'Selfless father' who killed mentally ill daughter freed from jail after sentence backdated

Tan Tian Chye, 66, leaving the Changi Prison Complex on Oct 12, 2020.
Tan Tian Chye, 66, leaving the Changi Prison Complex on Oct 12, 2020.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - A 66-year-old man, who killed his mentally ill adult daughter in 2018 after she pointed a knife at him, was released from prison on Monday (Oct 12), the day he was sentenced to two years and nine months in jail.

In sentencing Tan Tian Chye on Monday, High Court judge Hoo Sheau Peng noted that he had been a "selfless, loving and devoted father" who tirelessly cared for his demanding daughter.

The judge backdated the sentence to Nov 20, 2018, the day Tan was remanded in custody. Given the usual one-third remission for good behaviour, Tan was released from prison on Monday evening.

This was a tragic case, said Justice Hoo, which serves as a stark reminder of the importance of being alert to the mental health of family members and seeking timely treatment. She noted that Tan and his wife had been on the verge of suicide as their daughter became increasingly unreasonable.

Tan's daughter, Ms Desiree Tan Jiaping, 35, had scolded her parents incessantly, constantly found fault with them and even made them bow before her.

The unemployed woman also told her parents to transfer their money to her and even told her father, a private-hire driver, that he needed to drive more frequently to earn more money.

Tan and his wife did whatever they could to pacify their daughter, who was diagnosed with a mental disorder but refused treatment. Once, he slapped his wife in front of their daughter to appease her.

In a statement released to the media through his lawyers  Derek Kang and Ammar Lulla of Cairnhill Law, Mr Tan's family wrote that they were happy to have him home. 

"It has been a very challenging period for all of us. While we are extremely grateful for the messages of support and comfort from members of the public, we ask now for privacy and the space for us to heal as a family," they wrote. "We hope to close this painful chapter in our lives, so that we may move on and look towards the future."

On Nov 19, 2018, Ms Tan told her father that she felt like killing him and then pointed a knife at him. The pair had a confrontation in the kitchen of their Bedok South flat, which ended with Tan strangling his daughter.

A psychiatric assessment found that Tan was suffering from a major depressive episode and significant caregiver stress, which substantially impaired his responsibility for his acts in killing his daughter.

Tan had pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of culpable homicide.

After he was sentenced on Monday, he thanked the judge, the prosecutors and his lawyers. "May God bless all of you," he added.

The court had heard that Ms Tan could not hold on to a full-time job after graduating from university in 2006 and depended on her parents to provide for her. The name of her university was not mentioned in court.

In 2012, she was taken to Changi General Hospital (CGH) after she fainted at an MRT station. She was assessed to have panic attacks with agoraphobia - a condition which made her anxious in unfamiliar environments - and "hypochondriacal preoccupations".

From then on, she became very anxious about leaving the flat on her own and her boyfriend moved into the flat to live with her. She also became more particular, and would ask her parents to clean items repeatedly until she was satisfied.

Tan would take time off from work to take her out to help her overcome her anxiety. He also bought a second-hand car, which he allowed her boyfriend to use to take her out.

In 2017, Ms Tan told her parents that she wanted to apply for a Build-To-Order flat with her boyfriend. She pestered her parents to borrow money from relatives and made her younger brother return $50,000 her parents had spent on his education.

"The deceased became more insistent and abusive, and blamed the accused and his wife for not loving her and not providing enough for her," Deputy Public Prosecutor Bhajanvir Singh told the court.

Ms Tan also became upset upon finding out that she was not the sole beneficiary of her mother's Central Provident Fund monies and scolded her parents until her mother changed the nomination.

In mid-2018, Ms Tan started to complain about the smell of cigarette smoke in the flat and demanded that her parents find the culprit. She also made them buy powerful fans and use cardboard to fan away the smoke.

On Oct 22 that year, Tan took her to CGH. She was diagnosed with unspecified anxiety disorder but declined medication, and instead moved to her aunt's place to escape the smoke.

On Nov 19, 2018, after Tan picked her up from the aunt's place, she told him over lunch that she felt like killing him with a fork.

She continued scolding and cursing him on the way home.

Upon reaching home, she went to the kitchen. Tan picked up a metal pole to arm himself out of fear that she would harm him.

In the kitchen, when he saw her pointing a knife at him, he hit her with the pole and after she fell to the floor, he grabbed a cloth and strangled her with it.

Tan then called the police to report that he had killed his daughter.

When The Straits Times went to Changi Prison Complex on Monday evening, a grey-haired Tan walked out of the prison gate clutching a bag of his belongings, wearing a red polo T-shirt and flip-flops.

He and a woman, who looked to be in her 50s, exchanged an emotional hug at the gate as Tan wiped tears from his eyes.

They did not respond to questions from The Straits Times and left soon after in a car.

Judge on jail term meted out

High Court judge Hoo Sheau Peng accepted defence arguments that two years and nine months' jail would suffice as punishment for Tan Tian Chye's acts of causing the loss of life of a loved one.

Justice Hoo noted that the parties were not far apart in their submissions on an appropriate sentence; prosecutors had asked for three years' jail.

She took guidance from the precedent case of Lim Ah Seng, who was sentenced to 21/2 years' jail in 2007 for strangling his abusive wife.

The judge noted that Tan was at low risk of reoffending and was responding to treatment.

"The accused will no doubt continue to suffer the pain and anguish of his action well after his imprisonment term," she said.

"It is, I believe, the wish of all of us present that the accused as well as his family will, with time, come to terms with what they have undergone, and experience a measure of closure and healing in their lives."

Justice Hoo also drew attention to wider issues on mental health. "As a society, it is critical to continue with efforts to improve and enhance access to mental health services," she said.

"It is unfortunate that much-needed help, support and intervention were not sought by or given to the Tan family during those years for their daughter and, thereafter, for the accused."

Additional reporting by Jean Iau