Cop lifted maid by her hair when she fell asleep while eating, DPP says he was 'complicit' in her fatal abuse

Nadine Chua
The Straits Times
July 20, 2023

Irritated that his emaciated maid was falling asleep while eating, the husband of a convicted maid abuser allegedly grabbed her by her hair and lifted her off the ground.

When this was read out in court on Thursday on the first day of his trial, police officer Kevin Chelvam, 44, stared blankly into space.

Chelvam was the registered employer of Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don, 24, who died following prolonged and heinous abuse while under his employment, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Koh in her opening address.

Chelvam, a staff sergeant, was suspended from the police force in August 2016, days after Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s death.

Chelvam claimed trial to four charges, including one charge of voluntarily causing hurt and another charge of abetment of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to Ms Piang Ngaih Don by starvation.

The maid weighed 39kg when she started working for Chelvam’s family in May 2015 and was a mere 24kg when she died on July 26, 2016.

Chelvam is also contesting one charge of giving false information to a police officer and another of removing from his home closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras which recorded the abuse.

His former wife, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 43, was sentenced in June 2021 to 30 years in prison – the longest jail term meted out in a maid abuse case in Singapore. They have two children, aged one and four at the time, and divorced in 2020.

Prema S. Naraynasamy, 64, who joined her daughter Gaiyathiri in torturing the maid, was sentenced to 14 years’ jail in January. Prema was given three more years’ jail in June after admitting to one charge of instigating Chelvam to cause evidence of the offences in their Bishan flat to disappear, bringing her total jail term to 17 years.

On Thursday, DPP Koh said that as Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s employer, Chelvam was fully aware of the atrocities that occurred under his roof.

She said: “Evidence will be led to show that Chelvam had knowledge of the daily abuse of the deceased and had even participated in it himself.

“He was complicit in Gaiyathiri’s and Prema’s offences by his conscious indifference to the deceased’s plight, which he allowed to continue unabated until her death.”

DPP Koh said Ms Piang Ngaih Don suffered significant physical deterioration and life-threatening malnutrition as she was not provided sufficient food by Gaiyathiri.

Said DPP Koh: “This would have been obvious to Chelvam – as he admitted in his statement that he noticed the drastic drop in the deceased’s weight.”

In fact, WhatsApp messages between the couple showed Chelvam endorsed the use of food deprivation as punishment for the maid.

A text message he sent to Gaiyathiri in March 2016 showed: “(She) never put the children’s photo at the hall properly again... I told her that if one more time she do the same, no food for her the whole day.”

On the charge of voluntarily causing hurt, the prosecution noted that Ms Piang Ngaih Don was so thin and light that Chelvam was able to lift her off the ground just by her hair alone.

On the night of July 25, 2016, the maid was assaulted by Gaiyathiri and Prema for being too slow in doing laundry.

The next morning, Gaiyathiri and Chelvam checked on her and found her motionless on the floor. Chelvam then left the flat for work.

He rushed home when his wife called and told him Ms Piang Ngaih Don was dead.

DPP Koh said that having reason to believe an offence of murder had been committed, Chelvam dismantled the CCTV recorder in the flat. It was originally installed to monitor the maid.

The DPP said Chelvam admitted in statements that he had done so as he knew the recorder contained evidence the police were looking for.

Said DPP Koh: “While Chelvam did not participate in the fatal assault, he was aware that the deceased was physically abused by Gaiyathiri and Prema on a regular basis, and that the deceased’s physical condition had deteriorated as a result.”

She added: “His guilty knowledge of the deceased’s starvation will allow this court to infer that he made a conscious choice not to intervene and hence abetted Gaiyathiri by illegal omission.”

Gaiyathiri and Prema are expected to take the stand as prosecution witnesses during the trial. The prosecution’s list of witnesses also includes investigation officers involved in the case and a forensic pathologist.

The trial continues.

The Straits Times

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