Man serving life sentence over 2003 kidnapping killed himself at Changi Prison: Coroner

Chua Ser Lien climbed a flight of stairs from the third to fourth storey, then climbed up internal railings, before releasing his grip. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

SINGAPORE - A man sentenced to life imprisonment and three strokes of the cane in 2004 for his role in a seven-year-old girl's kidnapping the previous year killed himself on July 8 this year at Changi Prison.

Chua Ser Lien, 58, who had a history of bipolar disorder and was then serving his sentence at the prison's psychiatric housing unit, had climbed a flight of stairs from the third to the fourth storey, then climbed up internal railings, before releasing his grip.

He hit his neck and the back of his head when he fell, landing at the foot of the third-floor stairs.

He was rushed to Changi General Hospital (CGH) and died of a head injury at 10.15am that day.

An inquiry into his death on Tuesday (Dec 22) revealed that prison officers had not been negligent and Chua had been receiving appropriate medical treatment while behind bars.

He had also displayed no suicidal tendencies.

Coroner Marvin Bay said that there was no basis to suspect foul play and found that Chua had killed himself.

He added: "Measures have been put in place after this event, with instructions given that no inmate is to remain alone at all times outside the cell.

"It is understood that other safety measures are under review to prevent any recurrence, including a possible sensor system to warn of persons who are near the railings."

Chua, who used to own a cleaning company, was one of two men linked to the girl's kidnapping.

They abducted her from her home off Yio Chu Kang Road at about 4.30pm on Christmas day in 2003.

A catering assistant, who was at the girl's home preparing for a Christmas party, heard a commotion and took down the getaway vehicle's licence number.

She alerted her husband, who gave chase. The kidnappers dumped the girl off Tampines Street 72 half an hour after she was kidnapped.

Chua and his accomplice, transport manager Tan Ping Koon, then 35, were each sentenced to life imprisonment and three strokes of the cane in 2004.

Relating the sequence of events leading up to Chua's death this year, Coroner Bay said Chua's fellow inmates had gone off for their scheduled one-hour of television time at around 8.30am.

Coroner Bay said: "Mr Chua indicated that he did not wish to join in the activity. It was noted that Mr Chua never joined the other inmates during their allocated television time slots. Mr Chua would typically request to be left in Day Room 2 to walk about on his own."

The coroner added that when inmates were given their one-hour yard time, their cell room doors would be remotely locked to discourage them from staying in their cells.

This was done to encourage inmates to enjoy some degree of recreational time.

Closed-circuit television footage of the incident was played in court on Tuesday, showing Chua walking up a flight of stairs to the fourth storey. Another clip shows him climbing onto the railings near a stairwell.

Prison staff were alerted, but he released his grip before he could be taken to safety. He was pronounced dead in CGH later that morning.

In a statement on Tuesday night, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) said: "Following a post-incident review, SPS is studying the feasibility of installing motion sensors which will alert staff should an inmate come too close to the railing and/or installing additional railings at the stairs to deter inmates from scaling from the stairs to the railing.

"SPS officers had reached out to Mr Chua's family after his demise to extend any help and assistance required. SPS again conveys our deepest condolences to Mr Chua's family."

Suicide prevention helplines

Samaritans Of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

Singapore Association For Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Institute Of Mental Health's Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

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