News

'Crowd went wild and started attacking bus' Reports by ELIZABETH LAW lawsm@sph.com.sg

THE RIOT

Their usual duties are to manage foreign workers and maintain order in Little India on weekends and public holidays, but on Dec 8 last year, auxiliary police officers (APOs) Nathan Chandra Sekaran and Raymond Murugiasu from Certis Cisco found themselves in the frontline of a riot.

This is their account of what happened that night, as related yesterday to the Little India Riot Committee of Inquiry (COI).

Mr Raymond was near a private bus that had just run over and killed Indian foreign worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu when he saw "nearly 1,000" workers converging around it.

When he went for a closer look, the crowd had become more boisterous and was shouting.

After radioing for back-up and calling the Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre, Mr Raymond and two protection officers who were with him shouted at the crowd to calm down.

"The crowd listened for a while. Then someone shouted something in Tamil. The crowd went wild and started attacking the bus when someone ripped off the (windscreen) wipers," he said in Tamil through an interpreter.

His team was soon joined by six more auxiliary police officers, including Mr Nathan and his team.

Mr Nathan told the inquiry that someone in the crowd started shouting in Tamil: "Kill the timekeeper" and "burn the bus".

The nine APOs then formed a line near the front of the bus to try to hold back the crowd, which wanted to get inside to attack the timekeeper, Madam Wong Geck Woon.

Minutes earlier, she had asked Mr Sakthivel to leave the Jalan Papan-bound bus because he was behaving badly. After getting off, he began running beside the bus, but tripped and was run over. But the crowd felt that Madam Wong was responsible for his death, and emotions were running high.

THROWING THINGS

Then some rioters at the periphery started throwing things at the bus in a bid to get to Madam Wong.

Mr Nathan, who also spoke in Tamil through an interpreter, said that while this was happening, police officers who were nearby stood around and did nothing to stop the rioters.

When Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) paramedics arrived to extricate Mr Sakthivel, the mob started to target them too.

After the body was taken out, they turned their attention to the bus.

At the same time, SCDF officers went back to the bus to rescue Madam Wong and the driver, Mr Lee Kim Huat.

Mr Nathan said he and the other APOs were attacked after they had formed a human shield to escort Madam Wong and Mr Lee to a waiting ambulance. A number of APOs were injured in the chaos.

Having escorted the driver and the timekeeper to the ambulance, some of the APOs decided to move away from the mob to avoid getting attacked further. A few other APOs were still trying to disperse the crowd.

By then, more police officers had arrived. They started forming barricades to try to contain the riot.

That was when Mr Nathan felt something hit him on the back of his head. He turned around to see a man staring at him.

Suspecting the man had thrown a rock at him, he contemplated arresting him. But he decided against it because he feared it would further provoke the crowd and was "too risky".

When asked to elaborate, he said: "If I had gone in to arrest him, there was a chance that the crowd would attack me. Then there was also a chance I would have had to use my revolver."

The crowd might have also got hold of his service revolver, which might have had serious consequences, he added.

The hearing continues today with auxiliary police officer Srisivasangkar Subramaniam likely to take the stand.

THE WOMAN

Auxiliary police officers Nathan Chandra Sekaran and Raymond Murugiasu testified that they had seen timekeeper Wong Geck Woon hurling abuse at the foreign workers while on the job.

The two officers are on duty in Little India every weekend and public holidays.

Mr Nathan said she would shout at the workers to get in line to board the bus as there was no proper queue system.

He added that he had heard her use words like "stupid" and "idiot", as well as vulgarities.

When he offered to repeat the expletives she had used, COI chairman G.P. Selvam immediately said: "No, no, no."

Mr Raymond later said that he had seen Madam Wong push some of the foreign workers to get them off the road and on to the pavement, and that she had used vulgarities on them.

"She would also push them from the road to the pavement and at one time, I saw one male Indian fall after she pushed him," he said, adding that at times, when the foreign workers were unhappy, they would shout back at her.

THE POLICE

They kept calling back to report the situation and waited for instructions.

After that, they waited for troops from the Special Operations Command (SOC) to arrive while the crowd around them went wild.

This was what auxiliary police officers Nathan Chandra Sekaran and Raymond Murugiasu said of the police officers on the ground after the riot started.

Mr Nathan, who took the stand first, told the Committee of Inquiry that he felt the police had reacted too slowly.

Those who arrived at the scene first were just calling back to report the situation and waiting for further instructions, he said. In his two-hour testimony, he repeated this at least three times.

He believes the riot would not have got out of control if police officers had arrested some of the troublemakers early on, adding that they "did not expect" the rioters to set fire to police vehicles.

The rioters dispersed quickly the moment they spotted the first red SOC vehicle coming down Hampshire Road, Mr Nathan said.

Mr Raymond told the Inquiry that if more police officers had arrived earlier, this could have helped to disperse the crowd faster and prevented the situation from escalating.

Last Friday, Deputy Police Commissioner T. Raja Kumar told the Inquiry that police officers on the ground had waited for the SOC troops to arrive because they were neither trained nor equipped to handle a riot of this scale.

He said their first priority was to save lives and prevent the riot from spilling to other areas.