Forged witness statements in 7 out of 8 reopened coroner's inquiries had no impact on case outcomes

The State Coroner, who reopened the cases on Oct 18, has completed hearings for seven cases. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Seven out of eight coroner's inquiries that were reopened over allegations of forged witness statements have been reviewed by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), which found that the forged statements had no material impact on the outcome of the cases.

This comes after it came to light in 2018 that an investigation officer may have forged witness statements in several fatal traffic accident cases.

The initial investigations into the accidents had taken place between 2016 and 2018.

The Coroner, who reopened the cases on Oct 18, has completed hearings for seven cases.

He has re-confirmed the findings that the deaths in all those cases were caused by unfortunate traffic misadventures, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in a written parliamentary reply on Monday (Nov 1).

The remaining case has been adjourned pending further investigations into issues that did not arise from the forged statements.

The cases involved Station Inspector Kenny Cheong Chyuan Lih, whose alleged offences came to light after investigations by the Internal Affairs Office of the Singapore Police Force.

On Monday, Mr Shanmugam said there was direct and relevant evidence, such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, witnesses statements and forensic reports, in the reopened cases that supported the eventual outcomes, and the forged statements "were not central to the matters".

He also laid out the various safeguards in place to prevent forgery of statements by investigation officers and ways to prevent over-reliance on a single officer during investigations, in response to questions filed by Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten).

Statements recorded by an investigation officer are required to be reviewed by his or her supervisor as part of the overall assessment of the investigations, he said.

Officers are required to keep records in their field books, which are regularly checked by their supervisors.

The AGC acts as an additional layer of checks to ensure that the obtained evidence is, on the face of it, credible and reliable.

Technology to reduce errors, such as having interviewee electronically sign their statements in real-time, are being implemented, Mr Shanmugam said.

"When the investigation process is fully digitalised, statements will be recorded electronically by default and the statements will be locked at relevant junctures to prevent tampering of statements," he added.

These are "generally effective", although an errant officer may sometimes try and bypass these safeguards, he said.

"However, the nature of the court process and the examination of evidence means that such errant behaviour is unlikely to affect a matter in a substantive way."

All relevant evidence, including forensic evidence and CCTV footage, is likely to be further reviewed by AGC and examined against other evidence. Accused persons, victims and witnesses are generally required to testify during a court trial, he added.

"All such evidence will be considered holistically by the court. So, documents or evidence that is not real is likely to be picked up if it is material."

However, Mr Shanmugam said "individual acts of misconduct" cannot be completely prevented and may still happen from time to time.

"But what is important is that we act firmly and swiftly against any such misconduct whenever we discover them, including charging the offending officers in court."

Correction note: An earlier version of the report said that the State Coroner reopened the cases. The State Courts has clarified it should be the Coroner.

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