A 60-year-old church caretaker was sentenced to 18 months jail last Thursday after he set fire to a room in a church he was working out, in an attempt to express his frustrations with some of his co-workers.
Curiously, when police officers investigated the fire, the caretaker showed them a note he had apparently found at the scene with the word “JIHAD” on it – a note he had written to divert attention away from himself.
The incident occurred at St Hilda’s Church along Ceylon Road on Easter Sunday when the caretaker, Yeo Liang Chai, arrived at the church at 6.45am to check the premises before Sunday services. Yeo, who had been frustrated as he felt his coworkers did not take his concerns with security lapses seriously, found one of the rooms unlocked and empty.
Yeo grew upset, considering the unlocked room another security lapse, and proceeded to take a bottle kerosene from his backpack and doused a pile of items such as donated books and clothing in the room. He then set the flammable liquid on fire and exited the room.
The culprit then joined the crowd gathered at the church compound as though he had just arrived and even helped put out the flames.
When the police and firemen arrived, Yeo showed the “JIHAD” note to an officer. It is believed that Yeo wanted to focus the authorities attention to Malay-Muslim individuals, since some in-house Malay contractors had been arrested for theft at the church a year prior. Yeo planned to make it appear as though the fire was caused by individuals who wanted take revenge for the contractors’ dismissal.
Upon further investigations, Yeo admitted to the crime and was subsequently arrested.
The defense argued in court that Yeo had only been trying to “highlight facility lapses” and revealed that their client had been suffering from persistent depressive disorder.
The prosecution, on the other hand, condemned the accused for betraying the church’s trust and noted that his “JIHAD” note could have caused racial and religious tensions.
Yeo was sentenced for one count each of committing mischief by fire and intentionally perverting the course of justice. He could have been sentenced to a maximum 14 years in jail and fined for committing the offences.
Interestingly, St Hilda’s church – which suffered over S$32,000 in damages from the blaze – forgave Yeo and have promised to provide pastoral care and support to Yeo and his family.