Veteran coach acquitted of molesting teen athlete after appeal to High Court

Veteran track and field coach Loh Siang Piow was sentenced to 21 months’ jail in July 2020, after a trial that began in 2018. - ST FILE

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): The High Court on Thursday (March acquitted veteran track and field coach Loh Siang Piow of molesting a teenage athlete in 2013, following his appeal against his conviction and sentence.

Loh, 78, better known in the fraternity as Loh Chan Pew, was sentenced to 21 months’ jail in July 2020, after a trial that began in 2018.

He was convicted by a district judge of two counts of molesting a female athlete when she was 18 by rubbing her genitals on two occasions while massaging the back of her thighs.

The incidents allegedly took place at the old Tampines Stadium on Feb 24 and March 15 in 2013.

She lodged a police report against Loh on July 30, 2016.

On Thursday, more than a dozen of Loh’s family members and former trainees in the public gallery sighed with relief after Justice Hoo Sheau Peng cleared him of both charges.

In acquitting Loh, Justice Hoo said there were “inherent weaknesses” in the testimony of his accuser, identified as C, and that it was “plainly wrong” for the trial judge to rely on her evidence to convict Loh.

She said: “The district judge tended to resolve all doubts, discrepancies and contradictions in favour of the prosecution. In the final analysis, the serious doubts as to the veracity of C’s allegations cannot be dismissed.”

Justice Hoo said that not only did the accuser’s account lack specific details on the training session on Feb 24, 2013, but it also contained a crucial concession that she did not know if Loh’s contact with her genital area was an “accidental part of the massage”.

“In fact, C was not entirely clear where she was touched,” said the judge.

The accuser also claimed to have expressed discomfort with Loh’s massage to her parents on Feb 24, which was why her father accompanied her for the next training session on March 10, 2013. But this account was not supported by either parent.

Justice Hoo also said Loh had raised a reasonable doubt that he was not at the stadium on March 15, 2013.

She said there were inconsistencies between C’s version of the events in court and earlier text messages she sent to fellow trainee W, her friend A and her track teacher, complaining about the alleged molestation.

The judge said C had also exaggerated aspects of the events and embellished her account.

Justice Hoo said she did not think C had any malicious intention to frame Loh.

She noted that C had read a news report about a coach being accused of molestation and, thinking that the offender could be Loh, decided to lodge a police report because she was worried that other new trainees might suffer her plight.

However, it transpired that the news report concerned a different coach.

“I could not discount the possibility that there was a build-up of mistrust towards Loh over the three years. Precipitated by the newspaper report, and coupled with her strong sentiments against sexual offenders, the complaint was eventually made in 2016,” said Justice Hoo.

The judge also noted that at the time of the alleged offences, it was a prevalent practice in the athletic community for coaches to give trainees massages after intensive training.

“If the practice remains today, the community, including the coaches, should rethink and review the appropriateness of such a practice,” she said.

Should this continue to be a necessary practice, there should be proper safeguards adopted to minimise the potential for any abuse of the trainees by the coaches, or to prevent genuine misunderstandings between coaches and trainees, she said.

Approached for comment after the verdict, Loh said in Mandarin that he was “feeling emotional”.

A statement from his legal team – Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, Paul Loy and Calvin Ong – said Loh was pleased that justice has prevailed.

“The past few years have been a tremendous strain on Loh and his family, and he is deeply grateful for all the support that has been shown by many around him,” said the statement.

Charges relating to W, who was 16 at the time of the alleged offences, have been stood down.

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Singapore , coach , court , acquittal , Loh Siang Piow


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