SCDF warrant officer jailed 13 months over NSF's drowning during ragging ritual

Wan Ting Koh
·Senior Reporter
Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, 36, had instigated an act that resulted in the death of full-time national serviceman Kok Yuen Chin. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, 36, had instigated an act that resulted in the death of full-time national serviceman Kok Yuen Chin. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) warrant officer was sentenced to 13 months’ jail on Wednesday (20 November) for instigating an act that resulted in the death of a full-time national serviceman in a fire station’s pump well.

Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, 36, was earlier found guilty of abetting sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood to push NSF corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22, into a 12-metre deep pump well on 13 May last year, an act which killed the NSF.

The incident happened at Tuas View Fire Station, as part of a ritual known as “kolam” (Malay for pool) to celebrate Kok’s impending operationally ready date. Fatwa had previously been sentenced to a year’s jail for his role in the incident.

In sentencing Farid, District Judge Victor Yeo said that “the life of a young man was tragically lost as a result of a senseless prank”.

“He failed in his duties and responsibilities as a commander and supervisor on the night of the tragic incident. I was not impressed by accused’s attempt to downplay his involvement in the episode or to minimise his role as a mere spectator. Instead, he instigated Fatwa when Kok hesitated for too long to enter,” said the judge.

“The court must send out the message that such rash acts and risk-taking behaviour will not be tolerated and offenders must be prepared to bear the full consequences of the law.”

Pushing for a sentence of 14 months, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan said that Farid had displayed a high degree of rashness despite being aware of the risk and the danger that the pump well presented.

Farid’s lawyer Vinit Chhabra, who asked for a term of four to eight months’ jail, stated that while his client had instigated Fatwa, he could not have foreseen the manner of the push.

“Fatwa could have faced Kok and pushed him in, with Kok being aware that he is being pushed in. (He also could have pushed behind) gently, giving (Kok) enough time to react and anticipate he was going to be pushed,” said the lawyer.

Based on the footage presented in court, Kok was shoved suddenly from behind while he was speaking to the others, the lawyer noted. The manner of the push contributed to the outcome of the fatal incident, he said.

Before the incident, Farid had never instigated anyone or witnessed the kolam ritual, as opposed to Fatwa, who had thrown a senior officer into the kolam on an earlier occasion.

Citing Farid’s personal circumstances, Vinit said that his client is the main breadwinner of his family, including two sons who will be seven and three years old by the end of this year and a wife who works as an administrative assistant at a dental practice.

Two other officers are yet to be dealt with by the court in relation to the incident.

Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, and first senior warrant officer Nazhan Nazi, 41, are still contesting the charges of helping the group to cause grievous hurt to Kok through a rash act, by failing to prevent the group from making Kok enter the well.

Chong was the rotation commander in charge of the men, while Nazhan was the deputy rotation commander. SCDF fire stations have three rotation shifts, with personnel in each rotation working for 24 hours.

Another officer, Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi, was jailed for one month for deleting a video recording of Kok being pushed into the well.

Background of incident

During the celebration on 13 May, the officers of the rotation had gathered at the watch room in the fire station to celebrate Kok’s impending ORD. He was presented him with a plaque and a cake.

At about 9.05pm, Fatwa suggested that Kok partake in an ORD ritual of kolam, despite it being a form of ragging and prohibited by the SCDF. However, Kok was reluctant to participate in the ritual.

Kok was later carried to the pump well, which was used for training as an open water source for fire engines, and had a depth of about 12 metres. It was filled with water to a depth of 11 metres.

Kok was hesitant when told by a sergeant to remove his shirt, belt, boots and personal belongings but eventually complied.

The group then cheered and egged Kok on as he stood at the edge of the well, hesitant. Farid told Kok to sit at the edge and he complied. Kok looked scared as he remained seated for 43 seconds.

Farid then told Fatwa to push Kok, and Fatwa did so forcefully on the back with his right hand. Kok fell straight into the water without surfacing for air. Kok did not know how to swim.

Shortly after, officers jumped into the water to find Kok but to no avail. The firefighters then used a fire engine to pump the water out of the pump well.

Kok was found 36 minutes after falling into the well at 9.43pm. He was later pronounced dead by paramedics.

Other related stories

SCDF warrant officer found guilty over NSF's drowning

SCDF ragging case: Witness recalls own experience with 'kolam' ritual

SCDF ragging death: Victim showed fear, resisted being put into fire station well, says witness