Murder rate low, but S'poreans still rattled

By Zul Othman

THERE were eight murders here in the first six months of the year.

That's compared with 11 for the same period last year,The Straits Times reported on July 28.

Last year, police released statistics for six classes of crimes - crimes against persons, violent property crimes, housebreaking and related crimes, theft and related crimes, commercial crimes and miscellaneous crimes.

The number of murders came under "crimes against persons" but the problem with reported cases of murder is that not all end up as murder convictions.

For example, in the first half of this year, 19 murder cases - most of which were committed last year - were reportedly heard in courts.

But several ended with other convictions, including manslaughter.

Still, when eight sets of remains were found in two months, it sparked fears of a surge in the number of murders here.

One of the most disturbing of the discoveries was made on June 20, when the lower half of the body of 23-year-old Chinese national Lin Xiao was seen floating in Bedok Reservoir.

The cause of death has not yet been determined. Mr Lin, who left his Zhejiang province home about eight months ago to work at Lee Sheng Motor Works, went missing in late April.

His mother later told the media that Mr Lin had complained about stress and expressed regret about coming to Singapore.

Reports of dead bodies surfacing have continued to dominate headlines.

On July 13, derivatives trader Ang Soo Hoon, 36, appeared in court accused of murdering her housemate Celine Ng Swee Peng, whose remains were found in Clementi Woods Park.

Ang allegedly killed Ms Ng, a 36-year-old property agent, on May 26 at a condominium on West Coast Crescent.

Of the eight remains found recently, police have classified only one case as murder. The rest were deemed unnatural deaths and the cause of death for each case is still being investigated.

Despite reassurances that the murder rate is still low, the discoveries have nonetheless rattled Singaporeans.

Said Lawyer Shashi Nathan - a director at Inca Law, which specialises in criminal litigation, regulatory compliance and commercial fraud practice: "While the discoveries make for interesting reading, I don't think it is anything the public should be concerned about.

"To classify everything under murder would be unfair because many are unnatural deaths which could mean the deaths were caused by accidents or suicides and so on."

Agreeing, another lawyer, Mr Edmond Pereira, said the public should not "speculate on such matters in the absence of any conclusive proof (from the authorities)".

Murder charge

There is also the possibility that the murder charge is reclassified after investigation, he added.

Said Mr Pereira: "The prosecution has to look at every aspect of the a case - for instance the accused could have defended himself and if that is revealed then the charges will be amended accordingly."

Take the case of businessman David How Kim Fwee, for example.

On July 25, he was jailed for seven years for fatally stabbing a man with an ice pick following a quarrel at a karaoke lounge in Geylang.

How had originally been charged with murder in 2009. But the charge was reduced to culpable homicide after his lawyers, Mr Subhas Anandan and Mr Sunil Sudheesan, argued that their client was provoked.

Criminal lawyer B J Lean said most killings here are likely the result of a fight than the work of killers.

More often that not, they are committed in the heat of disputes between friends and acquaintances, he added.

Mr Lean said: "I feel it would be too simplistic to classify all killings as murder cases... just as not all sexual intercourse cases (reported to the police) end up being classified as rape cases."

So when netizens started speculating, police came out to squash talk of murder cases being on the rise here.

This article was first published in The New Paper.