SINGAPORE - A 49-year-old unemployed man was jailed for 13 weeks on Monday for taking mobile phones from young schoolchildren, and even punching a 12-year-old boy who chased him.
From Nov 2012 to Jan 2014, Tan Teck Choot tricked or coerced six children in the Jurong area to hand over their phones to him, and then walked off with them.
On one occasion on Feb 6, 2013, he approached a 10-year-old girl outside her primary school on Corporation Drive and told her he wanted to borrow her iPhone 4 to make some calls.
When the girl gave him her phone, worth $500, he put it into his pocket and walked away. She followed him for a few blocks but lost sight of him.
Two days later, he used the same ruse on a 12-year-old boy near Chin Bee Road. When the boy sought help from passers-by, Tan created a scene and told bystanders that the boy was his son.
During the commotion, the boy was able to retrieve his Sony Ericsson phone from Tan's pocket, after which Tan left the area.
Tan was only caught on Jan 27 last year, after his final victim and two bystanders chased him down.
The victim, an 11-year-old boy on his way home from Pioneer MRT station, was accosted by Tan, who asked for directions and later fiercely demanded the boy's Samsung Galaxy S3 phone.
Frightened, the boy handed it over, but followed Tan. Along the way, he encountered passerby Muhammad Danial Anwar, who was 21 at the time, and asked him for help. Mr Danial Anwar called the police and started to chase Tan as well.
Another 12-year-old boy joined in the pursuit around Jurong West Street 65. Tan threw the phone on the ground and tried to run away, but the 12-year-old boy pulled on his haversack to stop him. Tan punched the boy on the chin and fled.
The chase continued onto Pioneer Road North, where Tan tried to escape on a public bus, but his pursuers told the driver not to let him on board.
Finally, at a void deck along Jurong West Street 91, Tan tried unsuccessfully to give the 12-year-old $70 if he would agree not hand him over to the police.
None of the children involved in the case can be named due to a gag order.
In mitigation, Tan's lawyer S. S. Dhillon argued that his client had given the boy "a very light punch" which did not deter him in chasing Tan or even cause him to fall over.
He added that Tan had been diagnosed with depression, for which he had taken anti-depressants, and also suffered from adjustment disorder.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kelvin Kow said, however, that when the accused was examined at the Institute of Mental Health last February, reports showed that he had no medical illnesses.
Tan appeared distraught in the dock, turning frequently to look at his wife and 15-year-old son in the gallery, and making whimpering noises from time to time.
For each charge of criminal breach of trust, he could have been jailed for up to seven years and fined. For voluntarily causing hurt, he could have been jailed for up to two years and fined up to $5,000.