Little India riot: Accused was 'confused'

The first man to claim trial over his alleged role in the Little India riot yesterday refuted prosecution allegations that he had ignored police warnings and entered the restricted area for no reason.

Mahalingam Thavamani, 27, also told the court he was "confused" and "nervous" as he had been waiting for his younger brother, and accused an officer on the scene of manhandling him.

The Indian national is accused of obstructing Deputy Superintendent of Police Subramaniam N. on Dec 8 last year, when he allegedly ignored commands not to enter Belilios Road.

Thavamani took the stand yesterday to give evidence in his defence, delivering a first-hand account of events leading up to his arrest.

He is so far the only one among 25 men charged over their alleged roles in relation to the riot to claim trial, and was the first witness called upon by the defence in the fifth day of his case.

DSP Subramaniam had earlier testified that Thavamani had been persistent about entering the restricted area without giving any reasons, eventually leading him to order Thavamani's arrest. The DSP also said he told the accused in Tamil about the police restricting entry into Belilios Road "because of the riot". The prosecution argued that Thavamani thus "knew that a riot had occurred" and at least should have known that his refusal to leave amounted to obstruction.

But the accused insisted yesterday that he had been informed about the riot only after being arrested and taken to the Police Cantonment Complex.

He maintained he had told the officers on the scene that he was waiting for his younger brother, who has a history of fainting spells and had disappeared in the chaos.

"I was confused. I was under fear; I was nervous," said Thavamani. "I was upset that my younger brother was missing. I was afraid that he had fainted somewhere or that something could have happened to him."

He also claimed that the police intelligence officer who arrested him - who had earlier testified behind closed doors as the officer cannot be identified due to the nature of his work - dragged him by the shirt collar.

"Three buttons in the front came off," Thavamani alleged. "Because I was held by the collar, the fourth button was pushing against my throat."

The worker also said he was "certain, 100 per cent" that he did not see DSP Subramaniam that night.

The latter had previously testified that he could not recognise the accused in court, as their encounter had lasted only about 10 minutes.

Thavamani's claim echoed earlier testimonies by two prosecution witnesses - both friends of the accused who had been with him that night - that they had not seen the DSP.

The defence's second witness yesterday, shipyard worker and friend Sethupathi Balamurugan, 30, also told the court he had not seen the DSP on Dec 8. Counsel B.J. Lean had described the DSP as having a distinctive bald head and moustache.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan, however, said evidence from Mr Balamurugan - who had to retract a statement after admitting he had been "confused" on the stand - was "inconsistent" and "not credible".

The hearing continues today. Two police officers are expected to be called by the defence as witnesses.

This article was published on May 20 in The Straits Times.

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