On the 4th anniversary PTE Dominique Sarron Lee’s passing, his brother, Daryl Shane, released a message dedicated to him on his Instagram account. In his message, which was dripping with sarcasm, he decried the inadequacy of the punishments dished out to the two Officers who were responsible for the circumstances which led to the death of his brother.
It was revealed in Parliament by Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen that the two Officers responsible – then Platoon Commander Captain Najib Hanuk Muhamad Jalal and Chief Safety Officer Captain Chia Thye Siong – were punished with penalties consistent with other servicemen who have committed similar offences, through fines and delay in promotion. TOC also understands that Captain Chia had since been promoted to the rank of Major.
“Both officers have suffered a setback in their careers. The monetary cost of the promotion delays is significant, amounting to about half of their total annual salaries,” – Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen
In his post, Daryl had made reference to the above-mentioned quote from the Defence Minister.
The Commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, Brigadier-General (BG) Chan Wing Kai had earlier revealed on 7 March that before Lee’s family sued, the two Officers had been summarily tried and found guilty in 2013 for negligent performance of lawful order or duty. However, at that time, the full extent of the punishments were not revealed. The Defence Minister’s subsequent statement was in response to a Parliamentary question by NCMP Dennis Tan.
A Coroner’s Inquiry (CI) was convened in 2013 also found that the number of smoke grenades used in the exercise exceeded the limit specified in Training Safety Regulations (TSR).
The stipulate that the minimum distance between each thrown smoke grenade should be not less than 20m and that the minimum distance between troops and the thrown smoke grenade should not be less than 10m. Based on the exercise layout, not more than two smoke grenades should have been used, but the Platoon Commander, Captain Najib had thrown six grenades instead.
The CI opined that “if the TSR had been complied with, PTE Lee and his platoon mates would not have been subjected to smoke that was as dense as that during the incident, and… for as long as they were during the incident” and that “reduced exposure to smoke would have reduced the risks of any adverse reactions to the smoke.” The CI concluded that “the cause of death of PTE Lee resulted from inhalation of the fumes from the smoke grenades used in the incident”.
The CI also concluded that the actions of the Officers were negligent as they were fully aware of the TSRs but failed to comply with them.
Ms Lim Chuen Ni, Director of Public Communications at MINDEF, stated that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) decided not to prosecute the Officers as the CI found that Lee died from “acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes” and as the reaction was “unlikely to have been predicted,” it was decided that it would be unfair to proceed with prosecution. Ms Lim added that despite the public outcry, it would be “wrong to punish servicemen beyond the level of offence determined by impartial judicial processes.” and doing so would be tantamount MINDEF “overstepping its powers.”
Dominique’s mother, Madam Seah, took MINDEF to Court in a failed bid to hold it accountable for her son’s death. However, the High Court ruled in favor of MINDEF. In its judgement, the High Court cited Section 14 of the Government Proceedings Act, which states, “Nothing done or omitted to be done by a member of the forces while on duty as such shall subject either him or the Government to liability in tort for causing the death of another person, or for causing personal injury to another person, in so far as the death or personal injury is due to anything suffered by that other person while he is a member of the forces…”. In the trial, MINDEF also argued that the suit filed by the family was one that was frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the court process.
After the case was struck out, she penned a heartfelt note to her son which read as follows,
My dearest Dom, my heart continues to bleed for you. It has been 3years and 10months since you were taken from me and still, I haven’t been able to get any closure.
Today, Honourable Judicial Commissioner Kannan Remesh ruled that I have no case against those responsible for your death – the SAF and the 2 officers who did not follow the training exercise SOP. He also ruled that I have to pay for their legal costs. Dom, how can I possibly pay them for taking away your life? Where is the justice? It seems, the price I paid has not been enough. Your death has not been high enough a price for SAF and the 2 officers, and now, not enough for Honourable Remesh, it seems.
They must be right, of course – the judge, the ministers, the SAF and their officers. They are experts in their fields. Individuals who studied and trained for years to be in their current positions. What do I know? I’m only a mother to two sons. I only know to love my sons, to nurture them to become young men who will do right by others, to live with dignity, decency and human compassion. What do I know? They are the experts in their fields. They must know best. They do no wrong.
Dom, in these past 3+ years, I have been worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very government I taught you to trust; worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very system I counseled you to have faith in; worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very people I advised you to respect and honor.
Dom, forgive me. I taught you wrong.
TOC understands that on the 31st of March, Madam Seah filed an appeal against the High Court’s judgement. At the time this article was published, the status of the appeal is still pending.