3 assumptions that led to Little India riot

The hearings of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Little India riot concluded on Wednesday with testimony from the lead investigator.

Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) director of investigations Adam Fashe Huddin, took the stand as the final witness.

He presented his team's findings on how the riot unfolded and offered suggestions on how another riot could be prevented.

His team of six CNB officers, including himself, had interviewed more than 320 people and conducted multiple site visits to Little India and foreign worker dormitories.

The COI secretariat said the CNB was appointed as it is a neutral party and the investigators have the expertise and experience to aid in the investigation.

It was clear that the riot was sparked off by the road traffic accident that killed Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, said Mr Adam.

His team believes the crowd of onlookers had made three assumptions about the bus driver, the timekeeper and the first responders, causing them to become violent.

1. UNSYMPATHETIC BUS DRIVER

The crowd thought the bus driver, Mr Lee Kim Huat, was unsympathetic to the plight of Mr Sakthivel because he refused to move the bus .

They did not understand that as the man had died on the spot, the bus driver was not allowed to shift his vehicle to free the deceased, said Mr Adam.

So they targeted the driver.

2. RUDE TIMEKEEPER

The investigators found that the timekeeper, Madam Wong Geck Woon, had been rude and used vulgarities in carrying out her task of managing the bus queue.

"The rioters could likely have concluded that the deceased was unfairly forced down the bus by the timekeeper and she may have been responsible for the accident," he said.

3. FIRST RESPONDERS' ACTIONS

The crowd had also blamed first responders from the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) for "shielding their own". Police and SCDF officers had used ballistic shields to protect bus driver Lee and timekeeper Wong, and escorted them to an ambulance.

Throughout, they were pelted by projectiles.

Said Mr Adam: "Those rioters had assumed that the bus driver and timekeeper were guilty of the accident and would be enraged that the police officers were protecting them instead of arresting them."

ALCOHOL ESCALATED RIOT

He also concluded that alcohol was the main contributory factor in leading the riot to escalate, despite not having direct evidence to prove it.

Numerous police and auxiliary police officers noticed that some of the rioters were losing their balance and smelled of alcohol.

Video footage also showed rioters "dancing and walking unsteadily".

Alcohol bottles were also the most common object thrown at the police.

Mr Adam said: "The common view is that South Asian foreign workers are generally well behaved, but a handful of them will get drunk and create a nuisance after that."

SUGGESTIONS TO COMMITTEE

The lack of information available to the incident manager that night was a concern, he said.

Mr Adam offered several suggestions to the committee, such as the need for more closed-circuit television cameras at hot spots in Singapore, including Little India.

This, along with wearable cameras and vehicle cameras for first responders, would enable live video feeds to the control room and improve its situational awareness.

Plans to implement these are already underway, he said.

He added that there is "value in tapping on social media to gain quick access to information".

Discussion threads and video footage were uploaded by the public at an early stage of the riot, which could have complemented live video feeds.

FINDINGS OUT ON JUNE 13

The COI findings will be out by June 13, six months after the committee was first appointed to investigate how the riot happened and make recommendations to the Minister of Home Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

It is not known if these findings will be made public.

ngjunsen@sph.com.sg


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