Doctor found dead maid lying in living room with mouth gaping and limbs like skin wrapping bone

David Sun
The Straits Times
July 21, 2023

After suffering prolonged abuse while working for a police officer’s family, Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don appeared to be severely emaciated when she died.

She was declared dead by Dr Grace Kwan in her employer’s home on July 26, 2016.

By then, Ms Piang Ngaih Don, 24, weighed only 24kg, compared with just over a year before in May 2015 when she was 39kg.

Dr Kwan was testifying on Friday at the trial of staff sergeant Kevin Chelvam, 44, who was the maid’s registered employer.

Chelvam had 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.

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

Dr Kwan had made a house call at Chelvam’s Bishan flat on July 26, 2016, after Chelvam’s former wife Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 43, called her.

Chelvam and Gaiyathiri divorced in 2020 and have two children, aged one and four at the time. 

Gaiyathiri was sentenced in June 2021 to 30 years’ jail for abusing Ms Piang Ngaih Don till she died. It was the longest jail term meted out in a maid abuse case in Singapore.

Prema S. Naraynasamy, 64, who joined her daughter Gaiyathiri in torturing the maid, was sentenced to 14 years’ jail in January.

Prema was given an additional three years in prison 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.

Dr Kwan said that when she arrived at the flat just before 11am, she saw the maid lying in the living room with her mouth gaping, and found that she had no pulse and her skin was cold to the touch.

She described the maid’s limbs looking like they were just skin wrapping bone, and she had sunken eyes and cheeks.

The doctor said she had tried to do a pain reflex test on the maid but there was no response, and she pronounced her dead.

She said Gaiyathiri and Prema had then responded immediately, saying: “No doctor, cannot be. She was moving just before you arrived.”

Dr Kwan said both mother and daughter asked her if she could do something about it.

She told the court she did not know if the pair meant whether she could resuscitate the maid or issue a death certificate, and told them there was nothing she could do.

She also urged them to call the police, and noticed there were several bruises and abrasions on Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s body.

But the two women told her to call an ambulance instead.

Dr Kwan said Gaiyathiri had denied beating the maid, and that she told the woman she should not be hesitant about calling the police if that were indeed true.

Dr Kwan said she then called the authorities herself.

While waiting for paramedics and the police to arrive, Dr Kwan asked the women if the maid had been given any food and Prema claimed the maid ate a lot.

But an autopsy revealed there was no food in the maid’s stomach.

On Friday, Dr Kwan also said she had seen Ms Piang Ngaih Don twice before her death – once for a Ministry of Manpower check-up in January 2016, and the second time in May that year.

The doctor testified that the maid appeared to have a runny nose and dry cough when she saw her the first time. But in May, the maid appeared to have bruises around both eye sockets and on the cheeks, and her legs were swollen.

Dr Kwan said Ms Piang Ngaih Don had not spoken directly to her, and that Gaiyathiri had claimed then that the maid was clumsy and always falling down.

The doctor said she wanted to do more tests to determine the cause of the swelling, but Gaiyathiri said there was no need to.

Dr Kwan said that at the time of Ms Piang Ngaih Don’s death, she appeared to be significantly thinner and malnourished compared with their previous meeting about two months before.

The trial continues next Monday, with a forensic pathologist expected to testify.

Gaiyathiri and Prema are also expected to take the stand as prosecution witnesses during the trial.

The Straits Times

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