SINGAPORE — A man serving a life sentence for kidnapping in 2003 committed suicide in prison this year by scaling a railing on an upper level before letting go.
Chua Ser Lien, 58, who was suffering from bipolar disorder, died from head injury on 8 July despite resuscitation efforts.
In findings delivered on Tuesday (22 December), Coroner Marvin Bay pronounced the incident a deliberate act of suicide, noting that internal reviews were underway at prisons to prevent further occurrences, including changing the structure of the railings that Chua had scaled.
Chua’s mental condition worsened in 2018 during his imprisonment and he was transferred to the psychiatric housing unit within Changi Prison Complex.
Prior to his conviction, Chua, formerly a managing director of a cleaning company, had first shown signs of erratic behaviour in early 2001. While meeting the head of a university, he placed his legs on the table and volunteered to donate a million dollars to the institution.
However, his finances took a turn for the worst after he accumulated $600,000 in debt from gambling and buying cars in 2003. He was then depressed and turned to drinking.
According to previous media reports, Chua and another man kidnapped a girl from her home on Christmas Day in 2003. He was charged with abduction with common intention to ask for ransom and remanded for psychiatric assessment in 2004, where he was assessed to have bipolar disorder.
He was given a life sentence and three strokes of the cane in 2004 upon being convicted.
Chua was then married with two children. His wife, whom he married in 1983, told investigators that she later divorced Chua in order to apply for a HDB rental flat.
Although divorced, the wife still treated Chua as her husband and visited him in prison regularly with her two children once or twice monthly. She had been concerned about his mental health in 2002, after Chua began hallucinating that his kitchen was “hell” and his living room was “heaven”.
After Chua had locked himself in his room with two packets of bread, the wife referred him to a psychiatrist. Chua discontinued his treatment later on. The wife told investigators that her husband’s condition had relapsed two to thee years ago, and he became aggressive towards her during her prison visits.
She last spoke to him via a phone call a month before his death, with both sides exchanging pleasantries. He had not expressed any suicidal ideation then, she added.
According to accounts from the chief warden, other prison staff, and a fellow inmate, Chua had not indicated a wish to end his life.
On 8 July, during recreational time for inmates, Chua requested to be left in a dayroom to walk about on his own. As he would typically request to be left in the dayroom, prison officers attached no significance to it.
He was caught on CCTV walking up a central staircase to the fourth level at about 8.30am and later scaling the outer side of the railing of the upper floor. He later released his grip and fell backwards, landing on his head on the third floor.
He was attended to by staff at the prison before being conveyed to Changi General Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10.15am.
“Measures have been put in place after this event, with instructions given that no inmate to be remain alone at all times outside the cell. High-risk inmates with verbalised suicidal thoughts and inclinations of self-harm will now be warded in the Complex Medical Centre,” said Coroner Bay.
Other safety measures are under review to prevent recurrences, including installing a possible sensor system to warn person who are near railings. Coroner Bay noted that an internal review had assessed that there was no negligence on the part of any prison officers.
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