Towner Road explosion: Man wanted to express resentment against authorities

·Senior Reporter
·6-min read
Man seen detained near Kallang Neighbour Police Post on 13 March 2020 (Photos courtesy of Jerome Simon)
Man seen detained near Kallang Neighbour Police Post on 13 March 2020 (Photos courtesy of Jerome Simon)

SINGAPORE — Deeply resentful against the authorities, a man decided to burn down a police station so that he could air his grievances in court.

Sivaprakash Mailravanan, a 31-year-old Singaporean, then made plans which culminated in him setting off a chain of 16 explosions within minutes on 13 March last year, alarming residents of Block 105 Towner Road and members of the public, who made 56 police calls that night. 

He had also scrawled the name of terrorist group ISIS on seven pillars, and a vulgarity against the ruling People's Action Party on a pillar at the Towner Road block, where the Kallang Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) was situated.

The safety officer was jailed for three-and-a-half years on Wednesday (30 June), and sentenced to nine strokes of the cane, with District Judge Kessler Soh citing the protection of the public as a paramount consideration. Sivaprakash, who appeared via videolink in court, remained silent throughout his hearing.

Sivaprakash's lawyer, Manickavasagam R M Karuppiah Pillai, told the court that his client had been diagnosed with delusional disorder of the persecutory type, and asked for the sentence to be calibrated to his condition. The mental problems started after the breakdown of his marriage, said the lawyer, without giving specific details

Sivaprakash had pleaded guilty earlier in June to one count each of committing mischief with an explosive item, possessing scheduled weapons, and vandalism. Two charges of a similar nature were considered for his sentencing. 

Felt government policies were unfair, favoured the rich

In 2009, Sivaprakash developed an interest in social affairs and began to feel that government policies were unfair and favoured the rich. He perceived the authorities to be overly restrictive and, over time, developed a deep resentment against the government. 

In January last year, his emotions came to a head and he wanted to express his negative sentiments. He considered staging a protest and giving out flyers, but decided that this did not have the impact he desired. 

The next month, he came up with a scheme to draw attention to his grouses. He planned to burn down a police station to signify his contempt for authority, and selected Kallang NPP as it was located near an MRT station with many people passing by. 

He also planned to smash police cars and the NPP's glass panels, and give a speech when a crowd formed. He would allow himself to get arrested so that he could air his grievances in court. 

As he furthered his plan, he decided to start a fire outside the NPP instead to avoid affecting residents staying above. He altered his plans to include burning clothes outside the NPP. 

For the next two months, he replayed the plan in his head and decided to create explosions by burning deodorant cans. He decided to put his plan in motion on 13 March that year. 

Bought flammable spray cans, cotton mattresses

To carry out his plan, Sivaprakash made two trips to Mustafa Centre days before the date to buy numerous deodorant spray cans, trash bags, tyre shine spray cans and cotton mattresses, all of which contained flammable material. He also purchased a sledgehammer and batteries to operate his speaker. 

Sivaprakash went back home to test which type of spray can was more combustible, and packed the more flammable deodorant cans, motorcycle batteries and old clothes into five pieces of luggage. 

On the afternoon of 13 March, Sivaprakash drank eight cans of beer. Between 4pm and 7pm, he drove to a shop at Jalan Besar to buy red paint and spray cans. He then parked a lorry near his residence to extract diesel oil. 

When he transported the luggages to his lorry, his brother, Venghadesh Mailravanan began asking him what he was doing. Sivaprakash lied at first but came clean later. His brother tried to dissuade him to no avail. Venghadesh sought help from a friend, who met with Sivaprakash in an attempt to dissuade him. This was also fruitless. 

Donned military outfit and camouflage paint

At around 11.06pm, Sivaprakash, dressed a in military outfit and with camouflage cream on his face, parked in front of Kallang NPP and used his axe to smash the glass panels. 

He caused $19,330 in damage to the glass sliding doors, a touchscreen and digital signages. His brother, who tailed him to the location, tried to stop him but was ignored. 

Sivaprakash then spray-painted "ISIS" on the pillars. He had learned about the terrorist group several years ago and formed the view that the group was being persecuted and hence turned violent as a result. While he did not personally support ISIS, he knew the name would cause terror. 

"He did this to signal to the government that backlashes may ensue from those (he) perceived to be poor and oppressed," said the prosecution. 

Sivaprakash then moved a piece of luggage to the front of the NPP. He poured petrol onto the luggage before setting it on fire. He added more pieces of luggage and a mattress to the fire. CCTV footage played in court captured the 16 explosions occurring in the span of 10 minutes. 

While a nearby car was damaged from the burning projectiles, no human casualties were caused. Sivaprakash himself sustained superficial burns to his body. 

At about 11.20pm, police officers and Singapore Civil Defence Force firefighters arrived at the NPP. The fire was extinguished after 10 minutes. 

Bystanders told the police that Sivaprakash was seated on the floor of the block. His body was bare, save for military pants and boots. He was arrested. 

Potential danger to society: prosecution

The prosecution described as Sivaprakash as a potential danger to society given the entrenched nature of his perceptions and delusional beliefs. 

According to his psychiatric report, Sivaprakash had also repeatedly refused to accept psychiatric treatment. 

The Deputy Public Prosecutor asked for the sentence and cane strokes that were imposed, while Manickavasagam said that his client needed sympathy rather than punishment.

"This is distinguished from the other cases in that here we have a case of a person who is mentally disturbed," the lawyer said."Until the breakdown of his marriage he had no issues...(Sivaprakash) served his national service in combat engineers... uneventfully without disciplinary problems."

The lawyer added, "He is now in the safe custody of the legal authorities and Your Honour should lean more towards giving him medical assistance ... which of course prisons and the state will provide him. Sentencing him to a high level of time in prison in my humble submission won't work for him."

DJ Soh agreed with the prosecution that the principle sentencing consideration in the case was the protection of the public as well as deterrence.

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