SINGAPORE — A full-time National Serviceman (NSF) convicted of circulating photos from the scene of a fatal accident involving two military vehicles asked for a probation term, even as four fellow NSFs who committed similar offences were each fined.
Sergeant 1 Thng Yu Xuan is the last of five Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) NSFs to be dealt with for spreading photos depicting an accident which resulted in the death of 22-year-old NSF Liu Kai in 2018.
The 21-year-old pleaded guilty on Monday (24 February) to sending four photos of the training accident to five other individuals in a WhatsApp group chat without authority on 3 November 2018.
When asked to mitigate, Thng’s lawyer said that his client had been shocked by the accident scene and had sent the photos - taken by his fellow co-accused - to his friends on the spur of the moment. Thng’s parents also submitted a letter to court pleading for leniency.
The four other SCDF NSFs involved in the case are Sergeant 2 Mohamad Haikal Mohd Zainal Abiddin, 21; Corporal Muhammad Arif Azman, 22; Sergeant 1 Brandon Tan Jien Jet ,21; and Muhammad Zaki Haji Mokhtar, 24. Haikal and Arif were each fined $3,000, while Tan and Zaki were each fined $1,500 for their actions.
Singapore Armed Forces Captain Ong Lin Jie, who is accused of committing a rash act resulting in Corporal First Class Liu’s death, had not been dealt with by the court.
The accident, which involved a Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) and a Land Rover, took place on 3 November 2018 at the Murai Urban Training Facility. Liu had been driving the Land Rover during a training exercise when a Bionix reversed into his vehicle and partially mounted it.
Liu died that morning. Ong is accused of failing to keep a safety distance of 30m between the two vehicles.
Sent photos to other friends to gossip: Prosecution
At about 10.20am that day, the SCDF dispatched 15 men from Jurong Fire Station in response to the accident. Arif, Haikal and Thng were part of the team that assisted in extricating Liu.
Upon their arrival, they found the Land Rover crushed beneath the Bionix. Before the extrication began, Arif used his personal smartphone to take two photographs of the scene, with both images capturing the two vehicles. Haikal took five similar photographs.
Arif and Haikal later sent the photographs to a WhatsApp chat group comprising 24 present and former SCDF personnel from Jurong Fire Station, including the five charged for circulating the photos.
Thng forwarded four of the photographs to another WhatsApp group he shared with five other NSF friends from other camps.
He sent the photographs to his friends as he wanted to show them what had happened, and to gossip, according to the prosecution.
The offences came to light later that same day. Jurong Fire Station’s commander was notified that a photograph of the accident site had been circulating over WhatsApp. Following internal investigations, Arif and Haikal were identified as the culprits.
Son’s academic efforts will go to waste: Accused’s parents
The prosecution sought for Thng to be fined - a sentence which was in line with his co-accused.
However, Thng’s lawyer Simon Tan asked for a probation suitability report to be called for Thng, arguing that probation would suitable given his client’s circumstances. In mitigation, Thng had told the court that he had been “shocked and traumatised” at the gruesome scene and had worried about the “real possibility” of the same accident happening to his secondary school friends who were also serving.
“As such when (I) received the photos, in a spur of moment, (I) forwarded them to (my) friends to remind them to be careful,” Thng told the court. Tan said his client, currently a first year undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, now realised he made the wrong judgement and regretted his actions.
Thng’s parents also submitted a letter to court pleading for a lenient sentence and apologising on behalf of their son.
Describing Thng as the “only son to go to university”, the parents said it was “heartbreaking” to see Thng’s academic efforts go to waste and worried that his conviction would ruin his years of hard work. Thng’s parents said they were financially strapped and hoped that Thng could obtain a scholarship to funds his university education.
The parents pleaded for a probation term for their son, stating that they would ensure his adherence to his probation terms.
District Judge Christopher Goh adjourned the case to consider the defence’s request for a probation suitability report to be called for Thng. Thng will return to court on 3 March.
For his breach of the Official Secrets Act, Thng can be jailed for up to two years, fined a maximum $2,000, or both.
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