In a rather curious Facebook status update on the evening of 16 March, Thursday, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) seems to have distanced itself from the Singapore Prison Service’s (SPS) treatment of Mdm Josephine Savarimuthu, the 73-year old woman who ended up in prison after lodging a report with the police over a lost pawn ticket.
The SPF’s status update repeated what it had said in an earlier joint-statement it issued with the SPS.
The SPF FB update said:
“The Straits Times reported … that Madam Gertrude Simon had said that her mother, Madam Josephine Savarimuthu, was handcuffed and restrained while in Police custody. In the same report, the Straits Times reported that the Police had clarified that Mdm Savarimuthu was not restrained.”
The statement then said the Police have invited Mdm Savarimuthu’s daughter to view CCTV footage and those from body-worn cameras on the police officers, of her mother when the latter was in the police’s custody.
The SPF’s statement is a curious one not for what it said, but for what it did not say.
The SPF’s statement repeated that Mdm Savarimuthu was not in restraints when in police custody.
What it did not say, however, was that Mdm Savarimuthu was in fact “restrained at the hands and legs”, as reported by the Straits Times, when she was transferred to the custody of the SPS after the court hearing on Monday, 6 March.
So, while the Police is technically correct (as far as its statement itself goes) in saying that Mdm Savarimuthu was “not restrained at any time when in Police custody”, she was nevertheless restrained while in the Prison Service’s custody.
So, why did this second Police statement omit such a fact, or tried to apparently gloss over such a fact (as it stands)?
Also, why did the Police not stick to its joint-statement which it had already issued with the SPS on 15 March? Why issue a second statement and omit mentioning the salient point that Mdm Savarimuthu had been restrained by the SPS?
This second statement seems to serve two purposes:
- To reiterate that Mdm Savarimuthu was not restrained while in Police custody;
- To let the public know that the Police have invited Mdm Gertrude Simon, Mdm Savarimuthu’s daughter, to view the video footages.
It is, of course, within the rights of the Police to defend the role of its officers in the treatment of Mdm Savarimuthu.
However, it is nonetheless questionable for the Police to leave out a pertinent and salient fact in its second statement which may give the impression that Mdm Savarimuthu and/or her daughter were being less than honest in saying that Mdm Savarimuthu was restrained when she was in the custody of the authorities.
In her original letter to the press which brought the matter into the public spotlight, Mdm Simon had said:
“[When] my mother was moved between the police station, CWP and the court, she was handcuffed and had leg restraints on.”
CWP is “Changi Women’s Prison”.
The Straits Times’ report which the SPF update referred to said:
“Despite the agencies’ account, Madam Simon said her mother was handcuffed and restrained when she was moved from the police post to the police division and to the courts.”
So, even if Mdm Simon was incorrect to say or insinuate that her mother was restrained by the Police, she was not incorrect to say that her mother was restrained when moved between the courts and prison.
Indeed, this is a fact which the joint-statement had confirmed:
“After attending court on the morning of March 4, she was escorted by prison officers to Changi Women’s Prison to be remanded until March 6, the next available date for court mention. During her transfer, she was restrained at the hands and legs.”
As Mr Daniel Yap posted on the comment section of the SPF Facebook update:
“I support your position. SPFs answer is technical, probably with the intention of being defensive and perhaps even petty. It is SPF-centric, rather than serving the public.”
Technically, the Police is correct.
But collectively, insofar as it chose to issue its first statement as a joint-statement with the Prison Service, the Police – with its own update and leaving out a salient point – seems to have distanced itself from how the Prison Service treated Mdm Savarimuthu.
And in the event, perhaps a bit of public trust is sacrificed in the name of well, “covering its own backside”, as the saying goes.
All these aside, whether Mdm Savarimuthu was restrained or not, the more serious question is how did an elderly woman who went to the police for help over a pawn ticket, end up in court and in prison, restraints and all, for an offence of wrongfully placing her potted plants at her home?
So yes, despite all the semantics and finger-pointing and denials from the authorities, which is utterly disappointing to see, it remains that this should not have happened in the first place.
Perhaps the town council involved, which has remained silent so far, should explain how it fined 73-year old Mdm Savarimuthu, who lives alone in a HDB flat, $400 for “the wrongful placement of potted plants”, and apparently even sought the court to issue a warrant of arrest against her for what appears to be a trivial matter.