SAF captain charged over death of NSF Dave Lee

Wan Ting Koh
Captain (CPT) Tan Baoshu, 30, was charged with rash act causing death, which carries a jail term of up to five years, or a fine, or both. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officer involved in the death of full-time National Serviceman (NSF) Dave Lee on 30 April was charged in the State Courts on Wednesday (31 October).

Captain (CPT) Tan Baoshu, 30, was charged with rash act causing death, which carries a jail term of up to five years, or a fine, or both. He was the Officer Commanding of the Support Company of 1st Battalion Singapore Guards, where Lee was serving his NS duties in. 

Lee, a Corporal First Class (CFC) Guardsman, died two weeks after being admitted to Changi General Hospital for heatstroke. The 19-year-old had completed an 8km fast march in Bedok Camp on 18 April before he showed signs of heat injury and had to be hospitalised.

CPT Tan was the Supervising Officer for the fast march, which happened between 6.30am and 8.25am. He was charged for failing to evacuate CFC Lee in a timely manner and for not allowing necessary treatment to him from 8.25am to 9.10am.

In response to media queries, the Ministry of Defence said that CPT Tan has been “suspended from service pending the outcome of the court proceedings”.

Six more SAF servicemen involved

Six other SAF servicemen – two regular servicemen and four National Servicemen – were involved in the incident, and have been referred to the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) for investigations.

Mindef said in a press release that it will defer its internal proceedings until after the conclusion of the criminal proceedings against CPT Tan.

It added that the six servicemen will be liable for punishments under the SAF Act if internal investigations found them guilty of military offences. Punishments range from a fine to detention and/or reduction in rank as well as administrative penalties.

“Mindef/SAF takes the safety of our servicemen seriously,” Mindef said in its press release. “SAF personnel who conduct unauthorised activities, or who wilfully or negligently fail to comply with training safety regulations, will be severely dealt with and prosecuted under military law by way of Summary Trial or General Court Martial, or under criminal law before the civil courts.”

On Wednesday, Tan’s lawyer Eunice Chua asked for a four-week adjournment to take instructions. The court will hear the case again on 28 November.

‘Decoys’ deployed

One of the disguised men seen leaving the State Courts on Wednesday (31 October) morning following the charging of SAF Captain Tan Baoshu. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

Tan was accompanied to court by a group of four other men. All the men were dressed in long-sleeved white shirts and dark coloured pants.

Following the court hearing, two men in similar disguises – dark hooded jackets, face masks and sunglasses – were seen rushing out of the State Courts building in separate directions.

One of the men was believed to be Tan, while the other was believed to be one of the men who followed him to court.

Committee of Inquiry findings

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament in August that a committee of inquiry (COI) found that Lee died from multiple organ injuries as a result of his heat stroke.

The COI’s preliminary assessment was that he succumbed to heat stroke likely because of inadequate on-site casualty management and delayed evacuation to the medical centre. It noted that possible contributing causes were accumulated fatigue, insufficient rest, CFC Lee’s less-than-optimal state of health and his potential use of medication. CFC Lee had been taking medication in the weeks prior to the fast march for acute upper respiratory tract infection.

His platoon was also given unauthorised punishment in the form of physical exercises for about 30 minutes the night before the 8km fast march. The commander was punishing the team for a perceived lack of teamwork and using mobile phones after lights out despite repeated warnings.

The COI felt that the punishment compromised the soldiers’ required seven hours of rest. The lack of sleep could have been the one of the factors which caused Lee to be more fatigued before the fast march.

Related stories:

Family of 19-year-old NSF who died after fast march ‘demand full explanation from SAF’

Death of NSF Dave Lee: We want ‘full discovery of facts’, says Ng Eng Hen

CFC Dave Lee’s death: COI finds breaches of training safety and discipline rules – Ng Eng Hen