A district court imposed the maximum S$1,000 fine on a 39-year-old construction worker on Friday (June 9) after he left a blue suitcase unattended on the platform of Hougang MRT Station, triggering a security scare.
Wang Jianpo, a China national, was charged with causing public nuisance six weeks after the incident on April 2, where the station was closed for more than an hour as the authorities investigated the suitcase.
The court heard that Wang had collected the suitcase from a friend at Buangkok Crescent earlier that day before making his way to Hougang MRT station to take the train to Chinatown to run a few errands.
He decided to place the suitcase unattended against the wall of the train platform before taking the train down to Chinatown MRT station at about 2.10pm.
About 15 minutes later, a Chinese couple spotted the suitcase and alerted the station staff, who in turn, reported the matter to the operations control centre of the North-East Line.
The line’s operator SBS Transit subsequently made the call to evacuate and shut the station for security reasons. Trains continued to run on the line but bypassed Hougang station.
Commuters were told to avoid the station while the authorities investigated the security incident. The station only re-opened some 85 minutes later at 4.03pm.
Wang was arrested at about 4.40pm after officers spotted him at the train platform. He had returned to Hougang MRT station to retrieve his suitcase, which contained household items, after completing his errands.
By then, 36 trains had bypassed Hougang MRT station and 29 free passing bus services were deployed. About 663 commuters were evacuated from the station and some 3,521 commuters were affected by the incident.
In urging the court to impose the maximum fine of S$1,000, Deputy Public Prosecutor Daphne Lim said this case was one of the most serious instances of public nuisance.
“Through a single grossly inconsiderate and thoughtless act of leaving his luggage unattended at the train platform so he was not inconvenienced as he went about his errand … much public resources had been expended to deal with the accused’s inconsiderate act and many were inconvenienced as a result,” she added.
In all, 71 police officers and 15 SBS Transit personnel were deployed to manage the situation.
She noted that Wang, who has been working in Singapore for at least five years, would have heard the “countless announcements” made at train stations to not leave personal belongings unattended and how doing so will be regarded as security risks.
“For wholly selfish reasons, the accused nonetheless chose to leave his luggage unattended at the train platform. This triggered a security scare and led to a disruption of an essential national transportation service,” she added.
In mitigation, Criminal Legal Aid Scheme advocate Ng Shi Yang argued that Wang should be fined S$700 instead.
While Wang’s case was severe, he noted that there are other cases that are “far more aggravated”, such as the false alarm at Woodleigh MRT Station that happened more than two weeks after this incident. A running group had left flour at various parts of the station concourse to mark out a trail and a 69-year-old man was arrested in that case. He has not been charged in court.
Mr Ng said the Woodleigh incident had led to the closure of the station for 175 minutes, as compared to the 85 minutes in Wang’s case. The incident also expended more public resources, he said.
But DPP Lim said it was not appropriate to draw distinctions and similarities between the two cases as investigations for the Woodleigh case are still ongoing.
After the court session, Wang’s lawyers said the accused managed to raise funds to pay the fine.
Since both incidents, there have been a handful of other similar incidents where the police were called in when unattended suitcases were left at MRT stations. On Wednesday (June 7), a 34-year-old was arrested for public nuisance after leaving a bag unattended at Admiralty MRT station.