Singapore Sleuths or Keystone Cops?

If anyone wants to learn how not to present credible evidence, this is a must read.

In the ongoing trial of Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Mr Yap Keng Ho the prosecution relied solely on police officers.

What was amazing in this simple case of the three men allegedly speaking without a permit under the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act was that all the 18 witnesses for the Prosecution were police officers!

Several of them were held senior ranks such as Deputy Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, and Inspectors. Almost all of them claimed they were at the scene on 22 April 2006 when SDP members were selling the party newspaper and other publications.

Do the police, responsible for maintaining law and order, always deploy such a high-powered team to keep watch on members of a political party engaged in routine activities?

The “crime” happened two days after parliament was dissolved and nomination day set for 27 Apr and polling day 6 May.

At the outset of the trial, which started on 25 Oct, the first police witness, Sgt Lester Wong, claimed he had received a call from one “Mr Peter” at around 9 am on 22 Apr to complain that “SDP members were selling newspapers and giving talks.”

But the witness told the court “it slipped my mind” to record the call in the Station Diary, a normal practice for police officers manning the front desk.

Furthermore, Sgt Wong did not ask for the particulars of the caller, another routine procedure.

The witness then told the court that officers were briefed that morning to be on the lookout for “sensitive cases” involving the SDP.

Is it believable that given the sensitive nature of the call the officer would forget to perform two procedural musts, that is, take down the particulars of the complainant and record the call in the Station Diary?

Sgt Wong even claimed that he did not write down the information the caller gave on any note pad or scrap of paper. This included the address of the place where the crime was taking place.

Any normal person, let alone police personnel trained to take complaints from the public, taking down a message would instinctively reach for a pen and paper to jot down the details.

Unless…unless there was no caller…unless the police had prior knowledge about the SDP’s activities.

Did they? Did the police know beforehand where the SDP was going to sell its newspaper and when? (Do the three letters I, S and D come to mind?)

Let’s see. ASP Colin Wong, the Chief Investigation Officer of the Ang Mo Kio Police Division, revealed when he was giving evidence that he had briefed his men on 21 Apr (the day before the crime took place) to take along video camera equipment if they received calls of, echoing Sgt Lester Wong, “sensitive cases.”

Did ASP Colin Wong have a premonition?

Stranger still, the officer testified that he continued taking care of his routine activities after he received information about the incident and didn’t leave for the scene of crime until 35 minutes later.

If two Wongs don’t make a right, then their testimonies amounted to much less.

Is anyone expected to believe that given such a “sensitive” case (one in the same category, according to ASP Colin Wong, as housebreaking, missing persons, and murder cases), the telephone recorder would forget to record the callers identity and the Chief Investigating Officer would respond to the call only 35 minutes after he receives the information?

It gets fishier.

Sgt Nor Hasdian, the officer on duty in the Operations Room that morning, came on the stand and said that when she received the call from desk officer Sgt Lester Wong, she immediately “paged express” (SMS) the information to four officers: the Operations Manager, Head Investigations, Operations Officer, and the Commanding Officer.

Asked repeatedly whether, apart from the four, she had sent the message to anyone else, she said no and stuck to her answer of having informed only the officers she mentioned.

But ASP Colin Wong had testified earlier that he had received a message from Sgt Hasdian.

DPP Ms Lee Lit Cheng knew she had to do something. “Was there anyone else you passed the message on to?” she asked.

“No,” the officer repeated.

The DPP persisted: “Apart from the four officers, was there anyone else you informed?”

Probably realising that something was amiss, Sgt Hasdian quickly changed her story: “There is a list of officers apart from the four that I sent the message to.” Of course that list included CIO Colin Wong.

Judge Eddy Tham, like every other person in court, was clearly taken aback. “But you said that apart from the four officers you mentioned you did not send the message to anyone else,” he tried to understand.

“Sorry, Your Honour, I didn’t understand the question earlier,” the Sgt replied while letting out a nervous giggle.

But the web of contradiction didn’t end there.

In her SMS message that morning Sgt Hasdian wrote that Sgt Ken Kwek, who was the duty Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) that day, “was proceeding” to the scene. That was around 9:15 am.

Sgt Kwek testified earlier that he left the police station only at 9:40 am.

Reality check: A call as “sensitive” as a murder case comes in (sensitive enough for the Commnading Officer of the Division to be informed) and no one proceeds to the scene until nearly half-an-hour later?

The likelier story was that Sgt Hasdian in the Operations Room received the call from desk officer Lester Wong only much later, that is, at 9:30 am or after.

This makes much more sense given that most of the officers testified that they left the station only at 9:40 am, including Sgt Ken Kwek whom Sgt Hasdian said in her SMS message “was proceeding” (not “was going to proceed”) to the scene.

This is not only possible but also probable.

Sgt Lester Wong, the very first witness, had originally said that he had called the Operations Room between 9:30 am and 9:45 am. He only changed his story after it was pointed out to him that there was at least half-an-hour delay between the time he received the call from ‘Peter’ and the time he relayed the message to Sgt Hasdian in the Operations Room.

After some prompting by DPP Ms Lee Lit Cheng, the witness changed his story and insisted that he called the Operations Room at 9:15 am.

The Judge, who was not the only one confused, sought to clarify the matter.

Here’s where the problem is compounded. The Investigating Officer ASP Jeremy Koh, who was contacting and coordinating all the witnesses, was in the courtroom and had overheard Sgt Lester Wong’s evidence.

Moreover ASP Jeremy Koh was seen going in and out of the witness room and talking with the other witnesses. He only left the courtroom after the Defendants lodged a bitter complaint.

A witness listening in on fellow witnesses’ testimony is a fundamental no-no. Was it credible then for an experienced legal officer such as DPP Lee to claim that this was an “oversight”?

In the final analysis the comedy of contradictions stems from one factor: The initial call from the mysterious Peter.

If Peter had been a regular caller making a regular complaint, his identity and the time of his call would have been recorded.

Clearly, he wasn’t just a regular member of the public. We’re not even sure if he existed.

If we had known who this Peter was, our poor police witnesses would have been spared from having to surreptitiously sit in on the proceedings, trip over each other’s evidence and make themselves look like amateurs or, worse, their comedic Keystone counterparts.

Whatever the case, the sorry folly has been exposed.

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