by Bertha Henson
When a kindergarten puts up a notice telling parents about an unsuccessful “child-grabbing’’ incident, you can bet you are starting a mild panic. And so it was when a Hougang PCF kindergarten posted a notice outside its premises warning parents about a man described as, get this, “normal looking’’ but with a terribly abnormal “white plastic object tied around his neck’’.
The PCF announcement made the rounds on social media with parents warning each other about such a lurking predator. That it came from an established institution rather than one of those anonymous pranksters or well-meaning but uninformed do-gooders lent credibility.
What happened then? The police came out to say in the middle of yesterday that the message should not be circulated as it can generate unnecessary public alarm, causing fear and panic in the community. Transmitting false messages is an offence under the Telecommunications Act. If this is done with intent to cause fear and alarm, or to incite offences against a group, it would also be an offence under the Penal Code. Offenders may be punished with a jail term for up to three years, fined or both.
Phew! That’s heavy…
Thing is, was this a false alarm or a prank or was there truly such an incident?
The PCF notice was quite specific about what happened including the time and place of incident which was reported by the parent who claimed to have held on to the child as the supposed “grab’’ was made.
Were the police called? Because the police statement said they were informed about three hours after the incident was supposed to have taken place – about a 50-something said to be interacting with children in a neighbouring block. And they are looking to pick up the “suspect’’. Is the result of the “panic’’ or the original incident?
Well they did pick up someone. A 43 year old who was apparently merely trying to hold the child’s hand and seemed to have been misconstrued by the suspicious mother. You know the sort, the neighbourhood eccentric. Seems CCTV footage showed it all.
More important is whether the public should be warned if a (real) predator lurks in the neighbourhood. Most times, it is only when a case comes up in court that people realise that there had been, say, a serial molestor in the neighbourhood. What if a member of the public decided to make a “police report’’ public in the interest of warning others? The police would probably say that such a matter was best left in their hands, including whether the neighbourhood should be notified. Plus, jumping the gun might well hinder investigations and alert the predator.
Well, you can’t blame parents for getting worked up. And the Hougang kindergarten operator probably thought it was doing the right thing. Let’s hope that operator doesn’t get the book thrown at them.