2nd SCDF officer jailed over NSF's drowning during ragging incident

Wan Ting Koh
Reporter
Adighazali leaving the State Courts on 25 July. (PHOTO: Suhaile MD / Yahoo News Singapore)

UPDATE at 10am on 6 December 2018: This story has been updated to reflect the current employment status of Adighazali, Fatwa and the other eight SCDF officers involved in the case.

A second Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer has been jailed in relation to a ragging incident that left a full-time SCDF National Serviceman (NSF) dead.

Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi was sentenced to one month’s jail at the State Courts on Wednesday (5 December) after pleading guilty to one count of intentionally obstructing the course of justice.

He had deleted a video recording of NSF corporal (Cpl) Kok Yuen Chin being pushed into a pump well at the Tuas View Fire Station on 13 May. The 33-year-old Singaporean had been instructed by Staff Sergeant (SSG) Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood to delete the footage hours after it was taken.

Fatwa had carried Kok to the 12m-deep well with two other officers and had given Kok the final shove into it, which led to the NSF’s drowning. Kok had been pushed into the well as part of a ritual to celebrate his impending Operationally Ready Date (ORD).

The deleted video was eventually recovered by officers from the technology crime forensics branch of the police’s Criminal Investigation Department.

Fatwa was jailed 12 months and four weeks in October after admitting to one count of committing a rash act that caused Kok’s death and one count of telling Adighazali to delete the video.

The three other SCDF officers involved – Senior Warrant Officer 1 Nazhan Nazi, 40; Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 37; and Warrant Officer 1 Mohamed Farid Mohamed Saleh, 34 – have also been charged in relation to the incident. They have yet to be dealt with by the court.

Nazhan, who faces a charge of abetting a rash act that caused grievous hurt, stated earlier that he intended to claim trial.

Meanwhile, eight other SCDF officers – six regulars and two NSFs – who were present during the incident are still under internal investigation.

Speaking to reporters outside of court, Kok’s aunt, Helen Kok, 55, said she was not satisfied with the one-month jail term for Adighazali.

The nurse said in Mandarin, “A human life in exchange for one month, whose life can we change for one month?”

Cpl Kok’s father, 56-year-old Kok Meng Hwa, also attended Wednesday’s court session and told the media, “Cannot say whether sentence is heavy or not cause my son is gone. My son won’t come back.”

Facts of the case

At about 8.30pm on 13 May, officers from Kok’s rotation gathered at the watch room on the ground floor of Tuas View Fire Station to celebrate Kok’s upcoming ORD in three days’ time.

Over half an hour later, Fatwa suggested that Kok partake in an ORD ritual of entering the pump well, or “kolam” (“pool” in Malay), even though this form of ragging was prohibited in the SCDF. The ban was stated in anti-ragging posters displayed around the fire station.

Other officers started shouting, “kolam, kolam”, but Kok – who did not know how to swim – waved his hands to indicate his reluctance to participate in the ritual. He told the officers, “Don’t want, don’t want”.

In response, Fatwa lifted Kok by his armpits. Two other officers lifted Kok’s legs and the trio carried Kok towards the station’s pump well.

The well was used for training as an open water source for fire engines and had an internal diameter of about 1.8m. It contained a water level depth of 11m.

Later, Adighazali and another officer took over from Fatwa and carried Kok’s upper body. Kok struggled as he was being carried to the well, saying, “Don’t encik, don’t.” “Encik” is a Malay word used to refer to superior officers.

Everyone left the watch room except for Chong, the rotation’s commander, who told the group not to film the incident before looking away.

Kok was hesitant when told by a sergeant to remove his shirt, belt, boots and personal belongings but eventually complied.

Nazhan, the rotation’s deputy commander, told Kok to move closer to the well’s edge before jumping in and reminded the others present not to take any photos or videos. He then left and went back to his office.

The group then cheered and egged Kok on as he stood at the edge of the well. As Kok hesitated over jumping in, Farid then told the former to sit at the well’s edge and the latter complied. Kok still looked scared as he remained seated for 43 seconds.

Farid then told Fatwa to push Kok into the well. Fatwa shoved Kok on the back and the latter fell straight into the water without surfacing for air.

Shortly after, a few officers, including Fatwa, jumped into the well to rescue Kok but failed to find him. The firefighters then used a fire engine to pump the water out of the well.

Kok was found at 9.43pm, 36 minutes after falling into the well. The police received a call about the drowning at 10.58pm. Paramedics tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Kok at the scene. He was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and was pronounced dead at 11.02pm.

The incident was captured on the station’s CCTV cameras.

‘Delete, delete’

Adighazali had captured the moment Kok was pushed into the well on his mobile phone. While waiting for the arrival of the police, Adighazali told Fatwa about the video when the two were in the station’s locker room.

After viewing it, Fatwa – who knew that the video was incriminating evidence of his wrongdoing – told Adighazali, “Delete, delete”.

Adighazali’s lawyer Ashwin Ganapathy asked for 14 days’ jail for his client.

He said that his client was trying to recover from the shock and panic in the locker room after the event when Fatwa asked if he had heard Farid instigating him.

Adighazali was surprised by the question and later remembered the video he had taken. He had initially ignored Fatwa’s request to delete the video, but gave in when the latter pressed him, said Ashwin.

The prosecution sought a one-month sentence for Adighazali. Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan claimed that Fatwa and Adighazali came into an agreement to delete the video despite knowing its relevance to police investigations.

Ashwin disagreed, saying that Adighazali’s culpability was lower as he had not planned to, nor had he suggested, deleting the video.

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said that he could not agree with the defence about Adighazali’s culpability. He noted that Adighazali had made a “conscious and deliberate decision” to delete the video.

“I cannot accept that he was under pressure… If any it was internal,” said the judge. “(Adighazali) acted in a moment of cowardice.”

Both Fatwa and Adighazali have been interdicted from service since May and July respectively. An SCDF spokesman said, “SCDF will be commencing disciplinary proceedings with a view to dismissing them from service”.

The spokesman added that eight other officers involved in the case have been redeployed to non-supervisory or non-operational appointments pending investigation.

“If the investigations find that they have contravened SCDF rules and regulations, the six regular officers will face public service disciplinary actions, while the two NSFs will be charged under the Civil Defence Act,” said the spokesman.

Related stories:

SCDF officer jailed over drowning of NSF Kok Yuen Chin

5 SCDF personnel charged over NSF’s drowning death

SCDF NSF drowns after falling into fire station’s pump well; 2 regulars arrested