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 The Highland Towers Judgment -
 Civil Suit No. S5-21-174-1996

Back To Summary

This Court's finding

With the aforesaid reasoning I find that the landslide that brought down Block 1 of Highland Towers was a rotational retrogressive slide emanating from the High Wall behind the 2nd tier car park.

Though this wall was the first to fail but what caused it to fail? Professor Simons attributes it to poor design and construction and reiterated that this wall, with a very low factor of safety, would have failed even without any water pressure acting against it. But this High Wall stood for 10 years without failing. Why did it not fail earlier if it was so weak and fragile?

Professor Simons causally offers this excuse: that at "certain location the soil strength is stronger than what we have assessed". But I note that he did not dismiss water as one of the factors that caused this High Wall to fail, though he down played it by insisting that it only played a "comparatively small role".

But I find this not convincing against all theories and principles advanced to explain slope failure. Firstly, failure of a wall as defined by Professor Simons means "the ground (beneath it) has failed" even though "the foundation or structure of the wall may not fail". In this case it must be the former since this High Wall is still visible in the Mitchell pictures. With this, we must examine the soil condition beneath this wall. We have evidence that the suspected area of failure consisted of sandy soil. Such soil material is very permeable and water will percolate into it very fast. With 10 days of continuous rainfall in the area before the failure of this wall surely the ground on which it stood would be saturated with water when the drainage system of the slope was either insufficient or inadequate to accommodate water. When this happen the pore water pressure in the soil will increase to cause the soil to be less resistance to slide. This must have played a very major role in causing the ground on which this High Wall stood to fail. Besides, it is also established that when soil is saturated behind any retaining wall it will create a thrust against the wall. This must have been the effect on this High Wall. Thus I find that water must have been a major factor in causing the collapse of the High Wall and the landslide that followed. In fact Professor Simons, in his expert report (P38) has repeatedly emphasized water as a factor which caused the collapse of Block 1. But as to why he reduced its significance and importance is not explained, leaving room for speculation.

Where did the water come from?

But where did the water come from? From evidence adduced, it came from two sources. The first was rainfall. Though rainfall in the area for the same measured period of time did not exceed the amount which fell the previous years it rained continuously for 10 days preceding the day of the collapse of Block 1. This rainfall that fell, part of it was absorbed into the ground and percolated into the soil. The other would be runoffs and washed along the surface. With the internal drains on the Arab Malaysian Land, the water would be directed down the slope in a controlled manner. But these drains on the Arab Malaysian Land were neither sufficient nor efficient or maintained to carry the load, as described by the drainage experts - Mr. Hooi (PW3) and Mr. Douglas Yee (DW12). Substantial part was earth drains and this permitted easy percolation of water into the soil to saturate it. Some were blocked or with vegetation growing over them, as witnessed by the photographs taken soon after the collapse of Block 1. Such blockage must have caused severe overflow on the terraced slope as disclosed by one Mr. Lim (DW1), the maintenance man of the Highland Towers from the experience of the Tropic's clearance of the hill slope without removing and clearing the debris from the hill slope drains.

The second source was water from the East Stream. As described earlier, water from this stream was directed into the pipe culvert. A witness, Mr. Mike Rickard (PW4) who tracked up the slope of the Arab Malaysian Land soon after the collapse of Block 1 found this pipe culvert in very poor condition, damaged in many parts with water leaking therefrom. He captured these images on photographs exhibited in enclosure 98. Subsequently, when Mr. Hooi and Mr. Douglas Yee visited the same site to carry out investigations they too confirm what Mr. Mike Rickard described.

Not only was water not flowing smoothly along the pipe culvert, the area before the water of the East Stream entered this channel was also heavily silted. Mr. Lim (DW1), testifies that when he went up to this spot just after the Highland Towers tragedy he found the mud pond and the inlet into the pipe culvert completely covered with silt. Due to this, water from the East Stream over flowed onto the slope. This view is reiterated by Mr. Rickard with his photographs.



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