SINGAPORE - BREAKING into an eighth-storey flat was easy. But getting out after being cornered was another matter.
Rather than surrender to the police, Pek Kok Chong, 39, risked plunging to his death by climbing out of a bedroom window and scaling down the side of an HDB block using curtains as a makeshift rope.
But his escape attempt was short-lived. The police nabbed him in a flat on the sixth storey. Pek, whose loot from his ill-fated burglary was a mere $123.17, pleaded guilty to two counts of housebreaking and one count of theft on Aug 8.
District Judge Siva Shanmugam on Tuesday sentenced the jobless man to five years of corrective training and 12 strokes of the cane. Four other charges for similar offences were taken into consideration during sentencing.
For each count of housebreaking, Pek could have been jailed up to 10 years. For theft, he could have been jailed up to seven years and fined.
Corrective training is a prison regime for repeat offenders and does not offer the usual one-third remission for good behaviour.
Pek, who was released from prison last May after serving time for housebreaking and theft, has been in and out of jail since 1989.
On June 26, he broke into a flat on the floor where he lived at Block 641, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4. Its owner, Madam Cheng Khah Gaik, 80, was out at the time.
But another neighbour, a housewife who wanted to be known only as Ms Gini, 35, told The New Paper that she had called the police after spotting Pek removing a glass pane from a louvre window to gain entry into the flat around 11am that day.
She said: "His sister used to live with him and I often looked after her five-year-old son. She told me that he had a criminal record. That's why I became suspicious when I saw him at the corridor.
"As I was calling the police, I noticed that half his body was already inside Ah Ma's (Madam Cheng's) flat. I was shocked."
Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong Wei-Zhen told the court that when police officers arrived, they heard rummaging sounds from inside the flat and knocked on the door.
As they waited for the door to be opened, they received a call informing them that a man was sitting on a window ledge outside the flat.
It turned out that Pek had tied some curtains to the window grilles and was going to climb to the unit below.
Its occupant, Madam Nurmi, 53, was looking after her grandchild when she saw Pek outside her bedroom window. The terrified housewife screamed and ran out of her home to get help.
Pek then used Madam Nurmi's curtains to climb to a unit on the sixth storey, where he tried to hide.
But the police managed to enter the flat with the help of the Singapore Civil Defence Force and arrested him.
Ms Gini said: "The SCDF even inflated an 'air mattress' (life pack) on the ground just in case my neighbour fell down. We were relieved when the police arrested him."
Drama at her doorstep
Madam Cheng told TNP that as a Teochew opera singer, she is used to performing dramatic roles. But she was not prepared her for the real-life drama that unfolded at her doorstep that day.
"I came home after having breakfast at a coffee shop - like what I normally do every day - and saw policemen outside my door. I asked what happened and they told me that a man had entered my flat through the window," she said.
"I don't know why anyone would want to steal from me. I'm not a rich woman. I earned most of that money from my shows."
She said that Pek had been living with his mother in a unit a few doors away from hers.
"Before this happened, she used to say hello to me whenever we meet. But she ignores me now. I guess she's embarrassed about what happened," said Madam Cheng, who lives with her 50-year-old son in a spotless two-room flat.
The court heard that Pek also admitted to breaking into a flat belonging to his then-girlfriend, Madam Joanne Tng Chze Yen, 38, who lives at Block 645.
He went to the clinical assistant's home after she left for work at 7.30am on June 25 and put his hand through the metal gate of her unit to take a house key placed near the door.
Pek used it to enter the flat and stole a Nintendo game console worth $250 and three pendants valued at around $200.
Madam Tng found out about the missing items at around 9pm that day and informed the police. When TNP visited her flat on Tuesday, she claimed that she doesn't know Pek.
The court heard that Pek also stole a $288 bicycle from a Cash Converters store on June 12. He then returned with his own bicycle and tried to sell it to the store.
Ms Gini said she apologised to Pek's mother for informing the police about her son's crime.
She said: "The mother told me: 'Never mind. He will never change'. It's very sad."
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