SINGAPORE — After years of verbal abuse by his mentally ill daughter, a father, intending to use a metal pole to defend himself, instead struck at his daughter repeatedly until she fell.
Tan Tian Chye, 66, then pressed a cloth against the 35-year-old woman’s neck until she became still.
Tan was sentenced to two years and nine months’ jail after he pleaded guilty on Monday (12 October) to one count of culpable homicide not amounting to murder of his daughter, Desiree Tan Jiaping, in 2018.
Both prosecutors and a High Court judge called it a “tragic case”, with Deputy Public Prosecutor Bhajanvir Singh noting that Tan was a “doting father” who was the deceased’s main caregiver.
“The deceased who herself was diagnosed with various psychiatric conditions had placed tremendous stress on the family and due to this stress the accused was later diagnosed with major depressive disorder and significant caregiver stress, both of which contributed to the offence and on 19 November 2018 the accused took the life of the deceased whom he loved dearly,” said the DPP.
Daughter had multiple psychiatric conditions
The court heard that Tan, then 64 and a Grab driver at the time of the offence, resided at a flat with his wife and daughter.
Despite graduating from university in 2006, Desiree was not able to hold a full-time job and continued to rely on her parents. According to court documents, she fainted at an MRT station in 2012 and was assessed to have “panic attacks with agoraphobia” and “hypochondriacal preoccupations”. She was too anxious to leave the flat on her own and became dependent on her parents and boyfriend, who moved in with the family.
Desiree also became more demanding towards all parties, requiring her parents to repeatedly clean items she deemed dirty. She insisted that they change her food orders if they got them wrong, and would scold them continuously.
The elder Tan would take time off his work to bring Desiree out to help her overcome her anxiety. He also bought a second-hand car for her boyfriend to take her out.
In 2017, Desire told her parents that she wanted to apply for a flat with her boyfriend and asked them for money, growing more abusive and accusing her parents of not loving her enough. She berated them over trivial matters and insisted that her younger brother return the money spent on his education. She also insisted that her parents borrow money from relatives.
The couple gave in to her demands and handed Desire $50,000 that her brother had returned, as well as $10,000 borrowed from Tan’s elder brother.
This was not enough for Desiree, who also demanded that she be the sole beneficiary of her parents’s CPF monies. Her mother gave in and sent proof to her daughter in the form of a photo of the nomination printout.
Desiree’s behaviour worsened in mid-2018, when she would pick on her parents and hurl profanities at them. She complained about the smell of cigarette smoke and demanded her parents confront her neighbours, or use cardboard to fan the smoke away. The elderly couple did all they could to appease their daughter, including bowing to apologise her.
At one point, Tan slapped his wife in front of Desiree, at the wife’s insistence.
Even after Tan brought his daughter to hospital on 22 October 2018, Desiree declined medication over fears that she would be dependent on it. She was discharged and moved to her aunt’s home.
Day of the incident
Desiree’s overbearing behaviour continued to the point that the couple felt on the brink of being suicidal.
Things came to a head on 19 November 2018, when Desiree insisted that her father pick her up from her aunt’s place and cancel his Grab bookings. Tan did so. While he helped Desiree to pack her belongings, she scolded him for being a “lousy parent”, and continued nagging him throughout lunch.
With a fork clenched in her hand,Desiree said she felt like killing her father, prompting him to apologise in fear.
When they returned to the flat, Desiree went to the kitchen and Tan feared that she might harm him. He picked up a metal pole in his son’s former bedroom and went to the kitchen, where he saw Desiree pointing a knife at him.
Tan then hit Desiree with the metal pole until she fell to the ground. He pressed down on her neck with a nearby cloth until the woman became motionless. Shocked, Tan called the police and his elder brother.
Desiree was pronounced dead at 4.17pm, with her cause of death determined to be from strangulation.
Major depressive disorder
Upon being examined by a psychiatrist, Tan was diagnosed with having a major depressive episode, which substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his actions.
“The accused was however not of unsound mind at and around the material time of the offence, in that he was aware of the nature and quality of his actions. The accused felt that the deceased had placed himself and his wife under such mental torment as to drive them to commit suicide,” said the prosecution.
According to the psychiatrist, Tan had significant caregiver stress and his risk of reoffending was low.
The prosecution sought three years’ jail while Tan’s lawyer Derek Kang asked for the jail term that was imposed by Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, who also noted that Tan had been a selfless, loving and devoted father who spent years caring for his ill daughter.
“As Defence Counsel pointed out, the accused will no doubt continue to suffer the pain and anguish of his action well after his imprisonment term,” said Justice Hoo, who urged Tan to comply with his treatment plan, and for his family to support him in the process.
“It is, I believe, the wish of all of us present, that the accused, as well as his family, will, with time, come to terms with what they have undergone, and experience a measure of closure and healing in their lives.”
He added, “I should also add that as a society, it is critical to continue with efforts to improve and enhance access to mental health services. It is unfortunate that much-needed help, support and intervention were not sought by or given to the Tan family during those years for their daughter, and thereafter, for the accused.”
If you have thoughts of suicide or are feeling distressed, you can call SOS' 24-hour hotline at 1800 221 4444. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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