said public transport workers must be protected against passengers who exhibit violence because they are drunk.

"The accused had behaved in a thuggish and violent manner," he added. "This may be a one- off incident for the accused but that is clearly of little consolation to the victim, who had to work long hours in the wee hours of the morning and suffer indignity and trauma of being assaulted in public."

On March 7, Sindre boarded Mr Lee's cab at Marina Bay Sands to go to Grand Park Orchard Hotel, stopping at a fast food outlet along the way. The fare came to $12, which included a $4 midnight surcharge.

But Sindre paid only $8, saying "is it fair", and left the cab.

Mr Lee, who works as a clothes supplier in the day, asked the hotel staff for help as Sindre had already gone to his room, said Assistant Public Prosecutor Lydia Goh.

Closed-circuit television footage then showed Sindre, who was wearing only boxer shorts and holding $4 in his hands, walking towards Mr Lee in the hotel lobby at 3.51am.

After he handed over the money, he grabbed Mr Lee's neck with both hands. He shoved the cabby across the lobby, and then pushed him on his chest even as a security supervisor at the hotel tried to step in.

Sindre then hurled the victim towards a lift so hard that Mr Lee's back hit the lift wall. The security supervisor separated the two men by closing the lift door.

Defence lawyer S. S. Dhillon claimed his client did not know about the midnight surcharge and felt cheated.

"He was firstly under the mistaken belief, albeit honestly believed, that the taxi driver was exploiting him for being drunk and a foreigner. He was exploited earlier," he said.

But the judge said that while Mr Lee did the right thing in approaching the hotel staff for help to claim his rightful fare, "Sindre came down bare-bodied and attacked the victim without any provocation at all".

Sindre, who married a British primary school teacher last August, works for Scorpio UK, which manages a fleet of oil tankers and provides various ship management services.

For using criminal force, he could have been jailed for up to three months and/or fined up to $1,500.

He could have been jailed for up to two years and/or fined up to $5,000 for causing hurt.

elena@sph.com.sg