SINGAPORE - When he saw tattoos on the man's legs, he saw red.
Red as in the colour of the paint that loanshark runners usually splatter on the homes of loan defaulters.
Ng Hwa Lee was so enraged about a loanshark runner harassing his uncle that he slashed an innocent man after mistaking him to be the runner because of his tattoos.
The sales engineer, 34, was jailed for seven months on Tuesday after pleading guilty on Monday to one count of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to Mr Sim Beng Hui, 22, at the ground floor lift lobby of Block 624A, Woodlands Drive 52, on April 24, 2011.
This was not the first time an innocent man was assaulted after being mistaken for a loanshark runner.
In 2009, two men and a woman ganged up against a bank manager who they thought was working for an illegal moneylender.
In Ng's case, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Claire Poh told the court that he was at another uncle's flat at Block 623 to commemorate his grand-mother's death anniversary and was drinking alcohol when he received a phone call from his uncle, who lives at the nearby Block 624A.
The uncle told him that he was being harassed by a loanshark runner. Fearing for his uncle's safety, Ng ran to his block, accompanied by his cousin, Ms Tan Xue Ling, 23, and her brother's girlfriend, Ms Lina Chua Ya Nan, 24.
When he reached the block at about 10.30pm, he spotted Mr Sim walking out of a lift with his girlfriend, Ms Ferlin Koh Hui Ling, 19.
DPP Poh said Mr Sim, who was about to send his girlfriend home on his motorcycle, was carrying two crash helmets on his right arm.
The court heard that Ng immediately assumed Mr Sim was the loanshark runner when he noticed the tattoos on the latter's legs. He approached Mr Sim and asked him aggressively: "what he was looking at".
Mr Sim, who lives in that block, replied that he was not looking at Ng.
But Ng blocked his way and, without warning, punched the younger man on the left side of the face, knocking off his spectacles. To defend himself, Mr Sim swung his right arm with the helmets at Ng, who then pulled out a kitchen knife with a 20cm blade from the back pocket of his jeans and slashed his victim on the left hand.
Blood splattered on the floor. Looking at his hand, Mr Sim noticed that it was bleeding profusely and that the bones and tendon were visible, DPP Poh said.
Mr Sim panicked and fled towards a nearby multi- storey carpark as Ng, still brandishing the weapon, chased after him and shouted at him to stop.
After eluding his pursuer, Mr Sim ran to a coffee shop at Block 630A where he called the police, saying: "People chopping me. I need ambulance."
He was taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and transferred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital the next day.
A medical report dated Aug 15 last year stated that Mr Sim suffered injuries including a fracture and cut muscles on his left hand.
Investigations revealed that Ng returned to his uncle's flat after he lost sight of Mr Sim.
He realised that he had attacked the wrong person only when his uncle told him the runner had left "a long time ago".
Feeling scared, he threw away the knife. He was arrested after he was stopped at a police roadblock on Dec 8 last year.
In mitigation, his lawyer, Mr Kelvin Lim, told District Judge Low Wee Ping that Ng had voluntarily offered to pay Mr Sim the medical fees, which amounted to $1,720.
He said the money was handed over to the investigation officer of the case in court on Monday.
"My client was clearly drunk... He was overly concerned for the safety of his uncle," Mr Lim said.
However, Judge Low said that Ng was a "rash person" and stressed that being drunk is never an excuse for committing a crime.
When The New Paper went to Mr Sim's flat on Tuesday, a woman who identified herself as his mother said that he was not home.
When told about Ng's sentence, she said: "Seven months only?"
She said her son is doing well, adding: "My son still has tattoos on his legs, what can I do?"
She declined to comment further as she did not "want to create trouble" with Ng's relatives who are her neighbours in the block.
When TNP went to Ng's home at Block 317, Sembawang Vista, a woman who identified herself as his mother said in Mandarin: "Children are like that lah, what can I do?"
When told that Ng is not exactly a child, she said: "Ya lah, (he's) stupid lah. I don't know about him lah."
For voluntarily causing grievous hurt, Ng could have been jailed up to seven years, fined and/or caned.
Another case of mistaken identity
Four years ago, three members of a family beat up a bank manager they had mistaken for a loanshark runner.
Mr Lee Jing Chong spent five days in hospital for an eye injury, cuts and bruises.
The three attackers, who pleaded guilty to assault, were jailed in 2011 and ordered to pay the victim $1,000 each in compensation.
One of them was a 32-year-old parttime salesman , who was jailed for a year for beating Mr Lee, then 31, with a metal rod and threatening to break his legs.
His mother was jailed for one month and his uncle was jailed three months for joining the assault.
Their lawyer, Mr Kertar Singh, said the incident was a "genuine mistake" and asked the court for leniency.
The salesman was a guarantor for a friend who had borrowed from an unlicensed moneylender and then defaulted on the loan.
Worried that loanshark runners would harass him, he kept two rods in the family's Ang Mo Kio flat as a precaution.
At about 3am on March 15, 2009, the exterior of their three-room flat was vandalised with paint.
While the salesman was repainting the door three hours later, he saw Mr Lee and demanded to know what he was up to.
He did not believe the bank manager, who said he was visiting a friend, and hit him with a 87cm-long rod.
He also punched Mr Lee while calling out to his family to back him up.
His uncle and mother joined in the attack before the mother called the police to say they had caught a loanshark runner.
When The Straits Times visited their home after the court case, the family still believed that Mr Lee had worked for a loan shark.
"Why would a bank manager be loitering in the corridor so early in the morning?" the salesman said.
- Additional reporting by Benita Aw Yeong
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