We have lost faith in the system.
That's how Mr Laurence Wong and Mr Paul Liew described their feelings about the way the police have handled the assault case which they were involved in.
The two men, together with Mr Wong's then-fiance, were at Suntec City one evening in April 2010 when they came to the aid of a cab driver, Mr Tan Boon Kin, 57, who was being harassed and assaulted by 3 Caucasian men - New Zealander Robert Stephen Dahlberg, 34; Australian Nathan Robert Miller, 35; Briton Robert James Springall.
When the two men tried to stop the assailants from attacking Mr Tan, they were set upon by the Caucasians too. In the event, Mr Liew sustained a fractured nasal bone, a deep gash on the forehead and nose bleed. He had been slammed against the sharp edge of a pillar, had slumped to the floor and was repeatedly kicked on the head and face by the group of expats.
Mr Tay, who was the cab driver of a second taxi which Mr Wong had booked, also tried to help but was punched by the Caucasians. So was Mr Wong.
Miller has since been sentenced to 3 weeks' jail. Dahlberg and Springall have fled Singapore.
(Read an account of the assault by The New Paper, which first reported the incident in May 2011 below. Read also publichouse.sg’s report in October 2011 on the assault here.)
The search for justice following the incident has left Mr Liew and Mr Wong utterly despondent and disappointed with the authorities. Although it has been almost 2 years after that fateful night, the two men still remember vividly the details of the punches, kicks and racist vulgarities hurled at them by the group of Caucasians as they were viciously attacked.
The way the police handled the case has left them losing faith in the legal and judicial system, the men told publichouse.sg.
Following the assault and looking for justice, Mr Wong has gone out of his way to assist the authorities in its investigation - but these were met with delays and seeming disinterest by the police.
On the night of the incident itself, for example, after the police had arrived, Mr Wong had informed them that there were witnesses at the nearby taxi stand and the club, Balaclava. “The few people who were clapping and applauding when we were being beaten up were still at the taxi stand. So, I told the officer, ‘Those guys saw it. Those Caucasians saw it. Can you talk to them?’ The [officer said], ‘Okay. Relax, relax.’ He went to them and [the Caucasians] said, ‘No, we don’t know, we didn’t see anything. We came here and the ambulance was already here.’ I said, ‘That’s a lie.’”
The officer then told Mr Wong, “Sir, if they say no, there’s nothing I can do, ok? Relax! Relax! Stand there!” Mr Wong was left helpless when he heard this. “I’m the victim but I’m very clear on this, but he didn’t believe me.”
Doing police work for the police
A week after the altercation, Mr Wong returned to the scene of the crime to take pictures of where the assault had taken place. He did up a story board of the incident with the pictures and marked out the specifics spots of each attack. He also highlighted the location of the closed-circuit televisions around the area on the board. To help the police even further, Mr Wong printed out a map of the area and marked out the assailants’ escape route on it.
It was Mr Wong’s then-fiance who suspected that the assailants might have originally emerged from an event which we understand was titled, “White Collar Boxing”, that evening at the Suntec City Convention Centre. The police was informed of this.
As far as we understand, the investigating officer did call the event organiser on the phone and had also emailed them but did not manage to get the information on the assailants.
About 3 weeks after the assault, Mr Wong went to that establishment at Suntec City and identified and obtained the names of the assailants himself from pictures of the men shown to him by the event organizer.
Mr Wong had decided to do this because the police seem not to have had the information.
Mr Wong then handed the story board with the pictures, the details of the assault, and the names of the assailants over to the police.
The police praised him for the “good job” in doing these.
But that was not the only thing Mr Wong did to help the police in its work. He had also assisted the police in retrieving medical records for the case.
He told publichouse.sg:
“After they caught the 3 of them, about 3 to 4 months, I said, ‘What’s been going on?’ They said, ‘Oh, we’re still waiting for the medical report from SGH.’ I said, ‘Ok. What’s taking you so long?’ ‘Oh, we called them but they said they are busy.’ I said, ‘Hang on. Cantonment Police Station, SGH. 500 steps away [from each other]? You have to send emails, up and down.’ They said, ‘Ah, we told them urgent already… We sent them 3 times emails. Nothing. We told them it’s urgent but nothing ah. Nothing can be done.’ I said, ‘So, nothing can be done. Can’t you walk over and ask them for it? Do you know how important this medical report is for us to submit the case [to the courts]?’ They said, ‘If they don’t release, what can we do?’”
It was out of frustration that Mr Wong took matters into his own hands. He called SGH himself. “I made a call and said, ‘This person, this case, I want to know who is the doctor in charge. I am about to go to the Ministry of Health. I want all your names. I’m going to the ministry and I’m going to speak to the minister. You either tell me now or you don’t give me the report.’ In 15 minutes, they said, ‘Sir, we found your report. It has been with us for a while… We can get you the report now.’ In 2 hours, it was done. Early the next day, in the morning, it was delivered to the [investigating officer]. I called the IO and said, ‘Settled?’ He replied, ‘Wah, steady lah, brother.’”
Mr Wong was flabbergasted at the officer’s reply.
It took Mr Wong just one phone call to get the report.
“Why did Laurence have to do his due diligence?” Mr Liew asked. “He is supposed to be protected by the law! He basically had to do the investigation [himself]. Why does he have to do it?”
The police, he says, were also not forthcoming with updates when he asked for them. “We are working on it,” or that “the case is under investigation” were what Mr Wong was told each time he asked for updates. This went on for months. In fact, Mr Wong says he was told by a police officer that the police has no duty to inform victims of the status of a case.
He only came to know of how the case was proceeding when he reads news reports of them.
Not the police’s duty to update victims
“[They] claim that it is not [their] duty to inform the victims of what is going on,” said Mr Liew. He only came to know that Springall had fled Singapore when he was informed through the media. “I’m receiving information from the press!” Mr Liew said. “Why is the press faster than the authorities?” he asked.
“I called the DSP [on Friday] asking for answers. Like, so what’s happening now? I called the [Attorney General’s department], the AG department say, ‘Go back to your IO [investigative officer].’ IO don’t want to give me answers. I called DSP, DSP again said, ‘Go back to your IO but don’t worry, we’ll get your IO to get back to you.’ You’re not providing me answers.”
Mr Liew, who is a student in an Australian university but is currently back in Singapore, said he would be able to provide the most help now that he is physically here in the country. Yet, the police doesn’t seem interested in this. “You’re not giving me direction, effort, nothing at all. Zilch. Communication is meek at best,” he said, referring to contact between himself and the police.
“When I signed on with the [Australian] school in September,” Mr Liew says, “I called the investigating officer and said to him, ‘Look, I’m leaving in February. So if possible, can you please try and settle this as soon as possible?’”
It was November when he informed the officer of this.
“The officer said, ‘Ok, ok. No problem.’ I trusted that they would do their job.”
In January, when Mr Liew was preparing to leave for Australia for his studies, he had still not heard from the police. “What do I need to do?” he wondered. “Do I need to get a lawyer?” So he called the police again. “Oh, you’re leaving now?” the officer responded. “You’re leaving in 2 weeks? Wow. Okay. Looks like we got to get something done huh?”
“It was only then that he called me down,” Mr Liew went on, “took my statement, made me sit beside his cubicle, print out all the statements and everything and then he said, ‘Ya, we will submit these as court documents as part of your testimonial.’
“So I asked him, ‘What is the status of the case?’ ‘Oh, it’s with AG and then there’s some involvement of the Foreign Affairs.’ I’m suddenly wondering, you know, logically these are non-Singaporeans so yes, Foreign Affairs is involved. [But] how much is Foreign Affairs involved that the case must sit with them? They [should not] impede the justice process just because these people are foreigners.”
“And even after leaving [Singapore] and being in Australia, I am still chasing after them. I’m still asking them what’s going on?”
Things got moving again when court proceedings started in June 2011. In the event, the 3 Caucasians were granted bail. All in all, the case has dragged on for 22 months since the assault.
Mr Wong and Mr Liew are also upset about why it had taken so long for the authorities to act when the assailants had already been picked up one week after the incident, and they had admitted to the assault about 3 to 4 months after that.
“All these were in place, A to Z already. So what was the extra ingredient that was required for the expediting of efficient justice?” Mr Liew asked. “It’s not rocket science. You have the assailants, you have the reports, you have the persons admitting to it.”
“Honestly, if you asked me, this case has now come to a dead end… I have somewhat lost belief in the system but I’m trying to find hope in it. I don’t blame the government. It is not my place to blame but it is very sad [and] I’ll say it anyway: if the person is not dead, nothing swift will be done.”
Mr Wong expressed the same sentiments as Mr Liew.
“Lets just say that I have totally given up,” he says. “Totally given up on our system. It is common sense, you know? If somebody beats up somebody, then you should arrest him and trial him before you let him go.
“What really makes me sad is not how incompetent our police or legal system is. It’s that people with authority and power to protect are not protecting us. They are not protecting us efficiently enough. I feel really sad for fellow Singaporeans…Those with the power that is invested in them to protect us are not doing their job well enough, in my perspective, because what will fellow Singaporeans do, what will your mother do, what will your brother do, your friends, when you see things like this happening? It has instilled fear in every Singaporean.”
“We’re being treated so unfairly now just because we want to save a fellow Singaporean who [is also] somebody’s father. Until now, I still do not know how to digest [this whole thing].”
Mr Liew [picture, right] plans to write to the Home Affairs and Law ministries about the matter.
Asked if he had contemplated a civil suit against the assailants, Mr Liew said, “Yes, I have. In fact, the reason why I dared not start a civil suit was because of the sluggish response by our investigation officers… I am not a rich person… I could [also] be [accused] of exploiting the system trying to earn money out of this [case].”
In the midst of deep frustration and disappointment with the system, however, Mr Liew is glad for one thing.
“I could have died that night. But I survived, fortunately.”
It is unclear if the Singapore authorities have made any requests with Interpol to bring back Dahlberg and Springall to stand trial in Singapore. It is also unclear what the authorities are planning or have planned to do, going forward, about the 2 remaining cases.
Mr Wong and Mr Liew have not been kept apprised or informed of any further steps the police intend to take, if any.
A wall of silence seems to have been erected by the police around the case.
In the meantime, a report in the New Zealand Herald on 12 February 2012 had this to say:
Dahlberg's father Bill said in December his son had returned to New Zealand and would not go back to Singapore, where he had lived for five years.
On Friday, he told the Herald on Sunday his son was no longer in New Zealand but refused to comment further.
Dahlberg is accused of punching one man and pushing another, causing him to break his nose and cut his head when his face hit a pillar. One of his co-accused, Australian Nathan Miller, was sentenced on Monday to three weeks' jail after he admitted a charge of causing hurt.
Neither Singapore nor New Zealand police would comment on the hunt for Dahlberg.
Singapore has an extradition agreement with Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, but Singapore Attorney-General Chambers' spokeswoman Jin Haw Li would not comment when asked if the office had made any requests for extradition.
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Adham Crichton said the ministry did not comment on specific details related to extradition processes while an international criminal investigation may be ongoing.
"There was no request for consular assistance in relation to this case when it first came up so the ministry has not been involved."
Report in The New Paper on 13 May 2011:
3 men bashed for trying to help cabby
Taxi driver being attacked near Suntec City taxi stand was clutching chest and pleading for passers-by to help. -TNP
Fri, May 13, 2011
By Elysa Chen
FLEEING from his assailants, the cabby pleaded with two passers-by to help.
When Mr Wong Xiong, 38, and Mr Paul Louis Liew, 26, did so, they and another taxi driver ended up being attacked.
They allege that their assailants were three Caucasian men while a fourth acted as alookout.
The incident happened a year ago outside the Suntec City Convention Centre.
Mr Wong and Mr Liew told The New Paper (TNP) that they were wondering why police investigations into the incident were taking so long.
In response to queries from TNP, a police spokesman said investigations are still ongoing.
The police received a call at 12.20am on April 11 last year requesting for assistance at the taxi stand at Suntec City Tower 5.
"Upon police arrival, it was established that a group of Caucasian men had a scuffle with a few members of the public," the spokesman said.
Mr Wong and Mr Liew said their alleged assailants had fled by then.
Although they had no idea who the men were, they were not about to let them get away.
After the incident, Mr Wong's girlfriend figured that the alleged attackers, who were wearing suits, could have attended an event at the Suntec City Convention Centre.
She was right. There had been a function there earlier.
Two weeks later, Mr Wong said he managed to obtain some pictures of the function.
As he had taken a photograph of one of the attackers with his mobile phone during the scuffle, he identified him from one of the pictures. He also recognised two other men from the same picture.
Mr Wong, a businessman, had also returned to the scene and taken pictures a week after the incident.
He marked out on the photos where the assault had taken place and where closed circuit television cameras were situated.
He printed a map of the area and indicated the assailants' escape route on it.
He said he passed the information he collected to the police.
"I wanted to give as accurate information as possible to them to speed up their investigations," he explained.
He said that while he understood that the investigations would take time, he was still frustrated by the lack of progress.
Though a year has passed, the details of the attack are still fresh in the minds of MrWong and Mr Liew.
Mr Wong recalled that at 11pm that night, the two of them and Mr Wong's girlfriend went to Balaclava, a pub at Suntec City, which has since relocated to Ion Orchard.
Around midnight, as they were leaving the pub, they heard a commotion outside.
Mr Wong said they saw four Caucasian men heckling a Comfort taxi driver, who looked to be in his 50s. One man then punched the cabby.
As they walked towards a waiting taxi that they had booked, they noticed about 10 people at the taxi stand watching the antics of the men with amusement. No one went to help the cabby.
Mr Wong said he had noticed the Caucasians behaving in a rowdy manner at Balaclava earlier.
Mr Tan, who was the cabby being heckled, ran up to Mr Wong, grabbed his arm, and pleaded in Mandarin: "Young man, save me!"
Mr Wong said: "I continued walking as I didn't want to get involved. They were making a fool of themselves."
High blood pressure
But as he got into the other cab, Mr Tan said: "I have high blood pressure."
Mr Wong recalled: "When I heard that and saw him clutching his chest, I just couldn't walk away."
So he got out and walked to Mr Tan's taxi and took a picture of the man inside with his mobile phone.
"He reeked of alcohol and looked like he was about to drive off. I said, 'Please leave this cab. You are committing a crime'," said MrWong.
Another man then punched Mr Wong.
When Mr Liew and their Comfort cabby, known only as Ah Heng, tried to help, they were also assaulted.
Mr Wong pursued the men as they ran towards the Pan Pacific Hotel. Along the way, he asked a motorcyclist for help.
When the men got into a taxi, the motorcyclist blocked the taxi's path. But Mr Wong, worried for his safety, told him to step aside. The taxi then drove off.
Mr Liew, who had a 9-cm gash on his head, and Ah Heng were taken to the Singapore General Hospital. Mr Liew said: "A few days later, Mr Tan called to thank me. He was crying."
Ms Tammy Tan, group communications officer for ComfortDelGro, said the two cabbies have made police reports and are assisting the police in their investigations.
"We are in contact with the cabbies and have asked them to submit their medical claims to us," she said, adding that they declined to be interviewed by TNP.
Though Mr Wong and Mr Liew have no regrets for going to Mr Tan's aid, they were traumatised by the incident.
Mr Wong said: "Paul still shivers whenever he's near that taxi stand. I just want justice to be served."
When TNP contacted one of the men who was allegedly involved in the incident, he denied that he had assaulted anyone. He said he had merely witnessed the incident, but declined to give details.
Publichouse.sg will have an exclusive piece on Paul Liew's struggles since the assault.