Fatal Myanmar maid abuse in Singapore: Cop admits to lifting victim off the ground by her hair

Suspended policeman Kevin Chelvam said he was frustrated with the helper. - PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG, HELPING HANDS FOR MIGRANT WORKERS

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): Suspended policeman Kevin Chelvam admitted in court on May 27 that he had grabbed domestic helper Piang Ngaih Don by her hair and lifted her off the ground in a fit of anger a month before her death.

The 24-year-old Myanmar national weighed only 24kg when she died on July 26, 2016, compared with just over a year before in May 2015 when she was 39kg.

Taking the stand for the first time on the 13th day of his trial, Chelvam, who was suspended from service on Aug 8, 2016, said that he was frustrated with the helper.

On the day of the incident on June 24, 2016, he said the family was set to go swimming, but Ms Piang Ngaih Don, who had worked for the family for 14 months, kept falling asleep instead of having her meal.

The 45-year-old Chelvam, who faces five charges, also told the court that on the day of her death, he saw her breathing while she appeared to be asleep before he left for work that morning.

He said that when he noticed her hand was tied to the window grille, he told his then wife, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, to untie the maid.

Later that day, Gaiyathiri called to tell him Ms Piang Ngaih Don was dead.

The mother of one died of a brain injury with severe blunt trauma to her neck after months of repeated abuse. She was burned with a heated iron, choked, shook violently, punched, kicked and stomped on, among other things.

In the last 12 days of her life, the maid was tied to the window grille at night while she slept on the floor in a bedroom with Chelvam’s then mother-in-law Prema S. Naraynasamy, 65.

Chelvam is being tried for four charges, including one charge of voluntarily causing hurt by grabbing her hair and another charge of abetment of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to Ms Piang Ngaih Don by starvation.

Gaiyathiri Murugayan (left) was sentenced to 30 years’ jail, while Prema S. Naraynasamy received a 17 years’ jail term. - PHOTOS: ST FILE, LIANHE WANBAO FILEGaiyathiri Murugayan (left) was sentenced to 30 years’ jail, while Prema S. Naraynasamy received a 17 years’ jail term. - PHOTOS: ST FILE, LIANHE WANBAO FILE

The other two charges are of giving false information to a police officer and removing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras – which recorded the abuse – from his home.

Gaiyathiri, 44, was sentenced to 30 years’ jail and Prema received a 17 years’ jail term for their roles in the case, which is one of Singapore’s worst cases of maid abuse.

Chelvam told the court on May 27 that he grabbed Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s hair in June 2016 to wake her up as she was sleeping while holding onto a plate.

He said: “As I was standing and I pulled her hair really fast, she was lifted from the ground. The moment I saw that, I let go of her hair.”

He said Prema was shouting at Ms Piang Ngaih Don at the time, adding that he had grabbed the maid’s hair as he did not want to touch her body.

On July 26, 2016, Chelvam said he rushed home after hearing of Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s death and saw her lying on the sofa with a doctor by her side. The paramedics and police officers arrived at his Bishan flat shortly after.

He said he went straight into a room to be with his children, then aged one and four, as Gaiyathiri, whom he divorced in 2020, had threatened to throw them out of the window and follow suit.

In the room, Chelvam said Prema shouted and nagged at him to remove the CCTV recorder, which he did.

He said: “When I asked her why, she said the CCTV was installed to supervise the helper and since the helper was no longer around, we don’t need it anymore.”

Chelvam initially told police the CCTV recorder was removed six months before.

It was recovered after Chelvam’s four-year-old daughter revealed to police that she had seen a recording of their maid going about her work on her mother’s mobile phone.

Chelvam said, while being examined by defence lawyer Pratap Kishan, that though he was Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s registered employer, he hardly spoke to her as his ex-wife handled affairs relating to the maid.

He also claimed he did not notice the maid getting physically weaker, adding that she often wore baggy T-shirts.

When asked about an incident where she ate his son’s milk powder, Chelvam said he thought she wanted to try the milk powder to see how it tastes.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Koh pointed out that as Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s registered employer, Chelvam had obligations to fulfil including ensuring she had three meals a day, adequate rest and safe working conditions.

When she asked if he had failed to comply to these obligations, Chelvam replied: “(You) can’t say it that way”.

DPP Koh said earlier in the day that even if Chelvam had left matters relating to the maid to Gaiyathiri, he cannot claim that he was unaware of what was happening at home.

DPP Koh added that given his physical proximity to the maid, observations by other family members of her weight loss and messages in the family group chat, there is a “clear inference that he had guilty knowledge of Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s prolonged food deprivation”.

The trial continues on May 28. - The Straits Times/ANN

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