Upset by impending divorce, woman allowed cigarette to start blaze on husband's bed

Wan Ting Koh
·3-min read
burning cigarette with smoke on black background
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A woman who wanted to get back at her husband for divorcing her refused to put out a cigarette that she had mistakenly flicked onto the man’s bed.

She then left the unit as the mattress began to catch fire. The ensuing blaze resulted in 20 homes from the same HDB block having to be evacuated. Nearly $17,000 in damage was caused to the unit and the building’s facade.

At the State Courts on Thursday (6 August), Malisah Mohammad Said was jailed five months after pleading guilty to to one count of committing mischief by fire by failing to extinguish a cigarette which she flicked onto a bed within the master bedroom.

Prior to the incident, the 31-year-old Singaporean had lived separately from her husband. Things came to a head on 15 July last year when the husband told Malisah via a voice message that he wanted to divorce her.

Malisah was alone in the flat that she co-owned with her husband at the time. She replied to her husband’s message to say she would move out from the unit with her eight-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.

Before leaving the flat to pick up her daughter from school, Malisah smoked a cigarette in the flat’s master bedroom. Once she was done, she flicked the still-lit cigarette towards the en suite bathroom, which instead landed on the bed. At the time, the bed was covered with her daughter’s paper drawings.

Despite observing that smoke was rising from the mattress as it began to catch fire, Malisah did not extinguish the cigarette as she wanted to get back at her husband over the impending divorce.

At around 5pm, Malisah left the flat without contacting the authorities. Some ten minutes later, the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) were alerted that Malisah’s flat was on fire.

SCDF officers were deployed to put out the fire and residents from 20 units – between levels 10 and 14 – of the HDB block were forced to evacuate from their homes.

The fire was put out at about 5.43pm. It damaged the bed, an air conditioning unit above it, the ceiling, walls, windows and other appliances, as well as other parts of the home and the building’s facade. The total damages amounted to $16,820 and Malisah’s husband was able to claim $15,000 from his insurers.

Damage was also caused to the air conditioning unit belonging the unit above Malisah’s flat, costing $300 to repair. No one was injured in the incident.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Samuel Chew said that while Malisah did not intentionally flick the lit cigarette onto the bed, she had seen the smoke and had chosen not to react.

In seeking six months’ jail for Malisah, the prosecution considered multiple aggravating factors, including how major inconvenience had been caused to her neighbours, Malisah’s motive for the act and the damage she caused.

Malisah’s lawyer Jonathan Cho said that although the prosecution framed the incident as an act of revenge, it was really “a lapse of judgment” arising from a tragic case of domestic dispute, adding that it was a common experience.

The lawyer said that his client wished to put the episode behind her and has taken steps to curb her smoking habit as well as focus on being a good mother to her daughter.

Cho sought a jail term of not more than two or three months for the woman.

For committing mischief by fire, Malisah could have been jailed up to seven years and fined.

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