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Suntec assault – taxi driver’s hope for justice

Taxi driver Tay Gek Heng no longer plies the Suntec City area for fares. He has also avoided crowded areas, especially where inebriated clubbers and pub goers throng. His decision to avoid these places is a result of what happened in April 2010.

Tay was one of two taxi drivers among the 4 Singaporeans assaulted by 3 Caucasians at Suntec City then. In that fracas, Paul Liew was severely injured after his head was bashed against a pillar by one of the 3 Caucasians; Laurence Wong Seong was punched several times, along with taxi drivers Tan Boon Kin and Tay.

Of the 3 Caucasians, only one has so far been brought to justice. Australian Nathan Robert Miller was charged and given a 3 week jail sentence. The other two – New Zealander Robert Stephen Dahlberg, and Briton Robert James Springall – have since absconded from the law. The Singapore authorities are presently looking into the possibility of extraditing the two men from their respective countries.

Tay got involved in the incident in 2010 when he went to assist his friend, Wong, who had himself gone to help Tan who was being harassed by the 3 foreigners. One of the foreigners, Miller, had earlier climbed onto and stomped on the bonnet of Tan’s taxi and damaged it, says Tay.

“I stood next to Laurence,” Tay told as he recalls events of that night, “and took a look [at the damage on Tan’s taxi].” Miller, who by this time had occupied Tan’s taxi with the other two men, saw Tay and shouted at him, “Hey you! Come here! What are you doing?” Tay replied, “Well, sir, you damaged the taxi. You’re not allowed to leave. Please step out from the taxi.”

Miller came out of the car. Tay was then standing between Wong and Miller. “What the f*** are you trying to do?” Miller shouted, according to Tay. As he said this, Miller landed a punch on Wong. Seeing this, Tay pushed Miller away. This prompted Dahlberg to come out of the taxi too. Soon, a fracas ensued where Tay and Wong were assaulted by the other men. Liew came to try to calm things down but he too was assaulted, with his head slammed into a pillar by Dahlberg.

Tay didn’t see this happen, however. “It was only when I heard Laurence saying, ‘Oh Paul, shit!’ that I took a look at Paul. His face was covered in blood.” Miller continued to assault Tay. Eventually, Tay tried to run away from Miller and towards his taxi which was parked some ways away. Tay tripped and fell to the ground in doing so. Miller, who was chasing him, came up and stood over him, as Tay laid on the ground, and Miller continued to rain blows on Tay’s head.

“I just tried to protect myself [with my arms],” Tay says. Shortly after, the 3 Caucasians decided to flee the scene. Tay then went over to attend to Liew who had by then slumped to the ground in a pool of blood.

Blood was also streaming from Tay’s nose and he was in a daze. Eventually the police and the ambulance came and he and Liew were brought to the hospital.

When Tay eventually got home that night in the early hours, his wife and 3 teenage children were asleep. It was only the next morning that he told them about the assault. “My wife was shocked,” Tay says. He had bruises around both his eyes, with the swelling still visible then.

Tay, 47, has been a taxi driver for 15 years. He has always worked the evening shift, normally from 5pm to 5am, a gruelling 10 to 12 hours each day. While he has encountered unsavoury customers previously, this is the first time that he has been involved in a violent assault.

Following the incident, he could not work long hours because of the injuries he had suffered.

For the next one year, he would have nightmares and would wake up in the middle of the night. His wife would be awakened but he would tell her it was nothing to worry about.

The incident has also left him fearful of accepting Caucasian passengers, in particular. His wife would call him while he was at work to make sure that he was alright. “I told her not to worry. I am ok,” Tay says. His children were also upset about the assault, and the injuries their father sustained.

“My daughter, 13-years old, boiled an egg and rolled it over the areas around my eyes [to soothe the bruises],” Tay says, of how his children tried to comfort him following the assault.

He also received support from fellow taxi drivers who enquired about him and the progress of the investigations by the police. He is heartened by members of the public, especially those online, who have been supportive of the call for the authorities to bring the assailants to justice.

“Without the public’s support,” he says “I don’t think the authorities would take this seriously. I would like to thank the public.”

Along with Liew, Wong and Tan, his hope is that the 2 men who have absconded will be hauled back to face justice. When asked if he has forgiven the 3 assailants, now that it has been almost 2 years since that April evening in 2010, Tay says, “I have forgiven Miller but not Dahlberg, especially.” This is because Miller had stayed and took responsibility, while Dahlberg was the one who had caused the most severe injuries, the ones on Liew, and has run away from the law. Tay is also more forgiving towards Springall but is adamant that Dahlberg must be brought to justice. He calls on the New Zealander to “come back like a man” and face the consequences of his actions.

The Minister for Home Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean, revealed in Parliament in March that an internal police investigation is being conducted to establish the “full facts of how the Suntec case was handled.”

“If there were any lapses or negligence, the police will take appropriate disciplinary action against the officers involved,” DPM Teo said. He added that warrants of arrest have been issued against Dahlberg and Springall, and that the “police are working closely with Interpol to locate the men, but whether they can be extradited would depend on whether Singapore has an extradition treaty with the country they have fled to.”

When asked for his views about what DPM Teo said about the extradition of the 2 men, Tay says, “I will believe it when I see it.” His scepticism stems from the delay and the failure in the prosecution of the assailants by the authorities, and the fact that 2 of the assailants were allowed to flee the country.

Tay, however, does not see the matter as one of nationality. It is not a case of Singaporean vs foreigners, he says. “It is about justice.”

When asked how he would feel if Dahlberg and Springall were not brought back to Singapore to face the music, Tay pauses and says with resignation, “If that happens, then there is nothing I can do.”

By Andrew Loh