How much is too much compensation for a dead prisoner?

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Dinesh Raman
Dinesh Raman
Dinesh Raman
Dinesh Raman

One may choke to death, overpowered by others till one is unable to breathe. But, though fatal, that is not a “severe injury”.

That is one of the things you learn from the Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement on the death of Dinesh Raman – a statement “deplored” by civil society members yesterday. (See full statement.)

Dinesh Raman, 21, died in prison three years ago when after, attacking an officer, he had to be restrained by eight officers.

The autopsy report said the cause of his death was “consistent with positional asphyxia”. In other words, he was put (forced?) into a position where he was unable to breathe.

The Straits Times reported he was left in an isolation cell with his head to one side and his chest down in the prone position, restricting the respiratory movements of his chest and abdomen. The autopsy report noted he had suffered bruises and abrasions. But it added, “There was no evidence of head injury, compressive neck injury, skeletal fracture or dislocation.”

So Dinesh’s family and their lawyer, M Ravi, were making a false allegation claiming, “Dinesh sustained severe injuries from which he passed away,” said the ministry.

The ministry also denied their allegation that “the prison officers abused their positions of authority and assaulted Dinesh”. “Dinesh Raman was restrained as a result of his unprovoked attack on a prison officer,” the ministry said.

The prisoner died not because of abuse but because of negligence, according to the court.

“The court found DSP Lim guilty of negligence not amounting to culpable homicide… for failing to adequately supervise the restraint operation,” the ministry acknowledged.

DSP Lim was fined $10,000.

The government offered compensation to Dinesh’s family. However, the family has informally asked for “substantial windfall amounts that are completely disproportionate”, the ministry said. It pointed out that Dinesh was a secret society member who did not complete his O levels and never had a stable job.

By rehashing his criminal record, the ministry statement was indulging in character assassination, objected civil society members.

This is not the first ministry statement on Dinesh. The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) has also issued a statement on the case.

But questions remain.

Why was DSP Lim found guilty nearly three years after the death of Dinesh?

The incident took place on September  27, 2010, but DSP Lim was found guilty and fined $10,000 on July 19, 2013. So when did the prosecution begin?

The question arises because Dinesh’s family wants the coroner’s inquiry reopened.

The Attorney General’s Chambers clarified on July 25 why the coroner’s inquiry was discontinued.

“Under the Coroners Act, the coroner is required to hold an inquiry into any death that occurs while in official custody – for instance, where an inmate dies in prison,” it said..

However, section 39 of the Coroners Act provides that if anyone is charged for the death under the penal code, then the coroner has to wait for the conclusion of the criminal proceedings.

That is why the coroner’s inquiry into the Dinesh Raman case was discontinued – “because the cause of death was established in the criminal proceedings,” said the ministry. Dinesh’s family did not object when the inquiry was discontinued, it added.

However, the family filed an affidavit with the High Court last month seeking a mandatory order for the coroner to reopen the inquiry. Dinesh’s mother, Madam Selvi Narayanasamy, claimed the case would have been “completely different” if Lim had not pleaded guilty because then “full evidence would have had to be called”.

In response, the ministry has accused the family of spreading “falsehoods” and claimed they want a “windfall”, “disproportionate” to their loss. The ministry claimed it had been “generous”, basing compensation on what Dinesh might have earned had he gone to ITE and held a steady job instead of being what he was — a secret society member without a steady job and not even O levels.

Far from sounding “generous’, though, the statement showed a lack of sympathy, speaking ill of the dead. The civil society members called the government statement “reprehensible”. Strong words, but the ministry did itself no favours by trumpeting its “generosity” to the family of a youth who died – however inadvertently – in custody.

“The MHA has reduced this case into a transaction by saying that Dinesh’s family is seeking a financial windfall,” said the civil society members in a statement “We want justice to be served and we are appalled by the apparent lack of compassion shown by the authorities.”

“The action of the ministry in publishing its press release is deeply wrong,” the statement said. “It has done so in a way that is clearly intended to destroy Mr Dinesh’s posthumous reputation. We have no doubt that by doing so it has added to the deep grief of the family, already suffering the profound pain of their only son’s loss. It is entirely unseemly for the Ministry of Home Affairs to have done so.

“As fellow citizens, we demand that the Minister for Home Affairs apologize to the family.”

The statement was signed by Vincent Wijeysingha, Constance Singam, Jolovan Wham, Andrew Loh, Martyn See, Russell Heng, Paul Ananth Tambyah and Ravi Philemon among others.

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