Veteran track and field coach Loh Chan Pew found guilty of molesting teenage athlete

Loh Siang Piow, 75, better known in the sports fraternity as Loh Chan Pew, was charged with using criminal force on a female athlete when she was 18. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Veteran track and field coach Loh Siang Piow was on Wednesday (June 3) found guilty of two charges of molesting a teenage athlete in 2013.

The trial, which began more than three years ago, ended with District Judge Marvin Bay finding that Loh's lawyers have "not been able to establish their alibi defence".

Loh, 75, better known in the sports fraternity as Loh Chan Pew, was charged with using criminal force on the female athlete when she was 18 by rubbing her genitals on two occasions while massaging the back of her thighs.

Both incidents were said to have happened at the old Tampines Stadium on two Sundays between January and March 17 in 2013.
Loh stood trial for his deeds against one of his two accusers. Three more charges involving another accuser, who was 16 then, were stood down. The two accusers cannot be named because of a court order.

Loh, a prominent figure in the local athletics scene, was a former national sprinter and coach of 35 years who mentored many athletes, including ex-national sprinters Margaret Oh and Amanda Choo. A former vice-president of Singapore Athletics (SA), which governs the sport in Singapore, he was previously deputy superintendent of prisons.

Judge Bay had noted that the victim was at 18 an observant Christian who had attended convent schools and had no prior sexual experience. While academically gifted, she came from a relatively sheltered background and had only known that she had experienced an orgasm during the second incident after she described it to a male friend who explained what had happened to her.

The judge said that this, along with the example of a High Court case, was in agreement with Deputy Public Prosecutor Gail Wong's observations that the victim was unusually convincing as there was clarity and consistency in her evidence, that she followed Loh to the room even though she did not want to be massaged because he had authority as her coach, that the victim remained unshaken in extensive cross-examination, and that the richness of her details of the offence showed "the intensity of experience and bears the ring of truth".

Loh, who was calm and composed after the verdict was read out on Wednesday, spent over 30 minutes speaking to an eight-strong group of supporters outside the courtroom and was overheard telling them that he was very sad. He also confirmed with The Straits Times that he would be lodging an appeal.

Loh will return to court on June 26 for sentencing. For each charge of outrage of modesty, he can be jailed for up to two years and/or fined. He cannot be caned as he is more than 50 years old.

When contacted, SA pointed out in a statement that Loh, who was in office when the case first came to light in 2016, "had already voluntarily suspended himself from duties" then.

Its president Tang Weng Fei, who came to office in 2018, would only say that Loh "has contributed significantly over the years as an athlete, coach and administrator".

The association also said it had put in place a SafeSport system in consultation with Sport Singapore. The measures included appointing a management committee member as a safeguarding officer to conduct investigations of such complaints, establishing the code of conduct for the fraternity, and conducting regular dialogue sessions with athletes and coaches to educate them on the SafeSport practices and measures.

THE CASE

The victim, who aspired to be a national athlete, had represented Singapore in the SEA Youth Championship in 2012 and was referred to Loh by her track teacher, Michelle Eng, to continue training after junior college.

In her account, the victim said that Loh organised one-on-one training sessions for her from end-January 2013 to mid-March 2013, some two months after she started training with him.

Her first session with him between that period was uneventful and Loh had offered a cool-down massage and she agreed. The session lasted between five and 10 minutes and nothing abnormal happened.

After the second session, Loh had again offered her a massage. As she lay prone on the bench, he massaged her with his bare hands and touched her groin over her tights. She felt uncomfortable but reasoned to herself that it was accidental and did not object, wondering if Loh was merely "old and clumsy".

The victim then confided in her mother that Loh had massaged her after training and that she had felt uncomfortable. Her mother told her to say no (to the massage).

The victim's father accompanied her to the third session and it was uneventful.

After the fourth and final training session on March 15, 2013, the victim said Loh had asked to massage her and she turned him down. But she relented after he persisted as she felt he was her coach and "had authority over her".

She was led to an equipment room, whose door was closed, and Loh was said to have rubbed her genitals over her tights during the massage for some 10 to 15 seconds before she told him to stop. The victim said he told her to "just relax" and when she squeezed her thighs to stop him, he continued to touch her and she experienced a "sick feeling".

She recalled crying in the stadium toilet as she felt "gross" and "so dirty" and was very confused as she had looked up to and trusted Loh.

After that incident, she only attended group training sessions and ceased all contact with Loh in 2014.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER

On March 17, 2013, the victim texted the second accuser - who was her friend and training partner - over WhatsApp, asking her not to leave the victim alone with Loh as the massage "feels like he's molesting me or something".

Some two weeks later, the victim texted her male friend that she thought Loh had molested her. He advised her to confront Loh or tell Eng about it.

The victim eventually told Eng about it in 2013 but said that Loh had massaged her legs and she felt very uncomfortable training alone with him. Three years later, she texted Eng with a more detailed account of the incident and stressed that this was not vindictiveness, but concern that the latter would send juniors from her alma mater to train under Loh.

On July 30, 2016, the two accusers lodged a police report against Loh.

In his defence, Loh denied that the incidents took place as he had never conducted any individual training sessions with the victim. His alibi was that he was otherwise engaged on the dates the two incidents were said to have occurred.

With Loh's activities in the afternoon of March 15 the bone of contention, the defence said that he had been at Bishan Stadium that afternoon conducting training for CHIJ Toa Payoh students. A co-track coach of the school recalled that she was there training long-distance runners and was joined by a CHIJ Toa Payoh student who said she had attended training at Bishan with Loh.

However, the judge said that "this seemed to be a false memory given the documents tendered by the prosecution's rebuttal evidence", as two teachers from the school provided payment and attendance records that showed no training had occurred on March 15, 2013.

WHAT THE JUDGE SAID

Noting that the defence had sought to cast doubt on the credibility of the victim's evidence as she was unable to recall specific details of the venue, the judge referred to a previous court case where scientific studies were quoted saying that victims of rape or trauma may remember in detail what was happening before or after they were attacked, but are likely to have fragmented and incomplete memories of what happens after that.

Judge Bay also noted that there is a significant level of consistency in the victim's case as shown from her communication with the second accuser on March 17 and her revelations to her male friend.

"Given that there had been no enmity between her and Mr Loh at this point, it would seem implausible that (the victim) would have 'created' these messages with a long-term view to frame Mr Loh three years later", said the judge.

The judge also noted the incongruities in Loh's evidence. While Loh asserted that Inspector of Police Goh Teck Heng, who was investigating the case, had told him the accusers' names, Judge Bay said he "found it improbable that an experienced Inspector of Police would have committed such an egregious breach of investigation protocol" by revealing the victims' names before taking a statement.

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