Man who was jailed 2 extra days by mistake signs compensation agreement, describes experience behind bars

Mr Teo Seng Tiong was released from jail on Aug 24 morning, two days after he should have been released.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The man who was kept behind bars for two extra days because of an administrative error in the State Courts said he had tried to distract himself to avoid thinking about the extra hours he was spending in jail.

For those two nights, he had tossed and turned in the jail cell that he shared with three others, Mr Teo Seng Tiong told The Straits Times on Saturday (Sept 19).

On some nights of the fish farmer's seven week imprisonment term, he said he was kept awake by the incessant whirr of the ventilator fan and the sound his cellmates made as they showered.

But between Aug 22 and 23, it was the fact that he should have been a free man that weighed heavily on the 59-year-old's mind.

"During the day, I could distract myself by talking to other people but at night, when no one else was awake, I kept thinking about it," said Mr Teo in Mandarin.

"You keep telling yourself not to and try to sleep, but you can't stop thinking about it... It was like time wasn't moving."

Earlier this month, it was revealed that owing to an administrative error by an officer with the State Courts, Mr Teo ended up staying in jail for two extra days.

He declined to say more, noting the confidentiality agreement he had signed earlier this week for an undisclosed sum in compensation from the Government.

Married with two adult children, Mr Teo was sentenced on Jan 14 to seven weeks' jail and a fine of $500 for causing hurt by a rash act, and of failing to make a police report within a day of an accident.

The incident happened just before noon on Dec 22, 2018, in Pasir Ris.

In a video that was widely circulated, cyclist Eric Cheung Hoyu is seen hitting the left side mirror of Mr Teo's lorry before the truck suddenly swerves to the left towards Mr Cheung.

The British national, who is 36 years old this year, can be seen falling off his bicycle onto the grass verge on the side of the road.

ALSO READ: Lorry driver in viral video jailed 2 extra days by mistake, Court apologises

At the end of the court hearing, Mr Cheung was fined $2,800 for mischief and for not cycling in an orderly and careful manner as required under traffic regulations.

Besides the jail term and fine, Mr Teo was also disqualified from holding or obtaining all classes of driving licences for two years.

He was told if he was unable to pay the fine, he would have to serve another three days behind bars.

After appealing unsuccessfully with the High Court, Mr Teo paid the fine and began serving his jail term on July 20.

While the High Court notified the State Courts that the fine had been paid, the State Courts officer in charge of the case failed to update the State Courts' case management system to reflect this, said the State Courts on Sept 2.

The error was discovered only when Mr Teo's lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Joek, sent a receipt of the payment for the fine to the Singapore Prison Service.

Mr Teo was released on Aug 24 morning, two days after he should have been released, with a third of the three days' jail in lieu of the fine remitted.

It was earlier reported that Mr Teo was convicted for voluntarily causing hurt in 1988 and 2012, and for affray in 1999. He was also sentenced for an obscene act in 1993 and insulting the modesty of a woman in 2007.

Mr Teo had also been convicted of multiple traffic offences between 1999 and 2015 involving careless driving, speeding and beating a red light.

But he insists his experience of incarceration taught him "profound" lessons and is a "blessing in disguise".

"It was an enlightening experience that you cannot get outside. (It gave me) the opportunity to learn discipline as well as how to control (my) temper and let things go," he said.

Now he just wants to put the matter behind him, although he has been quizzed by others on the compensation sum.

"I'm nervous because there is a lot of pressure and I have to always be careful what I say (because of the confidentiality agreement).

"Everyone, whether I know them or not, has been asking me how much I got."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.