A Master Sergeant was sentenced to six months' jail for ordering a full-time national serviceman (NSF) to drive a jeep despite having no licence or training, and trying to cover up the incident that led to a soldier's death.
Lee Kong Kean, 33, pleaded guilty to acting so rashly as to endanger life at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Marsiling training ground. NSF Tan Mou Sheng, 20, was killed when the jeep driven by NSF Cavin Tan overturned.
Lee tried to pervert the course of justice the next day by telling a group of instructors, including Mr Cavin Tan, then 20, of his intention to lie to investigators that Mr Cavin Tan had stolen the jeep.
Yesterday, District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan made it clear that serious transgressions such as Lee's could not be tolerated as they could lead to tragic consequences, and did so in this case.
As a licensed jeep driver, Lee would know that for an untrained driver, unfamiliar with the jeep, negotiating such tricky terrain and under poor lighting conditions would be risky and dangerous, the judge pointed out.
Two NSFs - Dickson Hong and Ow Yong Wei Long - were also thrown out and injured. None of the three passengers had been wearing helmets or seat belts.
The public, the judge added, is entitled to expect "strict and unstinting adherence" to safety regulations, given the thousands of young men going to the army each year for national service.
"Such (a) transgression would therefore have to be dealt with severely, given the far-reaching and detrimental consequences it could have in corroding the trust and rapport that have been built up over time between the SAF and the public," he said.
Lee's lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam said in mitigation that their client had made a mistake for which he is remorseful, and that he had apologised to the instructors, the deceased's family and the court for his actions. "He was in a state of panic and he said what he said, but he did not persist," said Mr Sunil, on Lee's attempted cover-up.
They also pointed out that Lee, who is currently suspended, will lose his job in the army.
But Deputy Public Prosecutor Tang Shangjun argued that Lee had not just abused his authority when he gave Mr Cavin Tan the order to drive, he also brazenly disregarded safety protocols.
Mr Cavin Tan was ordered to drive one of two jeeps during a training exercise on May 10, 2012. The next morning, he lost control of the jeep on a downward slope - it tilted, rotated around and overturned a few times. Mr Tan Mou Sheng, a close friend of Mr Cavin Tan's, was pinned under the jeep and died of severe pelvic injuries several hours later.
Instead of taking responsibility, Lee tried to cover up his actions and make a scapegoat out of Mr Cavin Tan, argued Mr Tang.
He highlighted that such offences are hard to detect in a large organisation, especially if subordinates are unwilling to report transgressions by their senior officers.
He also sought a sentence that recognised the significant need to prevent such flagrant breaches of training protocol from going undetected and unreported.
The judge agreed that Lee clearly tried to influence the others to buy into his plan to pervert the course of justice.
"What made it worse is that he had wanted to put the blame entirely on Cavin. He was thwarted, not by a voluntary change of heart, but by the vehement objections of his colleagues."
Mr Cavin Tan has served a 10-day short detention order, which is intended to be less disruptive and stigmatising than jail, for causing death by carrying out a negligent act.
When sentencing him last December, District Judge Low Wee Ping said: "Perhaps one positive outcome of this case is that national servicemen now know that they do not need to obey a manifestly illegal or unlawful order."
Mr Tan Mou Sheng's father also told Mr Cavin Tan's parents that their son, now 23, was not at fault as he was obeying orders.
This article was first published on April 23, 2015.
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