SINGAPORE — A man who was accused of sexually abusing his stepson for almost a decade was cleared of all his sexual assault charges on Tuesday (4 May), after a High Court judge found "numerous and extensive" inconsistencies in the alleged victim's evidence.
The 55-year-old man, however, was still sentenced to a year's jail on unrelated charges of stalking his stepson's girlfriend, and criminally intimidating his wife.
This means that the Singaporean walked free after spending about two years and five months in jail since he was remanded in December 2018.
The man had claimed trial to 13 charges, allegedly committed against his stepson starting from when the alleged victim was around eight years old. These included molesting the boy, procuring indecent acts from him, and sodomising him. The alleged acts were said to have occurred from 2007 to 2016.
The alleged victim, now in his early 20s, cannot be named due to a court-imposed gag order.
Delivering the verdict on Tuesday, Justice Chua Lee Ming ruled that the alleged victim's evidence, comprising his statements and testimony in court, were too riddled with inconsistencies.
He agreed with the defence, represented by lawyers Sadhana Rai and Pramnath Vijayakumar, that the alleged victim's evidence was not so unusually convincing as to prove the charges against the accused man beyond a reasonable doubt. This was even as the judge took into consideration the time between the alleged offences and the victim's recorded statements or court testimony.
The victim recorded statements in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
Some of the inconsistencies named by the judge related to an alleged incident in the living room in 2008. The alleged victim claimed in court that the accused had hugged him for 20 to 25 seconds in the room before touching and rubbing him over his shorts, before moving his hands under the clothing.
In the 2017 statement, however, the alleged victim said that the accused had hugged him from behind, then touched his penis inside his pants. The judge noted that one would have expected more details in the victim's earlier statement rather than his testimony in court.
On another incident in 2010, the alleged victim mentioned in court that he had turned around to see the accused performing a sexual act on him. But in his 2016 statement, he did not say he had turned around.
In a 2015 incident in the living room, the man claimed he saw the accused person taking a substance from a mug to rub on his penis. However, in his statement, he stated that the accused person had poured the substance onto his penis.
"One may argue about the materiality of some of the inconsistencies, viewed in isolation. However, the inconsistencies have to be viewed in context," said the judge. "The impactful nature of these incidents makes the numerous and extensive inconsistencies even more significant."
The complainant has not given credible explanations for the inconsistencies. Viewed in totality and in context, the inconsistencies give rise to grave doubts about the credibility of the complainant’s evidence as to the alleged offences. I agree with the defence that the complainant’s credit has been impeached," Justice Chua added.
The judge also disagreed with the prosecution that the alleged victim's demeanour in court showed that he was traumatised from the acts.
"I note as well that sometime in 2017, the complainant had returned to stay in the ... flat with his mother and the accused again. The complainant testified that his behaviour towards the accused was 'as per normal' and that he would sometimes still talk to the accused about his problems," said the judge.
Having said that, the judge noted that the evidence before him proved the charges of criminal intimidation and stalking beyond a reasonable doubt.
The man stalked his stepson's girlfriend between October 2015 and January 2016 by loitering near her residence, scolding her when he saw her, and by sending her text messages.
He also pointed a chopper at his wife and threatened to kill her son on 18 January 2016.
Mitigating for the man, Pramnath said that the man apologised to his wife during her visits to him in prison. She still visits him frequently.
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