Subject: A FAMILY HOLIDAY RUINED BY ILLOGICAL SECURITY OFFICERS
Dear Mr. Foo,
My name is Sandra Tan (I/C number 7------G). It is with great disappointment and distress that I am filing a complaint to you with regards to my situation.
My family (including myself, my husband, my daughter, and my son) planned a Darwin holiday for the March school vacation period and was supposed to depart on 09 March. Unfortunately, we were put in a situation by the security officers at the departure terminal, that was way beyond our control and we were not able to make our trip. The following is an account of what had happened : -
I entered the Immigration gantry at about 7.15pm with my daughter (Belle Lee, 13 yrs old) to have our passport scanned and our hand carry luggage checked whilst my husband (Lee Ming Chong) stayed behind with my son (Caius Lee, 8 yrs old) at the ticketing counter to sort out my son's visa. After having mine and my Belle's passport scanned, we proceed to the security gantry to have our hand luggage and our bodies scanned. Belle passed the security gantry first, whilst I followed right behind her. A lady officer asked me to remove my boots for scanning, and I did as told immediately and put my boots inside the basket provided, for it to be scanned together with my hand luggage. I then proceed to the metal detector of which I cleared without the gantry beeping or detecting any metal objects. I was then asked to collect my luggage and my boots. In the mean time, Belle was throwing away a sweet wrapper and retuning to me and saw me putting on my boots. Belle then asked casually "Mummy, why do you have to remove your shoes?" Whilst putting on my boots, I replied her and said that "they (the security officers) are afraid that we might keep bombs in our shoes (which is why I need to take it off to have it scanned)"
Immediately, a security officer standing at the conveyor belt (Stephen S Naidira) who was standing in front of me said with a very rude tone "repeat what you just said". I clarified with him what he meant - is it for me to repeat what I had told my daughter? He said loudly again, to repeat what I had just said. So I did exactly what he told me. I said to him that "my daughter asked me why I need to take off my shoes, and I told her that you guys (the security officers) are afraid that we will keep bombs in our shoes." He immediately asked me to stand aside and said that he had to report it to his superior that I said the word "bomb" twice. Then an Indian lady (Sivamalar) at the customs started hurling at me and my daughter and said that I said the word "bomb" twice and it is against the law and I can be sent to jail and they are calling the police. She (Sivamalar) was so loud and rude and she shoved us to the side, and refused to listen to my explanation. In fact, she got so aggressive that another officer Ricky Lim (I guess it's her supervisor) had to come forward to stop her from further attacking me and my daughter verbally, and specifically asked Sivamalar to "shut up". I told Ricky Lim that I would like to know the names of his staff because their attitude and rudeness were simply beyond any acceptable level. Immediately Sivamalar got so angry and aggressive that she started charging at Ricky Lim and hurled "What?! What?! What?! She (she meant me) said the word "Bomb" twice, so what is wrong with arresting her (which is me) and we were told that if we heard the word twice, we will arrest!!" At that time, Stephen S Naidira came to me again to intimidate me further by asking me to repeat what I said earlier to my daughter again. I refused to repeat again then because I believe he was deliberately asking me to repeat so that he can count the number of times that I mentioned the word "bomb". I also believe that that the officers were deliberately provoking me by being rude and intimidating, in the hope that I will retaliate in kind, thereby making their unreasonable actions justifiable.
Despite my anger and the fact that my daughter was scared to tears by the situation, I knew I had to keep my cool. I sat aside with my daughter taking down names of the personnel involved on my mobile phone. I was told to wait for another officer of a higher rank to decide on the matter, and I was still hoping whoever the higher ranked officer that was coming will have the logical thinking to acknowledge that what I had said to my daughter was a simple, harmless private conversation taken completely out-of-context.
At about 7.30pm, the Sergeant-in- charge, Amran Buang came. After I explained the full context of the incident to him, he refused to make a decision and decided to escalate it further to the Auxilary Police and State Police. He said that the word "bomb" is very sensitive and I should not have mentioned it twice. I explained to him that I did not know saying the word "bomb" is against the law, and I further explained that I did not say the word "bomb" in a threatening context to the officer, the word "bomb" was taken completely out of context as part of an answer to my daughter's question. Despite my explanation, he said he cannot make the decision and my case has to be escalated to higher authorities.
Meanwhile, at about 7.40pm, my son's visa cleared and my husband and my son came in through the customs. After knowing what had happened, my husband tried to talk to Sergeant Amran Buang, further explaining to him that we are just a family going on holiday and what I have said to my daughter had been taken out of context. Again, no one was bothered to listen. And again, we were told to wait for another officer with an even higher ranking. With time ticking away and at 7.55pm with no sign of the higher authorities appearing, we knew then our hope of boarding our flight had diminished.
Whilst waiting, Stephen S Naidira (the security officer) gathered with a few security officers at the side, including Sivamalar to discuss how they should present their statement to the police when they arrive later to make sure that they are adequately covered, and that they are just following the rule and doing what they were told to do. They said by insisting that they are taking actions "by-the-book" , they would be ok.
I hope by now you have a clear picture of the situation. My kids were both crying then, with more and more policemen arriving which scared the living daylights of them, and with no hope to continue our holiday plans. I believe every action inside the terminal is recorded and I would insist that your review the CCTV recordings on that night to know that I am only stating the truth without exaggeration. You can also see that during the entire episode, I was not at any point defiant or rude or refused any further check by the officers, despite the infuriating situation that me and my family were put through.
I know it is important to stay vigilant to protect Singapore. I have young children, I know how important it is, which is why I complied without complaining when I had to remove my boots for scanning. However, here is an obvious case of the security officers trying to get away with their rudeness and aggressiveness by taking things way beyond what was necessary, in the name of following the security protocol. They were really angry when I asked for their names from Mr. Ricky Lim, and they knew very well then that they can abuse their power to make things very difficult for me and my family.
At around 8.05pm, we were informed by the Tiger Airways personnel that the plane will have to depart and they will off-load our luggage from the plane. At around 8.10 p.m., the State Police and other policemen arrived to take our statement.
In the entire episode, the State Police and the SWISS PORT personnel were the only ones who conducted themselves professionally and offered us consolation and meaningful advice. They have also at some stages expressed their personal views that they acknowledged this incident was gravely mis-handled on the part of the security officers. The State Police further confirmed that there is no case against us, and they would just need to complete the paperwork.
The Budget Terminal manager came to meet me and said that whilst he empathized with our situation, it is an airport security protocol and frankly, it's "just too bad" that this happened to us.
My statement and my daughter's statement only completed at about 10.45p.m. The counter service staff, Ms Nur Aisah Bte Ali Hassan was very helpful and advised us on our next steps. She was kind enough to ask us to return the next day to change the traveling dates and advised the additional charges involved.
I am not given a report for this case, but my case number with the State Police is P/20070309/0015. I was already told by the State Police that the case is closed without further action.
For the ordeal that my family had been put through, I would want an official reply from CAAS and all relevant authorities addressing the following : -
Whether the security officers were trained to handle passengers with such bad attitude and rudeness and if such actions by them are condoned by authorities. I would insist you to refer to the CCTV recordings during the period of the incident.
What actions would be taken by CAAS and all relevant authorities with reference to both the security officers, Mr. Stephen S Naidira ad Ms. Sivamalar, for their unruly behavior and attitude? Surely, characters as such do not belong to a national airport that aspired to be a world class traveling hub.
What actions would be taken by CAAS and all relevant authorities with reference to Sergeant Amran Buang, who had the authority to end this episode promptly, but instead decided to prolong our ordeal for no justifiable cause? Is it a protocol that even after establishing the facts that we, as a family poses no security threat, there is still a need to escalate the matter to the authority and have the State Police and other policemen carry out a full investigations only to end up in vain? Why is it that even at level of Sergeant, whom I reckon is better educated, experienced, and able to make logical sense of the whole situation, refuse to make a simple decision and end our ordeal quickly? Is this a Singapore civil service practice where decision making is pushed and shoved from one level to another no matter how obvious what the final decision should be from the very beginning?
Whether all the officers concern are properly trained and competent to handle such situation. Besides hardware ( i.e. the protocol book), are they taught to apply the software (i.e . common senses)? Is it really a protocol that as long as the word "bomb" is mentioned twice by a person (once being asked to repeat by the officer) ??then no matter what context, tone, situation and profile of the person who said it, it would not be taken into consideration? What if my daughter instead of asking me a simple question about my shoes, decided to say: "mummy, according to news report, there are speculations
that the recent Indonesian air crash may be attributed to a bomb inside the plane." Would your security officer would come up to her and ask her to repeat one more time, and she would be put under arrest? Your staff kept telling me that saying the word "bomb" in the airport is illegal and I can go to jail. They quoted newspaper examples of how people have gone to jail because of that. I think your staffs need to be trained to understand and differentiate situations and circumstances. As far as I knew, the people that went to jail had VERBALLY THREATENED staff members in the aviation service or had DELIBERATELY caused public alarm using sensitive words. My case was clearly none of the above. Even if, I am saying if, indeed its illegal to mention the word "bomb" in the airport no matter what context, the person involved need to be warned ahead of time. You cannot arrest a person for committing something illegal when the person has no idea that the word is illegal in the first place. Your staff could have given me a verbal warning to say that such sensitive words should be refrained in the airport and I would have walk away remembering the warning. But instead, they decide to let the matter escalate further.
Who is to compensate for the expenses that are already incurred and forfeited for this trip, and our emotional stress and duress during the entire episode? The total cost incurred, including air tickets, accommodation, and land tours amount to about $4,200. We had to put up with hours of humiliation with more than twenty policemen and officials surrounding us, questioning us, checking our luggage through and through. We had put up with never-ending questioning from different departments, and best of all, repeated checks on my same pair of boots. My kids were terrified, puzzled, disappointed and exhausted from this entire ordeal. My husband and I are left with one week of applied leave and no vacation and holiday to look forward to.
I would like to state that not everyone that we came across in this episode had been unpleasant. I wish to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the empathy shown by the State Police and the SWISS PORT personnel.
I will be waiting for your reply. Please let me know when to expect it in email. In the mean time, I may seek legal advice for my rights and entitlement in this incident.
Sandra Tan Hong Lian
I/C : S7------G
Blk ---, Tampines Ave. -
#0-----, Singapore ------
Mobile : 8-------