Because of his hoax threat to bomb City Hall in January this year, the Public Transport Security Command had to divert 95 per cent of its resources to comb through 18 MRT stations along three lines.The severity of the wastage of resources caused by Sze Kai Xuan, 23, was revealed in District Judge Shawn Ho’s written grounds as he sentenced the former marketing executive to 18 months’ jail on Monday (Dec 5).
“Resources, whether manpower, equipment or time, and perhaps most importantly — attention — are expended in investigating false bomb threats,” said the judge, adding that Sze’s hoax was a grave matter” given that the Jakarta bombings which killed four civilians had happened on the same day, putting the Singapore police on heightened alert.
On Jan 14, Sze posted on a social networking site: “Today is the day everyone, cherish it before I bomb city hall.”
The message spread and an alarmed member of public called the police. Officers were activated to conduct checks and foot patrols at various MRT stations. Many of the officers also had to deviate from their original shift-work, affecting their scheduled day-to-day patrols, said DJ Ho.
Sze’s actions, he noted, had caused actual and significant disruption to the provision of essential and emergency services which resulted in a “severe drain” on the Public Transport Security Command’s resources.
This endangered the public as the “sentinels” were distracted from guarding against actual threats, he added.
Bomb hoaxes also induce fear and panic among the public, said DJ Ho, who said a deterrent sentence was warranted.
He cited the example of the Holland Village bomb hoax in November 2002 that was sent via a text message by a man to his immediate friends, but which was circulated to hundreds of people.
In this case, Sze had chosen a social media website to broadcast his bomb hoax to maximise his target audience, noted DJ Ho. “A simple text message cannot compare with a social media website in the technological ease and speed of spreading a bomb threat,” he added.
While Deputy Public Prosecutor Christine Liu had asked for an 18 months jail sentence, Sze’s lawyer Mr Chia Boon Teck had asked the court to consider him for probation, citing past cases where similar offenders were given probation.
Rejecting Mr Chia’s argument, District Judge Ho said that those cases were either unreported or involved offenders with mental disorders.
In contrast, Sze did not have a mental disorder based on a psychiatric assessment conducted in October this year. The psychiatrist noted that the “trigger for (the Accused’s) offending act was out of desperation for attention and a misguided intention of seeking out a sympathetic new friend or two to whom he could confide in”.
The psychiatrist added that Sze had suffered a momentary psychological breakdown, felt extreme despair and lost control of his emotions.
Sze had admitted that he issued the false bomb threat to gain attention because he felt frustrated at having to take a longer academic route, compared to those who did not serve National Service.
In deciding Sze’s sentence, DJ Ho said he took into consideration factors such as his age, the fact that Sze cooperated with the authorities and his excellent national service record.
Nevertheless, the judge said an 18-month jail term was appropriate.
“Singapore faces an ever-present terror threat that is at its highest level in recent times. Against this backdrop of a fraught security climate, bomb hoaxes clearly exploit general apprehension and anxiety,” he added. “Such reprehensible conduct must be strongly punished and deterred.”
Sze, who is appealing against the sentence, is currently out on bail.