Father of boy, 4, who fell to death in Yishun says contractor must share blame
Dad (above) of four-year-old boy who fell to his death accepts blame but says: 'Death could have been avoided"
Moving into their new home was meant to be a joyous occasion for Mr Z and his family of six.
But less than a week after moving into their flat at Block 165, Yishun Ring Road, tragedy struck.
Their four-year-old son, who was their second youngest, died when he fell nine storeys from the master bedroom window of the flat on Oct 6. There were no window grilles installed in the unit at the time.
When The New Paper visited the family yesterday, there were grilles in all the room windows. The boy's father said they were installed two or three days ago.
The father, who wanted to be known only as Mr Z, 40, admitted he could not escape blame for his son's death and it was "negligence on his part".
He declined to use his full name as he wants to protect his remaining children, aged two to 10, and hopes to help his family move on from the tragedy.
Said the security officer: "That day, we all made the 'fast' decision (to leave the youngest two at home alone), which was the wrong decision. And we have paid for it with my son's death. I can take that blame, it is our fault.
"But the grille thing had a part to play too. The contractor played a part in this by not fulfilling his contract."
He feels the accident could have been avoided if the contractor they had hired to renovate the flat had kept his word to install the window grilles on time.
The contractor had said the grilles would be installed on Sept 23, a day after they were scheduled to move in, according to Mr Z.
"I had even specially told him that I have kids at home, so grilles are important," he said.
Yesterday morning, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC, said in a Facebook post that if the family's story is true and the contractor was indeed tardy in his work, he would help them seek legal recourse as "steps must be taken against such contractors".
Mr Shanmugam, who visited the family on Tuesday, called the contractor "irresponsible".
Mr Z said he and his wife had engaged the contractor more than a month ago after finding his company on Facebook.
According to him, he told the contractor the flat had to be ready by Sept 24 as they had to hand over their previous flat in Sembawang to the new occupants.
He claimed the contractor had promised they could move into the flat by Sept 22 as the home would be in "move-in" condition. They signed the contract on Sept 6 after agreeing that the contractor would continue some minor construction works after they moved in.
Said Mr Z: "I don't know what he meant by 'move-in' condition, but I assumed that at least the lights, flooring and grilles would be done."
However, in a separate interview, the contractor told The New Paper that both parties had agreed that the family could move in on Sept 30. (See report, below right.)
Mr Z said that when he went to the flat two days before the agreed move-in date, the floors were still dirty and the lights and window grilles had not been installed.
Thinking that the contractor needed a bit more time, Mr Z extended his move-in date to Sept 30 without telling the contractor.
He said that on Sept 22, the initial move-in date, the contractor messaged him to say that the family could move in the next day as the window grilles and toilet doors would be installed on the same day.
"We waited for them to come the next day, but they never arrived. He also didn't reply to my messages until two days later to say that his guy would come down right away, but again nobody came," said Mr Z.
Mr Z showed TNP his WhatsApp exchange with the contractor.
On Sept 30, Mr Z and his family moved into the flat though renovations were not completed. That afternoon, Mr Z messaged the contractor, saying he was considering terminating the contract.
Said Mr Z, who has paid about $20,000 of the $25,500 cost of the renovations: "I said I was thinking of terminating the contract. Thinking, not that I wanted to yet. I asked to meet up to settle it and he agreed to meet me the next day at my place. But again, he didn't turn up."
It was only four days later at around 5am that the contractor replied, saying that the contract had been cancelled and that the company would be sending a cancellation letter to him. But Mr Z said the letter, like so many of the contractor's "empty promises", never arrived.
The day after his son's death, Mr Z sent the contractor a picture of the TNP report on the accident, but that too went unanswered.
Said Mr Z: "I don't understand why he couldn't have just replied with a sorry. I just wanted him to know that it happened.
"From the beginning, if he had just told me that he didn't have enough workers and couldn't complete the work, that would have been better than promising me all these dates. But he didn't even reply, like he wasn't even sorry that this happened."
However, Mr Z clarified that he wasn't pursuing the contractor about his son's death, rather it was for what he perceived as the contractor's failure to fulfil the renovation contract.
He said: "These two things are separate issues, the accident and the grilles. But I'm pursuing this because we must take this contractor to task. I just want to know what happened and why the things we agreed on weren't fulfilled."
Mrs Z, 39, a part-time dental assistant, said: "It's a question of why he didn't finish what he was supposed to. We also don't want to blame him for the death.
"But if we take him to task, we can at least prevent what happened to us from happening to another family with young children."
That day, we all made the 'fast' decision (to leave the youngest two at home alone), which was the wrong decision. And we have paid for it with my son's death.
- Mr Z, father of the boy who died
THE NEW PAPER, OCT 07
What happened that day
FELL: The four-year-old boy was found dead at the foot of Block 165, Yishun Ring Road, last Tuesday. At that time, there were no grilles installed in the windows of the ninth-storey flat (below). TNP FILE PHOTOS
On any other weekday, Mrs Z's mother, who lives a few blocks away, would go to Mrs Z's flat to look afterher toddler granddaughter while the parents are at work.
R, the four-year-old son who died, would have been in kindergarten, and his other two siblings, aged 10 and eight, would have gone to school.
But on that fateful day, R, who was supposed to be in kindergarten by 8.10am, did not want to go and kicked up a fuss.
Mr Z was already at work and his wife was rushing to go to hers. She said she relented and decided to let R sleep in and not go to school.
As her daughter and R were sleeping, Mrs Z left home at about 8.15am to hand her mother the keys to the flat. This was so that she could go to work instead of waiting for her mother, who had been held up, to come over.
Later that morning, Mr Z received a call from the police to identify the body of a child who had fallen to his death from their block.
As the police's description of the victim as someone with curly hair fit his daughter, Mr Z thought she had died since all three sons were supposed to be in school.
When he went to identify the body, which was covered with a police tent at the bottom of the block, he realised it was his son, R, who had fallen from their master bedroom window on the ninth storey.
Said Mrs Z: "The pain will always be there but we have to move on and be strong as we have three other children."
Mrs Z said that a few days before R died, he would often talk to his friends about death and even asked her what would happen if he died.
The couple described R as a bubbly and active boy who loved football and whose favourite team was Barcelona.
We also don't want to blame him (the contractor) for the death. But if we take him to task, we can at least prevent what happened to us from happening to another family with young children.
- Mrs Z, mother of the boy who died
Grilles or no grilles, it is the parents' responsibility to ensure a child's safety, the contractor hired by Mr Z told TNP over the phone.
The 39-year-old, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lau, said he felt sad over the boy's death.
He told TNP that renovation work started on Sept 8 after Mr Z and his wife signed the contract.
Before that, he said they had a verbal agreement that he would continue some renovation work after the family moved in on Sept 30 as it was "impossible to complete such large-scale work in three weeks".
The work included installing new floorings, wiring, cabinets, plumbing and new window grilles.
Mr Lau said: "I told him that we would do whatever we can first, and we will complete the rest of the work after Sept 30.
"It was on a tight schedule and sometimes they took a week to reply us. But I knew that they needed to move in urgently, so I agreed to try my best."
He said that when the family moved in on Sept 30, some items like power points in the kitchen and the window grilles had not been installed. He added that they had no set date as to when his company had to install the window grilles.
"(Mr Z) did call to ask when the grilles would be installed, but sometimes when he called or messaged, I was on site and could not reply him.
"To complete his house in such a tight time frame, I had to put aside other jobs that we were doing," said Mr Lau.
Mr Lau also said that from Sept 30 to the day that the contract was cancelled on Oct 4, he had been trying to arrange a date for his workmen to install the window grilles.
As for the boy's death, Mr Lau said: "I'm not trying to give excuses, I also feel sad that it happened.
"When he WhatsApped me the news cut-out, I didn't know how to reply or react. I didn't know how to apologise."
NUMBER OF RENOVATION COMPLAINTS DOWN: CASE
There has been a drop in the number of complaints against renovation contractors and firms.
According to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), the numbers fell from 1,779 in 2013 to 1,462 last year.
Increasingly cautious customers and a sluggish resale flat market are some possible reasons for this drop, industry players told The Straits Times earlier this year.
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon told The New Paper yesterday that most of the complaints involved shoddy and incomplete work, and delays in completing projects.
According to the Case website, consumers should ensure the contractor engaged is registered with the Housing Board (HDB).
Case added: "HDB has highlighted that contractors not registered with it are not allowed to carry out any renovation in HDB flats, even if a renovation permit is not required."
Case also said that customers should pay for services progressively and not make full payment upfront.
It said: "Seek advice. If consumers are in doubt, they can call the Case hotline at 6100-0315."
- Shaffiq Alkhatib
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now