Looks like the death of the 21-year old prison inmate raised enough eyebrows to lead to questions being raised in Parliament. Leave you to judge, however, whether you’re satisfied with the questions – and the replies.
So Second Home Affairs Minister S Iswaran gave a long spiel laying out the timeline between day of death and day of reckoning in court.
Sept 27 Dinesh dies. Home Affairs ministry notified. Police get cracking on case. Prisons start reviewing procedures.
Nov 4 Police gives preliminary findings to Coroner. (Not sure what happens to the Coroner’s side here except that no inquiry took place. Maybe Coroner already knew it was going to be a criminal case, so he sat and watched. Then when the criminal case was over, there was no need for it.)
In the meantime, police interviewed 130 people, most of them prison guards and inmates. Even flew to United Kingdom to find out about control and restraint procedures, which Singapore had copied.
Aug 17 Police hands over full findings to Attorney-General Chambers.
Feb 4 After looking over findings and asking more questions, AGC says, okay, prosecute.
March 1 Police tells Home Affairs ministry investigations all done. (Don’t really know why they waited till March when they could have told the ministry in August at the same time as they told AGC. Maybe police didn’t want to bother ministry until after the AGC gave the go-ahead or not.)
Minister says must convene Committee of Inquiry. Review prison processes. Recommendations, please. COI gets cracking.
June 4 Home Affairs ministry accepts findings and recommendations of COI.
July 19 Case in court. Prison supervisor pleads guilty to a charge of death by a negligent act. Sentenced to $10,000 fine.
So many months, 28 or so, of so much police and prison activity – and it was made public in one day in court. Then case closed.
Mr Iswaran said the Shane Todd case took 13 months with 60 over witnesses. Yishun triple murder, which had 68 witnesses, took four years to conviction. To make the point that it wasn’t such a long time. But, hey, it wasn’t like the police had to go and hunt down suspects or anything. The last time we heard, the prison was a pretty secure place.
Never mind how many months police took, you almost wish the charge was murder – so at least the prison supervisor would have to have to go through a trial and the public can hear more about what happened. That would, of course, be too much. There was surely no malice intended on the part of the prison guards to make them under such an ordeal. Right?
So just how did Dinesh die?
Mr Iswaran didn’t go into all the mechanics of how many people pinned Dinesh down when he started flailing at them or whether they threw water on his face after he was taken to solitary. But it seemed the eight or so prison guards did not “maintain constant communication’’ with Dinesh “as required by SOP, to monitor his overall condition’’.
(So he might well be dead before he was hauled into the solitary cell. No one knows. Or no one is telling.)
Mr Iswaran also said something interesting about “positional asphyxia’’. You know, Dinesh was supposed to have died because he couldn’t breathe after he was placed face/body down. Mr Iswaran said that the guards have been given “new protocols’’ in the wake of this death; they should control and restrain violent inmates in a “standing position’’ to “reduce the risk of positional asphyxia’’.
What does that mean? That the prison guards pinned him down to the ground too forcefully? Did they use “reasonable force in a controlled manner’’ as they have been taught to do?
The police investigators and those on the COI would probably know. After all, they would have had to examine the body. So what did the post-mortem report say?
According to ST, MPs such as WP’s Mr Singh later rose and pressed for more transparency, including making the COI findings public.
Mr Iswaran reportedly replied that the COI’s purpose was not to establish criminal guilt or liability. Rather, it was to audit the prison system and its processes, and identify additional measures to prevent a recurrence.
This is all really, really too odd.
What is the problem with making the COI findings public? Didn’t the Our Singapore Conversation make it clear that the people want more, not less, information? Is giving out more information going to destroy the trust level between the people and the G? Surely not. Or is the G sticking to its position that no one needs to know so much. That’s enough that we have “handled’’ it. Or worse, raising questions on the death of Dinesh is equivalent to banging drums (Distortions, Rumours, Untruths, Misinformation and Smears)?
Mr Iswaran took pains to point out that the prison environment is a dangerous one. Last year, there were 61 cases of assault: 40 against fellow inmates and 21 against the guards. Over the past four years, the guards had to use control and techniques 331 times. No one has ever died or have been badly injured. Until now.
WP’s Mr Singh also asked if the coroner’s inquiry could be re-opened. But the minister said it was not unprecedented nor uncommon for one to be discontinued at the state coroner’s discretion after the accused had pleaded guilty. Lawyers acting for the inmate’s family also did not object to the inquiry being discontinued.
The thing is, this is a death in a public institution. It would be better to let it all hang out. The people who don’t believe the G’s story will still stick to their guns whatever the G says. But there are also people who want to hear more, because the case is simply baffling to the layman.
What of Dinesh’s next-of-kin? They, at least, are entitled to know what happened. Their MP Ang Wei Neng said Dinesh’s mother had complained to him that prisons officers did not give her the full story until the court case.
Presumably, she knows everything by now? The MSM reported the court case in such a confused and conflicting manner that those who were not in court would be hard put to piece the “full story’’ together. It seems that in Parliament, Workers’ Party’s Pritam Singh referred to the conflicting news reports which led to Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean interjecting to say that his point was not relevant. Speaker Halimah Yacob agreed. (This was also reported in Zaobao today.)
Mr Iswaran told the House that the G and the family are in discussions over the matter of compensation. The G “accepts liability’’, that is, it acknowledged that it was responsible for Dinesh’s death. The sum is apparently being negotiated. You know what people will say… That there will be strings attached, like some sort of gag order.
It will be good to know the final sum. Let’s hope the G response is not that this is a “private matter’’ or that “the family requested privacy’’. It is taxpayer’s money paying for G liability, which should over-ride any private interest. Also, something like this could set the benchmark for other cases (touch wood!) that pop up in the future.
Again, just how did Dinesh die?
This article first appeared on http://www.breaknetwork.sg
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