SINGAPORE — Upset over English Premier League (EPL) club Arsenal's loss to Brighton and Hove Albion in June last year, a Singaporean junior college student threatened to kill French footballer Neal Maupay and his family.
In one message that Derek Ng De Ren sent to Maupay via the Instagram social media platform, he wrote, "I will kill you and your family." Maupay had scored the winning goal in injury time during the match, which saw Brighton beat Arsenal 2-1.
At the State Courts on Wednesday (2 June), the 19-year-old pleaded guilty two out of four charges of using threatening words with intent to cause distress under the Protection from Harassment Act. His remaining charges were taken into consideration as part of his plea bargain.
Ng, who is now a full-time national serviceman, will be sentenced at a later date by Community Court judge May Mesenas, after she called for reports on the teen's suitability for probation and reformative training.
About the case
Ng, an Arsenal fan, watched the Arsenal-Brighton match live on the night of 20 June last year at his grandmother's home.
Towards the end of the first half, Maupay challenged Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno for the ball inside the latter's own penalty area. Leno suffered a knee injury and received several minutes of treatment on the pitch before being taken off.
Later, Maupay struck the winner five minutes into stoppage time.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Jeremy Bin told the court on Wednesday, "The accused, an Arsenal supporter, was angered by the victim’s goal and Arsenal FC’s loss. He also blamed the victim for the Arsenal goalkeeper’s injury."
Four days after the match, Ng used an anonymous Instagram account which he had previously created to send three threatening messages to the victim via Instagram’s direct-messaging platform.
At 10.25pm on 24 June, Ng wrote, "You think you will get away for injuring Leno? No way in hell bruv... But don't worry you will be safe you won't be hurt. It's more fun watching you feel pain when your loved ones go through suffering.”
The next day, at about 4.50pm, the culprit wrote, "I will fuck you up".
And on 26 June, at about 1.15am, Ng wrote, "Your family will be attacked later in the day just watch”.
"The victim did not respond to the above messages, and reported the incident to EPL’s online abuse reporting system. Instagram subsequently blocked the accused’s anonymous account," said DPP Bin.
However, about a week later on 1 July, Ng created a new anonymous Instagram account with a similar account name. At about 9.30pm that day, he wrote to Maupay, “You think by reporting my account you’re safe? I will kill you and your family”.
"As a result of these messages, the victim felt distressed, believing the accused’s threats to be legitimate and credible. The victim and his family did not leave their home as far as possible, for fear of being attacked," the prosecutor told the court.
On 11 August 2020, an EPL representative in Singapore filed an online police report about the abusive messages.
In a media statement two days later, the league’s chief executive, Richard Masters said, "The abuse Neal received is wholly unacceptable. We responded immediately to seek justice on his behalf, which in this case meant identifying the perpetrator, tracking them to where they live, and then pursuing legal action accordingly.
“We take each report provided to us extremely seriously and we will use all possible resources in supporting our players and managers to investigate incidents, regardless of where the offender is located,” he added.
DPP Bin told the court that the prosecution was reserving its position on sentencing, pending both reports on Ng's suitability for probation and reformative training.
While rehabilitation may be the predominant sentencing consideration in view of the culprit's age, deterrence is also a relevant consideration in sentencing, he said.
"This case is part of a real and rising trend of offending behaviour, leveraging on technology to cause far-reaching psychological harm to unsuspecting victims without fear of repercussions. The accused ensured that both social media accounts he used appeared entirely anonymous, without details that would reveal his personal information, such as his location," said the prosecutor.
"It should be further highlighted that these were not mild threats. The accused specifically threatened, over the span of eight days, to attack and then to kill the victim and his family," he noted.
"As a result, he was able to cause material harm to the victim, some 10,000km away. The victim genuinely believed these threats to be legitimate and credible, assumed that an attacker could be in close physical proximity to him, and kept his family at home as far as possible in consequence of the accused’s threats. A strong signal must be sent by the court to deter would-be offenders from engaging in similar conduct," he added.
Ng will be back in court on 7 July.
The punishment for using threatening words to cause distress to another person under the Protection from Harassment Act is a fine of up to $5,000, a jail term of up to six months, or both.
Reformative training is a rehabilitative sentencing option for offenders under 21 who are found unsuitable for probation. Inmates under the programme undergo a strict regime and can be detained for up to three years. Unlike probation, reformative training results in a criminal record.
In response to Ng's conviction, Maupay thanked the Singapore authorities. He said, in a statement issued by the EPL, "The vile and toxic abuse of which I was on the receiving end is a daily occurrence for many professional athletes and public figures, and I hope this goes someway to showing those online trolls that it is totally unacceptable and that the authorities are prepared to take the necessary action."
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