SCDF ragging incident

Commanders of fire station contest charges

Nazhan Mohamed Nazi (left) and Kenneth Chong Chee Boon allegedly failed to prevent a group of officers from making Corporal Kok Yuen Chin enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life.
Nazhan Mohamed Nazi (left) and Kenneth Chong Chee Boon allegedly failed to prevent a group of officers from making Corporal Kok Yuen Chin enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life. ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

Both men are accused of abetting rash act that led to NSF's death

"Live also difficult, die also difficult." These were some of the last words uttered to full-time national serviceman (NSF) Kok Yuen Chin before he died.

The exchange with fellow Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer Adighazali Suhaimi was captured in video footage that was shown in court yesterday.

Corporal Kok, 22, is seen smiling as he sits on the edge of the 12m-deep well filled with water.

Adighazali, who has already been jailed for his role in the incident, also said in Malay: "ORD pun kena terjun kolam", which means "ORD (operationally ready date) also must dive into the pool".

However, these statements were not meant to be taken literally, said Staff Sergeant Al-Khudaifi Chang at yesterday's trial, where two SCDF Rota commanders are contesting charges against them.

On May 13 last year, Cpl Kok drowned after he was pushed into a pump well at Tuas View Fire Station as part of activities to mark the completion of his national service.

Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, a lieutenant, was station commander that night, and Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 41, a first senior warrant officer, was deputy commander.

The two men were in court yesterday for the first day of their trial.

  • Four videos show what happened

  • Celebrations

    The first video shows full-time national serviceman Kok Yuen Chin sitting on the floor of the control room - also known as the watch room - in Tuas View Fire Station, with a cake in front of him. The mobile phone footage shows fellow officers joking around him and the 22-year-old giving a thank-you speech.

    Someone is heard saying "kolam, te tap, kolam", Malay for "well still means well", referring to the pump well. Corporal Kok is seen smiling and saying "tak boleh, gitu", which means "cannot like that".

    Towards the pump well

    The second video, taken from closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage in the station, shows the group of about 10 officers moving across the parade square towards the pump well. Some are carrying Cpl Kok, and they put him down in front of the well.

    At one point, they raise their hands. The court hears that this might be in response to Rota 3 Commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon telling them not to film the incident, and they show him they do not have their mobile phones.

    The pump well

    In the third video, also from the station's CCTV footage, an officer is seen opening the metal gate around the pump well.

    Cpl Kok is carried to the opening and placed on the ground.

    Deputy Commander of Rota 3, Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, is seen with the group, but he does not stay for long and heads towards the station office.

    Cpl Kok is seen moving towards the well.

    The fall

    The fourth video, filmed from a mobile phone, shows a close-up of Cpl Kok standing barefoot and moving to sit on the edge of the well. Laughter is heard, and Cpl Kok also smiles.

    Someone is heard saying in Malay, "Don't worry, Zac is around". The court later hears that Zac, or Cpl Sok Leng, is known to be a good swimmer.

    All of a sudden, Cpl Kok is seen falling into the water.

    Tan Tam Mei

They have each been charged with abetting a rash act that caused grievous hurt by unlawful omission.

They allegedly failed to prevent a group of officers from making Cpl Kok enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life.

Cpl Kok, a Malaysian national and Singapore permanent resident, failed to surface after being pushed into the well.

His colleagues drained the well, but it took 36 minutes before they pulled him out, and he had drowned.

Staff Sgt Chang, who was on duty on May 13 last year, said yesterday that the night started with a celebration for Cpl Kok in the control room, where more than 10 officers, including Chong and Nazhan, had gathered.

He told the court that SCDF regular Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, who has already been jailed for his involvement, said at the celebrations, "well still means well", to indicate that Cpl Kok would still have to enter the pump well.

After cutting a cake and presenting a plaque to Cpl Kok, some of the officers grabbed the NSF and carried him towards the pump well. Staff Sgt Chang was one of them.

"I was thinking that we were just trying to scare him and not throw him in," he said, adding that at no point did anyone try to stop them.

He said Nazhan followed the group to the pump well but did not stay with them for more than five minutes. He left and went to the fire station office.

When they put Cpl Kok on the ground, he removed his personal belongings and took off his polo tee of his own accord, said Staff Sgt Chang.

At one point, Chong stuck his head out of the nearby control room's window to tell them not to record any video of the incident.

Four videos documenting the events leading up to Cpl Kok's death were shown in court.

In one taken seconds before the fatal push, Cpl Kok is seen sitting on the well's edge laughing with the officers around him.

Staff Sgt Chang said this was when the question of whether Cpl Kok could swim was raised, to which Cpl Kok said he could not.

However, during cross-examination, Chong's lawyer, Mr Wee Pan Lee, tried to confirm if the exchange happened, as the question and response were not heard in the video.

Staff Sgt Chang said the exch-ange was based on his "memory of the incident".

Mr Wee asked: "So, your memory of that is faulty, what else is faulty with your memory?"

He also asked if it was possible that Chong's position in the control room meant his view of the well could have been blocked and he might not have heard the noise outside. Staff Sgt Chang agreed.

Nazhan's lawyer, Mr Singa Retnam, also established that the act of carrying Cpl Kok to the pump well was not under the direction of any of the commanders.

The case resumes today, with Nur Fatwa among the witnesses expected to testify.

In October last year, Nur Fatwa was sentenced to one year and four weeks in jail for pushing Cpl Kok into the well. The staff sergeant also abetted the obstruction of justice when he told Adighazali to delete a video recording of the incident.

Adighazali, a staff sergeant, was given one month in jail last December for deleting the footage of Cpl Kok being pushed into the well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2019, with the headline 'Commanders of fire station contest charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe