SINGAPORE - A nursing home employee was acquitted on Friday (Nov 23) of molesting a 55-year-old patient who had difficulty moving and had to use adult diapers, in a case that turned on the testimony of a female nurse who said she saw the man straddling the victim.
In clearing the 34-year-old of a charge of molestation, the High Court said the nurse's testimony alone was not strong enough to prove the prosecution's case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Abuse, especially sexual abuse, of a vulnerable person in a care facility, is heinous, and would call for heavy punishment... But the fact that a person may be accused of such a crime does not mean that he committed it," said Justice Aedit Abdullah.
The judge said he saw no reason to doubt that the nurse was honest, but her viewing of the incident was not definitive and she could have been mistaken about what she saw.
After he was cleared, the accused, who has been on bail after being in custody for two months, told reporters the case has affected his life as he was unable to work for two years.
"It is great that I am acquitted, but there is no compensation for being on remand for two months and for my lost income," he said through his lawyer, Mr Lau Wen Jin, who was appointed under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.
In May, the man was sentenced to 22 months' jail and three strokes of the cane after he was found guilty following a 14-day trial.
The district judge described the case as "the most shocking and disturbing case" of molestation he had come across .
But the man appealed against his conviction and sentence, maintaining that he did not molest the patient.
The parties cannot be named to protect the identity of the alleged victim.
The key witness was a nurse, who was on her rounds on the afternoon of Nov 26, 2016.
She said she noticed that the curtains around many of the beds were drawn in the victim's room, which she found unusual as the curtains were typically drawn only when diapers were being changed.
When she went into the room to check on a patient, she heard cries from the alleged victim.
She said she saw the man kneeling on the bed on top of the victim, who was lying on her back.
The man did not realise that the nurse was in the room but she saw half of his face and recognised the uniform he was wearing.
The nurse testified that the man's trousers was pulled down to thigh level and that the victim's pants were also lowered.
The left side of her diaper was removed and the man's groin was touching the victim's.
After five seconds, the nurse left and told a male nurse to check the room.
When the male nurse entered the room, about two minutes later, he saw only the accused looking at his mobile phone.
The accused argued that the female nurse was mistaken as to what she had seen, since she had taken only a quick look.
He also contended that she was tired at the time, having worked for more than eight hours.
He said he had gone to the room to repair the television set of another resident.
While he was there, he heard a sound and realised that the alleged victim's head was pressed against the side rail of her bed.
Thinking that she was in pain, he adjusted her position and intended to wedge a pillow between her head and the railing, he said.
He then put his knee between the bars of the railings and reached for a pillow on the far side of the bed.
He said he bent down slightly over her body but insisted that no part of his body touched the patient's.
There was a CCTV camera at the entrance of the room but it did not cover the alleged victim's bed at the innermost corner.
Mr Lau argued that his client was aware that there was a CCTV camera but had no way of knowing that it could not capture footage of the bed.
The prosecution argued that the accused deliberately chose to enter the room at a time when he knew the residents, except those confined to their beds, would be occupied downstairs at a community involvement programme.
The prosecution also stressed that the nurse had no motive to lie.
The alleged victim was assessed to be unfit to testify in court.
As a result of multiple strokes, she is confused most of the time and is unable to make rational decisions.
In her interview with a psychiatrist, she broke down when she related how a man came to her bed and pulled her pants down.
But Justice Aedit cautioned against using her account to assess her emotional state and to draw links to the accused, given that she was not fit to testify in court.