NSF's fatal allergic reaction

Smoke-grenade case: Duo convicted of negligence

Private Lee died after an allergic reaction to the smoke grenades used during a 2012 training exercise.
Private Lee died after an allergic reaction to the smoke grenades used during a 2012 training exercise.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

2 officers found guilty in 2013; Eng Hen says Mindef should waive legal costs for lawsuit

Two Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers were convicted for being negligent during a 2012 training exercise, in which full-time national serviceman Dominique Sarron Lee died after an allergic reaction to the smoke grenades that were used.

They were found guilty in a summary trial in 2013, even though a Coroner's Inquiry and an independent Committee of Inquiry did not find them "directly responsible" for Private Lee's death, said the Singapore Army.

The SAF, however, did not indicate the punishment meted out to the training exercise's chief safety officer Chia Thye Siong, and the platoon commander who threw the smoke grenades, Najib Hanuk Muhamad Jalal.

 

Revealing this yesterday, Brigadier-General (BG) Chan Wing Kai, commander of the army's Training and Doctrine Command, also pledged to "remain committed" to assisting and providing support for Pte Lee's family.

Besides disbursing welfare grants since the incident, the SAF has also offered the family compensation which is "generally two to four times that of amounts" provided under the work injury compensation law for incidents arising from training and operations, BG Chan said in a post on the army's Facebook page.

The Defence Ministry also waived the legal costs from a previous case which Pte Lee's family eventually withdrew.

In his post, the general sought to clarify issues following a public outcry on social media after the High Court last Thursday struck out a lawsuit brought against the SAF and two officers by Pte Lee's family.

The court also ruled that Pte Lee's family has to pay legal costs of $22,000 to the three defendants.

Last night, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced in a Facebook post that Mindef "should waive the costs to the family".

He explained that while the High Court's judgment in awarding Mindef costs is based on sound legal grounds and precedents, there was no need to "add to the pain and anguish of the family of the late Pte Lee".

Dr Ng added that the SAF "must learn from every accident, fix lapses and improve". "This is the way we honour all those who have given their all to build a strong and honourable SAF," he said.

Pte Lee's mother, Madam Felicia Seah, had put up a Facebook post last Thursday questioning the decision. It triggered an outpouring of sympathy from the public, who called for more to be done to press charges against the defendants.

Addressing the debate yesterday, BG Chan said the SAF took "administrative and disciplinary action" against Chia and Najib.

Based on the size of the training area, no more than two smoke grenades should have been used. But Najib threw six, flouting the SAF's training safety regulations.

BG Chan said they were convicted in a summary trial "for negligent performance of lawful order or duty" and punished according to military law.

Citing the Coroner's findings, he said Pte Lee, 21, had died from an acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride, a key compound used in smoke grenades, adding that this acute allergic reaction was "unlikely to have been predicted".

"As Pte Lee's acute allergic reaction to the smoke grenades thrown by the platoon commander was not reasonably foreseeable, no criminal charges were brought against the two officers," explained BG Chan.

He also highlighted that SAF servicemen can be charged and punished in the criminal courts for offences of committing rash and negligent acts, "even during the course of their military duties".

"The Attorney-General's Chambers, not the SAF, decides if the evidence warrants this course of action." BG Chan cited previous cases to back his point.

"Those responsible through their rash and negligent acts will be held accountable under our Military Court and Criminal Law Courts," he added. BG Chan pointed out that besides stepping up safety measures, the SAF had also changed the smoke grenades used in training, adding that the SAF "values the life of every soldier and recognises that we are responsible for the sons of Singapore placed under our charge".

When contacted, Pte Lee's uncle Sean Seah told The Straits Times that the family is disappointed in the SAF's response, saying that questions remain unanswered.

"There is no contrition... If the officers are found to have been negligent in their duties, how can they not be directly responsible for Dominique's death?"

PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/ THE SINGAPORE ARMY

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'Smoke-grenade case: Duo convicted of negligence'. Print Edition | Subscribe