Serious false allegations in dead prison inmate's family's claim: MHA

SINGAPORE - The Government has issued a statement regarding the civil suit filed against it by the family of an inmate who had died in prison.

Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah's mother, who is represented by lawyers M. Ravi and Eugene Thuraisingam, is contesting the official account of events, and says her son had died from "intentional assault".

In a statement issued on Friday evening, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) says that the claim filed by the family contains serious allegations that are false and which cast aspersions on the integrity of the prison service, police investigations and the criminal justice system.

Read the full statement by MHA here:

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has reviewed the notice of a civil suit served on the Government by the counsel for the family of the late Dinesh Raman s/o Chinnaiah ("Dinesh Raman") on 12 September 2013.

The claim filed by the family contains serious allegations that are false and which cast aspersions on the integrity of the prison service, police investigations and the criminal justice system.

MHA notes that the counsel for the family, Mr M Ravi, has stated that the Court should determine the facts. MHA agrees, and also notes that it was the family and its lawyers who started making statements in public about the facts, which were then reprinted and commented on, without regard to the truth or the fact that the matter was before the Court. The Government would normally have dealt with the false allegations made in the claim in Court.

But since Mr M Ravi, has chosen to make the allegations public on 11 September 2013, even before formally serving the writ on the Government on 12 September 2013, MHA is issuing this response to correct some of the falsehoods.

The Statement of Claim also contains several other statements. Most of these were first presented in Court, by the AGC, during the criminal proceedings against DSP Lim. It is also untrue to suggest that the government declined to conduct a Coroner's Inquiry. The Inquiry was discontinued without objection from the family, because the facts had been ascertained in the criminal proceedings.

The claim filed by the family alleges that Dinesh Raman died due to "the oppressive assault" by Prison Service Officers, who "abuse[d] their positions of authority". These are false accusations. The Statement of Claim alleges (amongst other things):

a) "Despite the fact that Dinesh was not allowed to go to the outdoor yard at Changi Prison Complex, Institution A4, Housing Unit 2 (the "Outdoor Yard"), he was deliberately let out" - This is false. Dinesh Raman was disallowed from leaving his cell for "yard time" because he had committed a disciplinary offence earlier in the morning.

However, he left his cell without authorisation when the cell door was opened to allow his cell mate back into the cell. Once out of his cell, Dinesh Raman proceeded to kick a prison officer in the abdomen in an unprovoked attack. The prison officer Dinesh Raman attacked was not the same officer alleged to have had a prior verbal exchange with Dinesh Raman in the Statement of Claim.

b) "The Prison Service Officers abuse[d] their positions of authority and assaulted Dinesh", and "ignored the physical symptoms" that "Dinesh's body was presenting" - This is also false. Dinesh Raman was restrained as a result of his unprovoked attack on a prison officer.

Dinesh Raman was violent and had to be restrained by several prison officers, under the supervision of senior officer DSP Lim. Dinesh Raman exhibited physical symptoms such as breathlessness which were observed by the prison officers. These symptoms were consistent with the application of pepper spray and the restraint operation, and were subsequently addressed.

The Court that sentenced DSP Lim on the charge of causing death by negligence on 19 July 2013 did not find any malice in the actions of DSP Lim.

The prison officers applied restraint procedures, which call for 3 to 4 officers at any one time to restrain specific parts of his body and limbs in a controlled manner. This is an established procedure adopted from reputed prison services for bringing a violent prisoner under control in as safe and as controlled a manner as possible.

c) "Consequently, Dinesh sustained severe injuries from which he passed away" - This too is false. The Autopsy Report by Senior Consultant Forensic Pathologist Associate Professor Gilbert Lau stated that the cause of death was consistent with positional asphyxia.

The autopsy report further noted that the abrasions and bruises found on Dinesh Raman's body were consistent with having been physically restrained. There was no evidence of head injury, compressive neck injury, skeletal fracture or dislocation.

The Autopsy Report also does not suggest any cause of death other than positional asphyxia.

There is absolutely no basis for the false allegations contained in the claim filed by Mr Ravi on behalf of the family of Dinesh Raman.

Following DSP Lim's conviction on 19 July 2013, MHA has been in touch with Dinesh Raman's family to discuss the matter of compensation.

a) The Government has made clear that it accepts liability, as Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran reiterated in Parliament on 12 August 2013. The supervising officer DSP Lim should have exercised more care when his officers restrained Dinesh Raman, for which the State accepts full responsibility.

b) On this basis, an offer of compensation was extended to the family on 10 September 2013. The State has offered a compensation quantum calculated on the premise that Dinesh Raman would have gone on to ITE and have had a stable job. This is a generous approach, given the following facts:

i. Dinesh Raman was a secret society member who did not complete his O-levels and did not have any stable job prior to his time in prison.

ii. He was arrested and sentenced to Reformative Training for rioting and theft with common intention on 12 December 2007. He was released from Reformative Training on 6 January 2010, and placed on supervision to continue his National Service at Maju Camp, subject to conditions for good behaviour to enable him to fulfil his National Service obligations.

iii. On 14 January 2010, Mdm Selvi reported to Dinesh Raman's supervising officer from the Reformative Training Centre (RTC) on an injury she had sustained from him. After the incident, Mdm Selvi took a Personal Protection Order against Dinesh Raman. On 28 March 2010, he breached the Personal Protection Order by threatening to hurt Mdm Selvi again after she rejected his request for money. Mdm Selvi had to call in the Police to help her.

iv. In view of further disciplinary breaches and his poor progress while under supervision, Dinesh Raman was sent back to the RTC on 1 June 2010.

MHA officers, including a Tamil-speaking staff, have engaged the family and Mr Ravi on their compensation claim. Despite indications that they would do so on a number of occasions, the family has not submitted a formal claim.

Instead, the family has informally suggested that they would be prepared to "settle" the matter for substantial windfall amounts that are completely disproportionate in view of the considerations outlined above. If the Government cannot reach an agreement with Dinesh Raman's family, it will leave it to the Court to decide on the appropriate quantum of compensation.

MHA wishes to reiterate that every case of death in prisons is taken seriously. In Dinesh Raman's case, a thorough and independent criminal investigation was conducted by the police to establish the full circumstances and cause of his death.

(i) The investigations found that Dinesh Raman made an unprovoked attack on a prison officer. He was restrained, and placed in the Disciplinary Housing unit (DHU). He passed away from breathing difficulties due to positional asphyxia.

(ii) A senior prisons officer, DSP Lim, was the supervising officer when Dinesh Raman was restrained. The Attorney General's Chambers, after reviewing the facts, decided that DSP Lim should be charged.

(iii) The cause of and circumstances connected with Dinesh Raman's death were placed before the Court in the criminal proceedings against DSP Lim. These were disclosed in the Statement of Facts submitted to the Court, which also included the autopsy report. A copy of these documents was extended to the lawyer representing Dinesh Raman's family.

(iv) The Court found DSP Lim guilty of negligence not amounting to culpable homicide under section 304A(b) of the Penal Code, for failing to adequately supervise the restraint operation. In sentencing DSP Lim, the Court held that there was no motive or intention to cause serious injury or the death of Dinesh Raman.

(v) Separately, a Coroner's Inquiry into the matter was subsequently discontinued because the cause of death was established in the criminal proceedings. The Coroner's Inquiry was discontinued with the knowledge of Dinesh Raman's family who were represented at the Coroner's Inquiry by their lawyer and they did not object to its discontinuance.

8. The outcome of the investigation process, and the cause of Dinesh Raman's death, has also been explained to Dinesh Raman's family on various occasions by MHA.

MHA has been mindful of the impact of Dinesh Raman's unfortunate death on his family and has sought to engage them with a view to helping them find closure on the matter.

Aside from the offer of compensation, MHA has also provided the family with relevant information and reports on the incident and also offered to facilitate a meeting with the state pathologist to explain the cause of death. This was not taken up by the family.