High Court quashes 'wrong' gag order in case of father who killed two-year-old daughter

Johnboy John Teo, with his daughter Ashley Clare Teo, in a picture posted on social media. Teo killed his daughter after he tried to end his own life in 2019.

SINGAPORE - A gag order that was wrongly imposed in June by a magistrate in the case of a man who killed his two-year-old daughter - a year after their identities had been published in the media - was quashed by the High Court on Monday (Nov 16).

The prosecution, in asking for the error to be corrected, said there was public interest in identifying the offender, Johnboy John Teo.

Conversely, there was no public interest in suppressing the identity of the victim, Ashley Clare Teo, who is dead.

"The public has a continuing and unsatiated interest in knowing the outcome of this case," said Deputy Public Prosecutors Kumaresan Gohulabalan and Andre Chong in written submissions.

Teo, through his lawyer, Mr John Tan, told the court that he had no objections.

The 36-year-old former IT systems specialist is currently serving a six-year jail term after he pleaded guilty on July 29 to a reduced charge of culpable homicide.

Teo, who was suffering from major depressive disorder, had suffocated Ashley on June 16 last year, to take her along with him after he tried unsuccessfully to end his own life by slashing and stabbing his neck.

Teo was then going through divorce proceedings from his wife, Ms Eileen Cheok. Ms Cheok had filed for divorce in November 2018 and moved out with Ashley from the matrimonial flat in Sengkang in January last year.

Interim judgment to dissolve the marriage was made on June 12 last year.

The court heard that Teo was granted access to the toddler every other weekend, from 9am on Saturdays to 9pm on Sundays. During that time, the girl would stay overnight with him at the flat.

On June 15 last year, a Saturday, both parents took the girl to a parent-teacher meeting at her pre-school.

As Ms Cheok was about to leave, the girl began crying for her mother. On seeing this, Teo felt that he did not have a place in Ashley's heart.

Teo then spotted a man waiting by a Mercedes-Benz, and believed that the man was his former wife's boyfriend.

Over the weekend, Teo and Ashley went on outings together.

After dinner on Sunday evening, Ashley fell asleep in the flat as Teo was preparing to hand her over to her mother.

As he watched the girl, Teo replayed the events of the previous day in his mind.

He thought about his former wife and how she had found a new boyfriend despite the divorce not being finalised, and wondered why he could not have custody of Ashley.

He was also worried that he might lose kinship with Ashley after the girl was introduced to her mother's boyfriend.

Feeling stressed, Teo walked to the kitchen, grabbed a kitchen knife and a paring knife and returned to the master bedroom.

Sitting next to his daughter, he stabbed and slashed his neck with the knives, then decided to kill her, as he did not want to lose her in death.

He pressed both hands over her mouth and nose, and when she woke up and struggled, he pressed a pillow over her face.

After she became lifeless, he stabbed his neck again before losing consciousness.

Teo and Ashley were found at about 11.30pm after Ms Cheok called the police when Teo did not pick up the phone. She also could not get into the flat because the lock had been changed.

When Teo was charged with murder on June 18 last year, his and Ashley's identities were published by the media.

The charge was amended to culpable homicide on June 10 this year.

When the case was mentioned at the State Courts on June 15, a prosecuting officer applied for a gag order on the names of both Teo and Ashley, even though there were no directions from the Attorney-General Chambers or the police to do so.

No reason for the gag order was given.

On Monday, the prosecution said the granting of the gag order was "palpably wrong", as there were no countervailing considerations - such as protecting child victims or victims of sexual offences - which justified a detraction from the principle of open justice.

Open justice is a legal principle which means, among other things, that the accused is publicly tried and the reporting of ongoing proceedings is allowed.

In this case, the victim would not have been further harmed by the disclosure of her identity.

"Both retribution and deterrence can only be given their full weight if (Teo) is identified and therefore publicly held responsible for the crime that he has committed. Justice must be seen, to be done," said the prosecution.

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