Singapore

Police arrest two for Toa Payoh hawker centre dispute

Toa Payoh hawker centre table dispute

In what lawyers called a rare move, police have arrested a 46-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman, who allegedly used offensive language and force against an elderly man in a hawker centre at Toa Payoh Lorong 8 last Friday.

The lawyers told The New Paper that public outcry over the incident could have led to the arrests.

Police said in a statement yesterday that the suspects were arrested for causing public nuisance. If convicted, they can be fined up to $1,000.

After receiving reports about the case on Sunday, police said they established the couple's identities through follow-up checks. Investigations are ongoing.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said that shouting in a public place and verbal abuse constitute disturbing public peace.

He said: "Causing public nuisance is not a serious offence. However, there has been a lot of public interest in this case."

Lawyer Amolat Singh said: "The arrests can serve as a deterrence to the public by showing that such acts will not be tolerated."

Lawyer Jeyabalen Balasingam told TNP that the man might face more serious consequences as he is seen pushing the 76-year-old man from the back, causing him to stumble, in a video of the incident that has gone viral.

LITTERING

A witness has also claimed that the man later dumped dirty plates and utensils from the table onto the floor.

For doing that, he could also face charges related to disorderly behaviour, littering, mischief and vandalism, said Mr Jeyabalen.

The confrontation between the couple and the elderly man, who was carrying a tray of food, reportedly began after he asked if he could share their table.

The woman, who was by herself at the time, told him curtly that it was reserved.

A folded umbrella was on the table with the uncleared plates and utensils.

Ms Janice Lim, 52, who witnessed the heated exchange, said five to six men were prepared to step in to calm things down.

She told TNP yesterday: "He (the male suspect) was panting in anger. The whole hawker centre was quiet and people were staring at him."

After the man swept the plates off the table, Ms Lim said she comforted the elderly man who looked calm.

She said: "He seemed hungry. He told me, 'I just wanted a seat for my dinner'."

Another customer then offered him a seat at his table.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, from the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore, said "choping" tables can "generate tension, which can turn explosive".

PROTECTIVE

Associate Professor of Law Eugene Tan, from Singapore Management University, said those who reserve seats with their belongings are "protective of what they see as their space", while others feel these are public spaces where everyone has the right to sit on unoccupied seats.

"There must be a reconciliation of this clash which requires people to exercise a personal responsibility in not taking more (seats) than they need," he said.

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