NSF's death: 5 issues addressed
Brigadier-General Chan Wing Kai, commander of the army's Training and Doctrine Command, clarifies issues that surfaced after High Court struck out lawsuit by late private's family against SAF and the 2 officers involved
On March 3, the High Court struck out the lawsuit filed by the family of the late Private Dominique Sarron Lee against the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the two officers involved in the incident.
In a post on the SAF Facebook page yesterday, Brigadier-General Chan Wing Kai, commander of the army's Training and Doctrine Command, clarified issues that surfaced after the judgment.
COMMITTEE OF INQUIRY (COI) FINDINGS
Convened in 2012 by the Armed Forces Council, the COI found that the number of smoke grenades discharged and the distance between each smoke grenade thrown were not in line with the limits and minimum distance specified in the Training Safety Regulations.
The COI also noted that Pte Lee's medical classification and vocational assignment were in line with guidelines, and that medical aid rendered was timely, proper and adequate, BG Chan wrote.
During the coroner's inquiry in 2013, the coroner concluded that Pte Lee had "died from acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes", and that the reaction was "unlikely to have been predicted".
Although more smoke grenades than necessary were used during the exercise, the coroner could not ascertain whether the acute allergic reaction was due to the concentration of and/or the mere exposure to zinc chloride fumes.
The coroner also noted that Pte Lee "had underplayed and underdeclared his asthmatic condition". None of the other asthmatics in the same platoon reported any adverse outcome from the exercise or exposure to the smoke.
Adding that zinc chloride-producing smoke grenades have been in use by many militaries, like the SAF since the 1970s, BG Chan wrote: "Pte Lee's death directly attributable to zinc chloride inhalation is the first on the SAF's records in over 30 years of use."
NO CRIMINAL CHARGES
As Pte Lee's acute allergic reaction to the smoke grenades thrown by the platoon commander was not reasonably foreseeable, as found by the coroner, no criminal charges were brought against the two officers.
While the CI and COI did not find the officers were directly responsible for Pte Lee's death, they were summarily tried in 2013 for negligent performance of lawful order or duty, found guilty, and punished according to military law.
BG Chan also addressed the misperception that SAF servicemen injured or killed cannot seek legal recourse under military rules.
"SAF personnel can be charged and punished in the criminal courts for Penal Code offences of committing rash and negligent acts, even during the course of their military duties," he wrote.
"The Attorney-General's Chambers, not the SAF, decides if the evidence warrants this course of action."
Since 2012, several measures have been taken to strengthen training safety across the whole SAF, which included the setting up of a Safety and Systems Review Directorate, the convening of a Respiratory Medicine Specialist Advisory Board to review medical classification on asthma, and the deploying of more safety officers on the ground as full-time Unit Safety Officers.
New N452 smoke grenades were also introduced to replace the smoke grenades used in that training exercise.
SUPPORT FOR FAMILY
Since the incident, welfare grants have been disbursed by the SAF. An offer of compensation has also been made to the family.
While the compensation amount is not disclosed for confidentiality reasons, BG Chan said that it is generally two to four times that of amounts provided under the Work Injury Compensation Act for incidents arising from training and operations.
The Ministry of Defence also waived the legal costs of a pre-action discovery application that Pte Lee's family had taken out but later withdrew.
A pre-action discovery application allows litigants access to information that would ordinarily be disclosed only during ongoing proceedings, when parties are required to produce documents in their possession, custody or power that are relevant to the issues in the case.
When emotions are running high, we must respect the decisions made by our Courts, who have come to an objective and impartial assessment given all the facts. The coroner's inquiry has ruled on the cause of the death of Pte Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron...
We should also emphasise to our SAF commanders that they should continue to train their men professionally, with due regard for safety regulations... We must learn from every accident, fix lapses and improve. This is the way we honour all those who have given their all to build a strong and honourable SAF.
- Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in a note written to Mindef and SAF staff
Officers involved have been punished
Captain Chia Thye Siong and Captain Najib Hanuk Muhamad Jalal, the two officers involved in Private Dominique Sarron Lee's death in 2012, have been punished under military law, said Brigadier-General Chan Wing Kai.
He wrote on the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Facebook page that administrative and disciplinary action had been taken against the officers.
In 2012, Pte Lee died of an acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride after inhaling fumes from smoke grenades thrown during a military exercise. Capt Chia was the chief safety officer and Capt Najib the platoon commander who threw the smoke grenades.
Last year, Pte Lee's family sued the SAF and the officers, alleging negligence on their part.
The defendants applied to strike out the lawsuit, arguing that a provision in the Government Proceedings Act indemnifies them from being sued for negligence for deaths and injuries if the acts are certified to be attributable to service.
Last Thursday, Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh ruled in the High Court that the Act applied in Pte Lee's case.