UK woman jailed for sneaking into S'pore to grab son in custody battle
She had been granted custody of her two-year-old son in Singapore by a British court.
She could have sought legal methods to enforce the court order here.
But driven to desperation by her husband's refusal to hand over the toddler, she took the law into her own hands.
Yesterday, the 30-year-old woman, who cannot be named to protect her son's identity, was jailed for 10 weeks for entering Singapore illegally on Aug 19.
The boy's father is a Singaporean, and his mother a foreigner. They have filed for divorce.
The child had been living here with his grandparents. His mother wanted him back in the UK.
So, she decided to engage the services of Child Abduction Recovery International (Cari) to help her enter Singapore illegally to retrieve her son.
Cari is a non-governmental organisation that claims to specialise in returning children to their parents for a fee.
On its website, it says: "We think like the abductors and operate accordingly."
Along with Cari's managing director, Adam Christopher Whittington, a 38-year-old Briton, and the yacht's skipper, Todd Allan Wilson, a 39-year-old Australian, the mother hatched a plan to recover her child.
It involved sneaking illegally into Singapore, forcibly grabbing the toddler from his grandparents and then taking him out of Singapore illegally by sea.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Ailene Chou told the court yesterday: "It was a carefully thought out and planned operation with reconnaissance... Their actions are a complete disregard of Singapore's laws."
Whittington was jailed for 16 weeks on three charges of illegal entry, voluntarily causing hurt and using criminal force on the boy's grandparents.
He faced seven charges in total. One charge was dropped and three other charges were taken into consideration during sentencing.
Wilson pleaded guilty to one charge of illegal entry and was jailed for 10 weeks. He faced four charges. One was dropped and the rest were taken into consideration.
In court, the DPP revealed that while the UK court order applies to the toddler, there is also a Family Court order here restraining the woman from taking the child out of Singapore.
SUBVERT DUE PROCESS
This is because the custody case over the child here is yet to have concluded, she said.
Said the DPP Chou: "The fact of the matter is that the child was placed in the paternal care of his grandparents while proceedings were still underway.
"(It is) a vigilante's attempt to subvert due process of a matter which is still before the Family Court."
In her mitigation plea, the mother said she had arranged to let her in-laws take care of her son for two months, but her husband reneged on the agreement.
She told District Judge Liew Thiam Leng: "All I know is I had to see my son back. Every night, I could not sleep, dreaming about my son. I was sure if he could speak to me, he would say, 'Mummy come pick me up'."
She apologised to the court and said she should have "pursued the proper channels".
During sentencing, Judge Liew said he had considered all the mitigation pleas and had given Whittington a longer sentence as he played a greater part in the conspiracy.
Their sentences were backdated to the date of their remand on Aug 21.
HOW IT HAPPENED
1 THE RECCE
- Sometime in June, Child Abduction Recovery International managing director Adam Christopher Whittington, 38, visits Singapore to carry out reconnaissance to prepare for the operation to retrieve the woman's son.
- At Raffles Marina, he observes the human traffic, security and movement of ships.
- He also stakes out the flat of the boy's grandparents, who are taking care of him. He studies their movements and the flat's layout.
2 THE JOURNEY
- Six days before the operation, Whittington and the woman meet Todd Allan Wilson, 39, in Langkawi island, Malaysia.
- They charter a private catamaran, a type of twin-hulled yacht, from an agent there.
- The trio sail to Singapore.
3 THE ILLEGAL ENTRY
- On Aug 19, at around 6am, the catamaran arrives in Singapore waters near Raffles Marina's berthing area. The marina is not an authorised landing place between 5pm and 9am.
- Whittington and the woman disembark while the yacht, piloted by Wilson, continues moving slowly. They board a taxi to go to the grandparents' flat.
4 THE ABDUCTION
- At around 9am, Whittington approaches the grandparents and tries to serve them with a copy of the court order.
- When they resist giving up the boy, Whittington holds the grandfather in an armlock around the neck. The mother manages to prise her son from him.
- To prevent their escape, the grandmother grabs a strap on Whittington's bag. He retaliates by pressing his fingers against her neck.
- Whittington and the woman escape with the boy. The grandparents call the police.
5 THE ARRESTS
- The next day at around 1am, the police arrest the mother and Whittington at the Carlton City Hotel in Tanjong Pagar.
- Wilson is arrested later that morning in the catamaran.
Security measures at Raffles Marina under review
The Singapore Police Force and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) are reviewing the security measures at Raffles Marina and identifying areas for improvement, said a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) spokesman.
"Under the law, all authorised landing or departing points must put in place the necessary security measures to maintain the integrity of our border security and prevent unauthorised entry into or out of Singapore from their premises," the spokesman told The New Paper.
He said the ICA, Police Coast Guard, the Singapore Navy, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore work closely to safeguard Singapore's maritime security. This includes regular joint operations to check on vessels.
"Persons who attempt to breach our border security will be dealt with severely under our laws," he added.
To enter Singapore by sea, one can choose to sail to the 24-hour anchorages in Changi and near Sisters' Island, where ICA officers will facilitate immigration clearance.
The other option would be to seek immigration clearance at Raffles Marina, a gazetted landing and departing point for pleasure craft and yachts from 9am to 5pm.
Details of the vessel and its arrival time, as well as a crew and passenger list, must be sent to the marina ahead of time.
Last year, 2,890 vessels were detected and deterred from entering Singapore waters. Most of them had strayed off course and complied, the spokesman said.
A total of 32 people were arrested for entering Singapore waters illegally or attempting to land illegally by sea.
Professor Rohan Gunaratna at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said that while "Singapore's security system is one of the best in the world", the waterways are our Achilles' heel.
The head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research said: "Protecting the coast is a difficult task. Certainly, there is room for improvement."
When asked about the case, he said: "This incident will surely mean that the private yacht sector will come under greater scrutiny."