Dismissed: appeal against short detention for ex-SMU student who filmed woman in toilet

Hoon Qi Tong (PHOTO: Facebook / SMU Merchants' Club)
Hoon Qi Tong (PHOTO: Facebook / SMU Merchants' Club)

SINGAPORE — The prosecution’s appeal against the short detention order (SDO) and community service order (CSO) imposed on a former Singapore Management University undergraduate convicted of filming a woman in the toilet of his internship workplace in 2017 was dismissed by the High Court on Thursday (30 July).

Hoon Qi Tong, 25, was sentenced to a 14-day short detention order and 130 hours of community service on 19 December last year, after he pleaded guilty in the State Courts to one count of insulting the modesty of a 31-year-old female co-worker, with one count of criminal trespass into the female toilet taken into consideration for sentencing.

In dismissing the prosecution’s application to have Hoon’s sentence enhanced to an eight-week jail term, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang noted that an SDO meant that an offender still has to go to prison.

“It has been acknowledged that such an order has both deterrent and retributive effect in its application although its inspiration may be found in society’s desire for more community-based sentences,” the judge said.

With an SDO, an offender will be detained in prison for a maximum of 14 days, but will not have a criminal record upon serving the sentence. The SDO is a community-based sentencing option for low-risk offenders without the stigma arising from imprisonment.

In respect of the CSO, Judge of Appeal Tay noted that it would ensure Hoon contributes to the good of society while reminding him that he has done wrong and must make amends. He added that if Hoon were to breach his CSO, he may be re-sentenced for his offence.

Said the judge, “This is a difficult case where the interests of society (in particular those of the victim who was badly affected by the invasion of privacy) weigh heavily against the offender for his crimes and admitted past conduct, and the circumstances of the offender (especially those which were post-offence) pull the court towards rehabilitation.”

He added that the judge from the lower courts had sought to achieve the right balance between these conflicting interests in sentencing Hoon.

“I find it hard to say that the District Judge was clearly wrong in his decision to achieve the right balance through a 14-day SDO and the 130-hour of CSO. If the District Judge ordered probation as recommended by the probation officer, that would be wrong on the facts here. The District Judge decided correctly that probation was not appropriate in this case,” said Judge of Appeal Tay.

Hoon will serve his SDO immediately.

On 13 September 2017, Hoon tailed the victim into the toilet and entered the cubicle beside hers. As the victim heard the sound of his entry, she looked up to see Hoon’s mobile phone filming her. She dressed herself and confronted Hoon and later demanded for him to delete the footage, according to the Statement of Facts.

The court heard on Thursday that Hoon still lives with his family and remains attached to his girlfriend, who has stood by him throughout his criminal proceedings.

Sentence was ‘manifestly inadequate’: Prosecution

The prosecution, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutors Terence Chua and Chua Jincheng, argued that Hoon’s sentence was “manifestly inadequate”.

Arguing against an SDO, DPP Chua stated that a community-based sentencing was only appropriate if rehabilitation, not deterrence, was the primary consideration for sentencing.

“For (an offence of insulting the modesty of a woman), this cannot be the case, unless of course there are exceptional circumstances. In this particular case, we do not see, and we submit that, there are no exceptional circumstances,” said DPP Chua.

An SDO, the prosecution said, sent the signal that the offender showed low culpability, which in Hoon’s case was not appropriate.

The prosecution pointed out that Hoon was a 23-year-old adult at the time of the offence.

“His having familial support doesn’t count for much, they have very little control over him ultimately. He has mentioned in his defence that he has had good pro-social activities and has tried to develop himself so on so forth but this has no connection to offending behaviour,” said DPP Chua.

The prosecution argued that District Judge John Ng had erred in failing to give sufficient weight to the harm caused to the victim, who submitted in her impact statement that she was constantly reminded about the intrusion and plagued by fear whenever she used the toilet.

District Judge Ng had arrived at a sentence which was disproportionate considering the harm to the victim, contended the prosecution.

Objecting to the prosecution’s proposed sentence, Hoon’s lawyer Mark Lee pointed out that his client has not reoffended since he was first prosecuted.

The lawyer disagreed that an SDO diluted the “deterrent objective of the penal regime”.

An SDO should not be perceived as soft option as Hoon was still incarcerated and deprived of his liberty, the lawyer pointed out.

An appointed Institute of Mental Health (IMH) psychiatrist assessed that Hoon had persistent depressive disorder which resulted in his low mood and caused him to engage in the offensive acts, the lawyer added.

However Hoon had voluntarily sought treatment for his mental conditions after being arrested. He has been since discharged from the IMH and continues to follow up with appointments.

The lawyer also told the court that Hoon’s family is still strongly supportive of him and has put into action a 24-hour supervision plan for him.

Details of case

During his plea guilty hearing, the court heard that Hoon decided to take upskirt videos of women as he was curious to see if he could gain pleasure from the obscene videos. He carried out his plan against a female co-worker in August 2017 during an internship.

Hoon was still studying at SMU then, but graduated before police investigations against him concluded.

When Hoon lost interest in taking upskirt videos, he turned to filming women in the toilet of the same workplace to see if he would derive pleasure from the act.

His first two attempts were unsuccessful. On his third attempt on 13 September 2017, Hoon was caught by his victim.

At about 5.57pm, Hoon tailed the victim into the toilet. He went into a cubicle next to the victim’s. Standing on the water closet, Hoon then extended his arm over the cubicles’ partition and began filming the victim relieving herself with his phone.

The woman had earlier heard Hoon’s footsteps and his movement. When she heard what sounded like someone stepping onto the toilet seat and slipping, she instinctively looked up and saw a mobile phone with its camera lens pointed at her above the partition.

According to the victim’s letter to the court, the woman felt shock and fear, as well as shame at being filmed in an intimate space. She immediately dressed herself and exited to knock on the door of Hoon’s cubicle.

Hoon emerged and did not deny filming the woman, who told him to delete the video. In response, Hoon re-formatted the phone. The victim noted that the entire screen of the phone was filled with thumbnails of other video clips which appeared to have been filmed in the female toilet.

When she told Hoon that she would report the matter, he grabbed her arm and asked her not to.

The woman reported the matter to her superiors, who alerted the police. Hoon was relieved of his duties immediately and was detained until the police arrived. Police later seized his phone and laptop but could not recover the upskirt videos or toilet videos.

For insulting the modesty of a woman, Hoon could have been jailed up to a year, fined, or both.

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