Man who set fire to Jurong West market sentenced to 11.5 years' jail, caning

300 residents were evacuated after fire broke out at two coffeeshops and a wet market on 11 October 2016 (Photo: SCDF)

Angry that he couldn’t retrieve his belongings from a coffeeshop, he set fire to two Styrofoam boxes, causing a blaze that razed a wet market and two coffeeshops in Jurong West at an estimated cost of more than $6 million.

When asked about the incident by a friend, odd-job worker Lim Ying Siang, 42, admitted to the act and said “F*** care them lah”, referring to the stall owners whose businesses he destroyed.

The fire in the wee hours of 11 October 2016 destroyed the livelihood of 56 stall owners. Many of them had not bought fire insurance and some were unable to afford stalls at the temporary market erected after the fire in front of Blk 495 on 1 January.

A new two-storey complex, which will house facilities including a market, will be built within two years.

Lim, who has borderline intelligence, pleaded guilty to one charge of committing mischief by setting fire at the market at Blk 493 Jurong West Street 41. He was also convicted and sentenced on one charge of drug consumption as he had consumed about 10 to 20 drug pills on the night prior to the incident.

According to his charge sheet, Lim, who has lived in the Jurong West area for over 30 years, set the fire knowing that he would cause destruction to the market and its two adjoining coffeeshops at Blk 493 and Blk 494. The damage was so extensive that the wet market had to be demolished.

For these offences, Lim was sentenced to 11 years and six months’ jail and three strokes of the cane.

On the night of 10 October 2016, Lim had joined his friends in consuming drugs and drinking beer at a coffeeshop at Blk 493. They later moved to another coffeeshop at Blk 494 where Lim, a divorcee who lives with his parents, continued consuming beer.

After a dispute with a friend, Lim returned to his home in Jurong West Avenue 1 but realised that he had misplaced his belongings, including his house keys and mobile phone. He returned to the coffeeshop at Blk 493 at around 2.30am on 11 October to look for his belongings but the coffeeshop was shuttered.

Angry and irritated that he could not retrieve his belongings, Lim threw around some furniture belonging to the coffeeshop before heading to the market at Blk 493 while smoking a cigarette.

While at the market, he passed by a vegetable stall with a styrofoam box and proceeded to burn the lid of the box with his lighter. Even though he burned a fist-sized hole in the lid, Lim was unhappy as he thought the box did not catch fire, said the prosecution.

He then stopped by an incense stall at the same market and used his lighter to burn another styrofoam box he found there. Both styrofoam boxes were placed near combustible materials such as cardboard boxes, newspapers, and other styrofoam boxes. Lim then left to meet his father.

The fire, which was spotted by members of the public, spread and soon engulfed the entire market and coffeeshop at Blk 493. The fire extended to the Blk 494 coffeeshop before Singapore Civil Defence Force officers were able to extinguish it.

At around 10am the same day, Lim’s friend asked if Lim knew about the fire, to which Lim replied, “You don’t know ah? This one I burn one.”

Later that day, Lim also told another friend that he set the market on fire and challenged the friend to report him. He was arrested two days later and his urine sample was found to contain methamphetamine.

A report found that the overall stability of Blk 493’s main structure was compromised by the fire, resulting in highly unstable and weakened structure. Several internal structures were also said to be damaged beyond repair.

The report also found that although the structural stability Blk 494 was not affected, it had caused extensive damages such as cracks, and exposure of the metal roof.

Renovation works at the wet market and coffeeshop at Blk 493 cost an estimated $4 million to $5 million while repairs at Blk 494’s coffeeshop cost $372,276.

A total of 56 stall owners at the wet market and two coffeeshops were affected, with the loss of property reaching $740,000. Most stall owners said they did not purchase fire insurance, hence they lost properties ranging between $1,000 and $60,000. The affected stall owners said in statements that their total income loss was estimated at $980,000.

In sentencing Lim, District Judge Kenneth Yap noted that it was “fortuitous” that no lives were lost.

“What is disturbing is the complete callousness of (Lim)…(he) vented his frustration by setting fire to the styrofoam boxes with no regards for risk to human life and property.

“What’s worse is that the next morning, when he sobered up, he demonstrated complete lack of remorse as seen from his flippant remarks to his friend,” said the judge.

The prosecution, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Wong Kok Weng, sought at least 11 years and six months’ jail for Lim and three strokes of the cane.

He cited the serious harm done to the property and the high culpability of Lim, who deliberately set fire to the boxes.

“He knew that there were flammable or combustible items throughout the Blk 493 market… he was familiar with the area as he had grown up in the neighbourhood, and regularly frequented the market and surrounding areas,” said DPP Wong.

The DPP added that the fire posed a great danger to residents staying in the area and started in the early hours when most residents would be asleep.

Lim’s lawyer Ahmad Firdaus Daud asked for a jail term of 10 years and three strokes of the cane for Lim.

He said that his client was “intensely remorseful” and wished to seek forgiveness from residents and stall owners, some of whom were his friends.

For committing mischief by fire intending to cause or knowing it would cause destruction of any building, Lim could have been jailed up to ten years and fined.