SINGAPORE — A domestic helper was acquitted of causing hurt to a baby girl by scratching her legs and cutting the teats of two milk bottles, which could have caused the baby to choke.
Nenti, 26, was found not guilty by District Judge John Ng of the alleged offences in August 2019, after the judge found it unsafe to convict the Indonesian maid based on her retracted confessions.
The maid, who goes by one name, had claimed trial to two counts of causing mischief by cutting the teats of two bottles, and one count of causing hurt to the baby by scratching her in August last year.
Nenti began working for the baby’s parents in late July and was tasked to care for the baby, who was about three to four months then, by preparing milk for her and cleaning her bottles. She stayed in the Punggol flat with her employers, their daughter, now two, and their dog. The baby and her parents cannot be named to protect her identity.
Her father had earlier testified that he was driving home on the evening of 7 August 2019 when he received a phone call from his wife, who had noticed some scratch marks on her daughter’s leg.
Upon reaching home, the man discussed with his wife what possibly could have caused the scratches but they were not able to come to a conclusion.
When the man later asked the maid if she had noticed the scratches, and if she could have inflicted them accidentally, the maid denied any wrongdoing. He later decided to make a police report.
The police arrived on the morning of 8 August to speak to the man and the maid. They left with Nenti an hour later.
Bottles with enlarged openings
A day or two after Nenti left, one of the parents discovered that the opening at the teat of a milk bottle seemed to be enlarged. The couple checked the other bottles and found a second one with a similarly enlarged opening.
In arguing for Nenti to be found guilty, the prosecution pointed out that Nenti had admitted to scratching the baby's legs while giving her a bath on 6 August 2019 in her statements to the police. She confessed that she had been angry with the baby's mother for scolding her for a mistake a day earlier, prompting her to scratch the baby's legs in "anger".
For the same reason, the maid allegedly used a fruit knife to cut a teat of a milk bottle and enlarge the hole. She then cut the top of the teat of another bottle, after she was unable to find the first teat which she cut, according to her statements.
Arguing for the maid to be acquitted of all three charges, Nenti's pro bono lawyer from the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, Josephine Costan, said that the maid had given confessions in her statement as she wanted to go home as soon as possible.
"And her concerns are extremely valid because she has been here in Singapore for the past two years not being able to work, not able to see her young son... trying to clear her name," said Costan. If the maid had pleaded guilty, she would have served her sentence and been home a long time ago, she added.
The lawyer also pointed out that CCTV cameras throughout the house did not show the maid committing the offences.
Retracted confessions key to acquittal
Passing the verdict on Friday, DJ Ng noted that there was no direct proof or objective evidence of the commission of any offence, as CCTV footage of the alleged offences turned out to be inconclusive, and there was no witness.
The case was based entirely on Nenti's confessions made in police statements, which have since been retracted, said DJ Ng.
"After a careful review of the evidence in this case I was satisfied that the court could not rely on the retracted confessions to convict the accused," he said.
He found that the prosecution was unable to say exactly when the scratching had taken place, as there were two possible dates it occurred – on 6 and 7 August 2019.
"Contrary to the prosecution's case that the footage were evidence of scratches being inflicted either on the 6 or the 7 August 2019, at best the CCTV footage showed the possible opportunities for the scratching of the legs to take place but no further," ruled the judge.
On the charge of cutting the milk bottle teats, the maid had initially denied the charges and mentioned that the teats could have been damaged from washing.
A report from a forensics expert witness stated it could not be determined if the teats had been tampered with. It concluded that the damage to the teats could have been produced through wear and tear. This raised a reasonable doubt on the two mischief charges, said DJ Ng.
The two dates of the baby allegedly choking were also unclear. Her parents had not complained about her choking until they saw CCTV footage of her allegedly fiddling with the teats. Only then did they suspect the teats had been cut.
The judge also accepted that Nenti could have made her confessions so that investigations could be completed and she could return to her home country earlier. After Nenti had been served the causing hurt charge on 13 November 2019, she had admitted to the charge, pleaded for leniency and stated she wished to return to Indonesia early.
"I am satisfied that it is unsafe to find the accused guilty on any of the three charges based on the retracted confessions in the light of circumstances of the totality of evidence adduced at trial," said DJ Ng, in acquitting Nenti.
Speaking to reporters outside of court, Nenti said that she was "thankful" that her case was over.
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