Church to step up security after man 'harassed woman, threw bench and punched churchgoer'

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SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - A woman was praying at a church when a man sat next to her.

Then, he reached out and touched her shoulder, arms and back. Panicking, she got up and ran away, and the man followed.

More drama ensued as other worshippers tried to stop the man, who turned violent,

He later jumped into the nearby Rochor Canal in a bid to escape before being apprehended by the police.

The incident occurred at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ophir Road at around 1.20pm last Saturday (Sept 29).

The parish priest, Father Michael Sitaram, 63, told The New Paper on Sunday that the woman was praying at the open-air grotto in the church compound when the man, who appeared to be drunk, went up to her.

Father Michael said he was walking back to his office after holding a baptism service when he was alerted to the incident.

Father Michael Sitaram (above) said that the man fell into a 1.5m-deep drain leading to Rochor canal, where he was caught by a police officer. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ADELINE TAN

"A churchgoer who was also at the grotto ran to tell me that a man was trying to grope a woman," he said.

"I quickly ran into the office to call the police."

Meanwhile, another churchgoer who was walking to the multi-purpose hall for lunch after attending the baptism service in the main church building saw the commotion.

When the churchgoer tried to apprehend the man, he became violent, Father Michael said.

"The man was shouting loudly and trying to take off his shirt. He was also making aggressive gestures at the churchgoer," he added.

"The man picked up a wooden bench and threw it at the churchgoer, who managed to evade it. He then punched the churchgoer, causing his spectacles to fly off."

The churchgoer managed to pin the man to the ground but relaxed his grip after the man complained the ground was too hot, TNP understands.

The man seized the opportunity to break free and ran out of the church compound - but ended up falling into a 1.5m-deep drain outside.

Father Michael said: "The man was trying to climb over the railing when he fell into the drain. There was some blood. He then started walking back and forth in the drain and lay down in there for awhile."

When the police arrived, they entered the drain to apprehend him. But the man fled along the drain and entered Rochor Canal. He tried to swim away as a police officer went in after him.

In a video circulating online, the officer grabs a shirtless man in the water as his colleagues run along the edge of the canal to toss in an orange buoy.

The police said the man, 26, was taken conscious to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where he was subsequently arrested for using abusive words against a public servant, intentional harassment and drunkenness in a public place.

TNP understands the suspect was still warded in the hospital on Sunday.

Father Michael said this is the first time such an incident has happened in the church since he became parish priest in 2016.

Though security officers patrol the church on Saturday evenings and Sundays, Father Michael said: "After this, I am going to increase the security, especially on weekends when it is more crowded."

Police investigations are ongoing.

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