Thursday, 3 March 2016

Benjamin Lim case: What happened?

Death of 14-year-old student

No substantive comment on Benjamin Lim case 'out of respect for family', due to Coroner's Inquiry: Shanmugam

MHA held off 'out of respect for teen's family'
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

A key reason that he and his ministry refrained from making substantive comments on the death of Benjamin Lim was out of respect for his family, and to give them time and space to grieve, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

In the wake of the teenager's death, his family wrote an open letter, signed by his father, which contradicted facts in initial reports.

The family also suggested that Benjamin had been coerced into admitting to the molestation, said Mr Shanmugam.



He added that the police could have rebutted the family's statement by releasing Benjamin's statement to the police and CCTV footage of the alleged molestation. "But is that the right thing to do?" he asked. "To have a public trial by media, at this stage? Rebut the family in public, and add to the family's grief? The answer is clearly no.

"We can understand that the family, in their grief, may genuinely believe some things, and assert them in public. But we chose not to respond. These matters can be dealt with at the coroner's inquiry."

He also stressed that the CCTV footage will not be released, out of respect for Benjamin's memory as well as for the young girl's sake.


MPs, including Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC), Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), asked if the ministry could have addressed the issue in a more timely manner, given the amount of speculation on social media.

But Mr Shanmugam replied that "it will be unseemly for the matter to get to a stage where there are a series of allegations and counter-allegations and statements and counter-statements with the family, with the commentators, the police. You have a free-for-all. That's precisely what legal proceedings are destined to avoid."



He also said Benjamin's father Mr Lim had told the authorities that the family had "felt pressurised by the media" and asked for privacy. Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) asked why the socio-political blog, The Online Citizen, quoted Benjamin's father on Monday as saying that "if not for social media... the case would have died down a long time ago".

Asked about this last night, Mr Lim told The Straits Times that while he does not want his family to be identified to prevent "harassment", the family was not discouraging the media from writing about the incident and issues surrounding it.





I delivered a Ministerial Statement in Parliament today on the case of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim.I set out the...
Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Tuesday, March 1, 2016





DOING THE RIGHT THING

The family has lost a 14-year-old boy. They issued an open letter signed by Benjamin's father. That statement contradicted some of the things police had said...The family also suggested that Benjamin had been coerced into admitting to the molest.

The police could have immediately rebutted the family's statement... The police could have released the CCTV footage which will show quite objectively what happened inside the lift...

But is that the right thing to do? To have a public trial by media, at this stage? Rebut the family in public, and add to the family's grief? The answer is clearly no.

MR K. SHANMUGAM, Home Affairs Minister









No basis for hasty conclusion on boy's death: Shanmugam
Minister details facts leading to death of teen accused of molestation, defends police actions
By Royston Sim, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

Laying out the facts known so far in the case of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament yesterday that there was no basis to link his suicide to the way police investigated allegations that he had molested a girl.

He also slammed "deliberate falsehoods" that had been spread implying that the police had intimidated Benjamin into confessing, and explained that his ministry had not commented in detail till now out of respect for Benjamin's family and the coroner's inquiry into his death.

The Secondary 3 student was found dead at the foot of his HDB block in Yishun on Jan 26 at 4.20pm, several hours after police picked him up from North View Secondary School and interviewed him at the Ang Mo Kio Police Division.



Mr Shanmugam yesterday revealed that CCTV footage showed that Benjamin had followed an 11-year-old girl into a lift on Jan 25. What happened inside was recorded. "Benjamin admitted to the police that he touched a part of the girl's body, and that he did so intentionally," Mr Shanmugam said.

From CCTV footage, police identified the boy's school from his uniform. On Jan 26, five officers - all in plain clothes - went to North View in unmarked cars. One officer interviewed Benjamin in the principal's office with several school staff present. After his mother was informed, Benjamin left in a car to Ang Mo Kio with three officers.

At the station, Benjamin was interviewed by an officer at a desk in an open office setting. Other officers were at their work stations, Mr Shanmugam said. He added that Benjamin later declined an offer of food and drink.

The police had followed procedures and there is nothing so far to suggest that Benjamin was mistreated, or that the interview was the specific reason for his death, Mr Shanmugam said.

When dealing with young persons, police try to interview them and release them to their parents as quickly as possible, he said. Benjamin was released to his mother after 31/2 hours at the police station.

He said the police will conduct a review of their processes, based on the experience from this case, the type of young persons investigated, and how to minimise the risk of officers not following procedures. The review will also consider if the Appropriate Adult Scheme should be extended to young persons.

"This is a very sad case," Mr Shanmugam said. "A young girl has been traumatised. A boy's life has ended prematurely. We must do right, by these two young lives."

Benjamin's case also sparked discussion on the role of schools and whether they should allow students to leave with police. Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng told MPs that schools will always look after their students' interests and well-being, "but they cannot do so in a manner that will obstruct the police in their investigations". He added that the Education Ministry is also participating in the police review.

Thirteen MPs sought clarifications yesterday, including Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan, who asked when the review would be completed. Mr Shanmugam said it would have to wait for the results of the coroner's inquiry.

He said that while it was legitimate for queries to be raised when such incidents arise, this should be done at the proper place and time. People should avoid jumping to conclusions until the facts are established and not prejudge public hearings, he said, adding that the police should not be attacked without basis.








ESTABLISH THE FACTS FIRST

First the facts have to be established. We must avoid jumping to conclusions. We must also avoid attacking individuals or institutions based on those hasty conclusions. We must allow the facts to be established first.

This is Singapore. There are proper processes for all facts to come out.

Second, if there are going to be public hearings, we should not prejudice or prejudge the hearings. There can be a full, open discussion once the hearings are over.

HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM









Shanmugam slams 'deliberate falsehoods' to tar police
Minister accuses The Online Citizen blog of 'orchestrated campaign'
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam hit out at "deliberate falsehoods" that have been spread in the Benjamin Lim case to blemish the police. He took particular aim at socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC), accusing it of a "planned, orchestrated campaign using falsehoods".

On Jan 26, the Secondary 3 student was found dead at the foot of the Housing Board block in Yishun where he lived. He had earlier been questioned by the police for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl.

On Feb 1, police released a statement announcing a review into procedures for interviewing young persons, and stressed that to keep investigations discreet, officers went in plain clothes and unmarked cars to Benjamin's school.

POLICE STATEMENT ON DEATH OF 14-YEAR-OLD MALE STUDENT UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR OUTRAGE OF MODESTY In this case, a...
Posted by Singapore Police Force on Monday, February 1, 2016


Yet this did not stop a number of inaccurate statements from being put out. These gave the impression that the police were effectively lying about being in plain clothes; that the 14-year-old was interviewed and intimidated by five police officers, was coerced into confessing, and was not offered food and drink while at the station.

There were even suggestions that the alleged victim may have made a false report to the police.



Yesterday in Parliament, Mr Shanmugam slammed TOC for publishing around 20 articles that included allegations that were "practically leading people to conclude that Benjamin committed suicide as a result" of how the police handled the case.

One article on Feb 5, he highlighted, claimed that officers went to North View Secondary School, where Benjamin studied, wearing attire stating "police". That was based on a posting by a woman named Mary Anne Pereira, who claimed that her son saw officers wearing polo T-shirts with police markings. Ms Pereira later told police that she got her dates mixed up. She also took down her post. "People make many statements online. They can be mistaken," said Mr Shanmugam. "That is why there is a court process, to establish the truth."

Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Law, delivered a Ministerial Statement in Parliament today on the death of...
Posted by Singapore Police Force on Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Benjamin's death is the subject of a coroner's inquiry that will try to establish the cause of death and its facts. Mr Shanmugam pointed out that, as such, the rules of sub judice, which set out what can and cannot be said when a court hearing or inquiry is pending, apply. The speculation and insinuations about the facts may have broken these rules.

"And it's even more egregious when they are a bunch of lies," said Mr Shanmugam, responding to a clarification request from Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC).With assertions on the integrity of the police force and many ministers' questions, "people may misunderstand if the Government did not respond". This was why, after consulting the Attorney-General's Chambers, with "some regret, and considerable reservation", he decided to set the record straight before Parliament.

While some who commented on the matter may have had genuine questions, many commentaries were based on a misperception of the facts, Mr Shanmugam said. He expressed surprise at comments by lawyer Thio Shen Yi, published in the Law Gazette last month.

Senior Counsel Thio, who is president of the Law Society, wrote that five policemen visited the school, spoke to Benjamin in the principal's office and took the boy to the police station. Mr Thio also said the police should have behaved in a less intimidating way. "His statements imply that Benjamin killed himself because of police intimidation," said Mr Shanmugam. "Where the police are wrong, we must and will take action. But we should not allow deliberate, dishonest attacks," he said.

In a statement to The Straits Times, Mr Thio said the focus of his piece was that Singapore's criminal justice system should provide quick access to counsel, especially for the more vulnerable members of the public. "There was no intention to imply that Benjamin's tragic death was caused by police intimidation. In fact, the article specifically states that we will never know why Benjamin took his life that day."




TMG EXCLUSIVE: We've just received a copy of the transgressions sheet that Law Minister K Shanmugam Sc gave out in...
Posted by The Middle Ground on Tuesday, March 1, 2016





Here's why the Ministry of Home Affairs kept quiet for so long about the Benjamin Lim case:
Posted by Mothership.sg on Tuesday, March 1, 2016





Unfounded allegations

FALSE: Police officers were not in plain clothes when they went to the school.

TRUTH: They were in plain clothes without any police markings.

FALSE: Five officers interviewed Benjamin Lim and intimidated him. He must have been coerced into admission.

TRUTH: Only one officer spoke to him in school with the principal and four staff members around. He was interviewed by one officer at the police station.

FALSE: Benjamin was not offered food and drink.

TRUTH: He declined the offer of food and drink.

FALSE: The girl may not have been molested and made a false report.

TRUTH: Closed-circuit TV footage captured the incident.





Police review to consider three points
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

As the police review how they interview young people, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday flagged three points that will be taken into account.

They are: What happened in the case of Benjamin Lim, the types of young people who get picked up, and how to minimise the risk of officers not following procedures.

Mr Shanmugam said the review will be completed only after the coroner's inquiry into Benjamin's death, as stakeholders will have to be consulted.

This process will start only after the coroner's inquiry has ended.

In Benjamin's case, Mr Shanmugam said there was no evidence to suggest he was mistreated. Neither was it possible, at this stage, to say that the police interview was the specific reason for his suicide.

Some have asked whether the police could have waited until the boy got home before approaching him, but the minister said they did not know who he was or his history when they went to his school.

Had the police waited and an accused person molested others, the question would then be why they did not move faster, he added.



In its review, the police will also consider if distinctions in treatment of young people should be made based on their alleged offences.

Mr Shanmugam noted that they are often brought in for a wide range of reasons, from rioting to sexual assault to murder.

At the same time, the system must reduce systemic risk - in other words, minimise the temptation of departing from the rules.

"We cannot assume that all police officers will always follow protocols. There will be some who will be tempted to take short cuts," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also noted that had Benjamin not taken his life, he would likely have been let off with a police warning, given that he was 14 and it was his first brush with the law.



Out of nearly 7,200 young people who assisted in police investigations from 2011 to last year, 70 per cent were warned, placed on a guidance programme, or had no further action taken. Only 15 per cent were charged while the other cases are still under consideration.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that the police focus on giving guidance and rehabilitation when it comes to dealing with young people.




In my Ministerial statement delivered in Parliament today, I shared on how our schools look after the interests and...
Posted by Ng Chee Meng 黄志明 on Tuesday, March 1, 2016





Schools have to look after safety of students, public: Ng Chee Meng
They have responsibility towards students and the police: Education Minister
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

The Ministry of Education will be involved in a review of police protocol on how young people are handled when accused of a crime, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said in Parliament.

Where needed, schools will adapt and refine their processes after the review, Mr Ng said yesterday when he gave a detailed account of what happened on Jan 26, before North View Secondary School student Benjamin Lim was found dead at the foot of his block.

Hours before, the 14-year-old was taken from his school to a police station for questioning over a molestation case.

The tragedy drew sharp criticism online and from some quarters, with some blaming the school for releasing Benjamin to the police without getting his parents' consent.

Acknowledging people's concerns, Mr Ng said the reality is less straightforward.

"It is reasonable, and indeed expected, that our schools cooperate with police investigations," he added.

But the minister stressed that "schools will always treat the interests and well-being of students as a key priority".

He also emphasised that while schools have a responsibility towards their students, they also have a responsibility towards the police, who have to uphold the law and keep the country safe.

He added that in such situations, the police - and not the principal or school staff - make the call about whether a student should be interviewed in school or at the police station.

"(Schools) will always take appropriate steps to look after their students' interests and well-being but they cannot do so in a manner that will obstruct the police in their investigations," said Mr Ng.

He outlined eight steps schools take when a student is asked to help police in investigations.

In the case of Benjamin, he said, the school kept to the guidelines, including being discreet when taking him to the principal's office.



Five police officers in plain clothes had gone to the school that morning to investigate as closed circuit television footage showed that a North View Secondary student was involved in a molestation case.

The principal told Benjamin a police officer would speak to him, and assured the boy he would be present, along with a member of the school staff.

At the end of the interview, when Benjamin was told he had to go to the police station, the principal asked him to call his mother. The school counsellor was also tasked with following up with Benjamin's mother later in the day, to check on his well-being, said Mr Ng.



He noted that some people had asked why no one from the school accompanied Benjamin to the police station.

He said: "It is not the practice of the police to allow teachers or school staff to be with the student in the police car."

Current police protocols also do not allow other people to be present when police are interviewing suspects at the police station, he added.

He also disclosed that Benjamin's mother had agreed her son should not attend a three-day school camp that would start the following day.

She made the decision after a discussion with the school counsellor over the phone. The counsellor, out of concern for the boy, had suggested he stay home during the difficult period, said Mr Ng.

"Throughout the conversation, the school's motivation was to care for Benjamin's well-being."

Mr Ng added that the school leaders and staff were shocked and distraught at Benjamin's death, and had attended his wake.

He said: "It is of utmost importance that we all learn from this tragedy. We must always, always do our very best to reach out to those who may require attention and do whatever possible to prevent such terrible incidents from happening."









When a student is asked to meet police
The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

• Staff will be discreet when taking the student to meet police.

• School leaders will assess the student's physical and emotional well-being, and ask that the number of officers talking to the student be kept to a minimum.

• If the initial interview is done in school, the school staff will ask to be present.

• If the student has to go to a police station, the school will ask police to contact the parents, and ensure the student has something to eat if he is hungry.

• The student should not be handcuffed and should be led to the police vehicle discreetly with minimal exposure to students and school staff. The police, however, will decide whether or not handcuffs should be used.

• After the student is released, staff will keep in touch with the parents to give support.

• The school will closely monitor the student's well-being when he is back at school.

• The school will make sure the student's identity and ongoing investigations are kept confidential.





MPs ask about support from school for students
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

MPs yesterday asked Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng about the support given by schools when students assist in police investigations. Here are the key points:

• Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) wanted to know if schools can start having staff accompany students to the police station for interviews. Mr Ng said that, with the review of police procedures still under way, "it is premature to position one way or the other". If the review recommends that an appropriate adult should be present, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will consider taking it up.

• Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Dennis Tan asked if principals have the discretion to not release students to the police for questioning. Mr Ng said principals do not have such discretion. The police decide where and when the interview will take place.

• Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) wanted to know if schools have measures to help students fit back into school once investigations are over. Mr Ng said the "balance between confidentiality and rehabilitation is a very delicate one", but trained school counsellors are able to contextualise their counselling according to the student's needs.

• NCMP Daniel Goh asked if school counsellors are trained to do psychological assessments of suicide risks. Mr Ng said they are trained to do basic assessments. Beyond that, they will refer students to an external psychiatrist or psychologist.

• Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) wanted to know if the school counsellor could have met Benjamin Lim's family to discuss the school camp, instead of doing it over the phone. Mr Ng said it was not unreasonable for the counsellor to call, but "we can always do better".

• NCMP Leon Perera asked if there are measures to provide students with aftercare, such as a helpline, when police investigations are ongoing. Mr Ng said counsellors will render support to the student and parents. The MOE will look into Mr Perera's suggestion of providing such aftercare, he added.





Benjamin Lim case: Doing right by two young lives
By Lydia Lim, Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

The mood in the chamber was sombre as Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng delivered their ministerial statements on Benjamin Lim, a teenager who took his life on Jan 26 after being questioned by police.

Once the ministers were done with their speeches, though, the questions flew thick and fast as MPs rose eagerly to seek clarifications. They raised issues in two important areas.

First, whether enough safeguards are in place to protect the interests of young people under police investigation. Several MPs expressed concern that Benjamin, who was 14, was not accompanied by an adult - whether a parent or teacher or counsellor from his school - when he was taken to the police station for questioning.



Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said that, as a mother of two teenagers, she wished to know if the police could have waited half an hour or one hour for Benjamin's parents to arrive before starting to question him. "He didn't have any prior record," she noted, "and as a 14-year-old, whom I still regard as a child, he must have felt quite frightened to be there, being interviewed by the police without a significant adult present".

Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) echoed her sentiments. He asked if the police believed Benjamin's offence was so grave and urgent that they could not interview him later, after his parents arrived. The offence in this case was molestation. An 11-year-old girl had made a police report against Benjamin and there was CCTV footage to show that he had followed her into a lift and touched a part of her body.

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam spoke of the wide range of youth crime that the police have to act against. Every year, some 1,300 young people on average are picked up for a range of offences.

"Young people get picked up for a wide range of offences, from rioting, sexual assault, physical assault to murder," Mr Shanmugam said. "Some could be involved in very serious matters. Police need to move quickly, arrest, investigate before the others (including other gang members) destroy evidence."

He also stressed that, with young offenders, the police sought where possible to avoid criminalising the conduct so as to give the young accused person a second chance.

They also have programmes to help rehabilitate these young offenders. Some 88 per cent of those who underwent the six-month guidance programme have gone on to lead crime-free lives.

Still, on police protocol which the Ministry of Home Affairs is reviewing, MPs signalled where they believed there was room for improvement. Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) sought an extension to the Appropriate Adults scheme, which assists suspects with mental and intellectual disabilities when they have to give statements to police. Ms Phua pointed out that in Britain, a similar scheme covered young persons aged under 18. "I'd like the minister to consider this," she said.

Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera asked if the Education Ministry had a regime to provide counselling and other support to students being investigated. Mr Ng said he would look into whether such a regime should be set up.

The second important area that MPs sought clarification on was the online media and its reporting of the case. Mr Shanmugam had taken aim at website The Online Citizen (TOC) for what he called a "planned, orchestrated campaign" of some 20 articles that used falsehoods "to tar the police unfairly".

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) highlighted a TOC article that quoted Benjamin's father as saying that "without social media, especially TOC, the case would have died down a long time ago". Mr Shanmugam said the claim that the case would have died down without TOC was "ridiculous" as a coroner's inquiry is due to take place. That was made clear in a police statement issued on Feb 1.

Still, Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) said "we can't ignore the fact that the online media plays a very important part in communication". She put this question to Mr Shanmugam: "In situations where it's very emotive and very sensitive, while I totally understand your stance of handling the information very carefully... is there a way to share at least some information with online news sites?"

Mr Shanmugam had explained in his speech that he had decided early on to refrain from commenting too much or in detail out of respect for Benjamin's family, who needed time and space to grieve, and because the coroner's inquiry is the right forum to deal with the relevant facts. In response to Ms Tan, he said the law of contempt applied both online and offline. With a coroner's inquiry pending, the media should refrain from making allegations of fact which may be the subject of dispute during the inquiry.

Mr Shanmugam's carefully calibrated statement included a stout defence of the police officers involved in the case who, as he put it, "cannot defend themselves and are doing their job, every day, in difficult circumstances".

He also reminded the House that two young lives had been damaged by this "very sad case", a 14-year-old boy who died and an 11-year-old girl who has been traumatised. To calls from MPs who wanted the investigation processes involved in this case reviewed, the minister pledged to do so, saying: "We must do right by these two young lives."





'Consult parents if kids are in police probes'
By Calvin Yang and Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2016

Parents feel they should be consulted if their school-going children are involved in police investigations.

They were speaking to The Straits Times after a parliamentary discussion on Tuesday about the death of 14-year-old North View Secondary School student Benjamin Lim, who was questioned by police in January over a molestation allegation.

Although parents appreciate that schools have protocols in place when a student is asked to assist in investigations, some pointed out that schools should not have the right to release a child to the police without their permission.

Currently, parental consent is not needed when police want to interview a student, Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said in Parliament on Tuesday.

Benjamin was taken into custody on Jan 26 for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl. His mother was notified and he was taken to Ang Mo Kio Police Division, unaccompanied by school staff or his parents.

After being released on bail, he was found dead at the foot of his family's block later in the day.

Information technology manager Alex Yeo, 43, who has three children aged seven to 13, said: "Any parent would be upset if a school does not ask for permission and allows the police to take his child away. Perhaps the police could have gone to the boy's house, instead of the school, later that day and he would have been under the care of his parents by then."

In Parliament on Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam addressed these concerns, saying that when police went to the school in Yishun, they did not know Benjamin was the boy who appeared in closed-circuit TV footage they had retrieved.

"If the police wait, and he molests someone else in the meantime, the question would be why the police did not move faster," he added.

Some parents agreed with this stance, saying they would have wanted the case to be settled as soon as possible if they were the girl's parents.

Part-time tutor Judy Ho, 43, who has a 14-year-old daughter, said: "The police have to do their job and answer to the other party involved. They can't be waiting for the parents to show up at the school."

Housewife Fanny Chan, 45, who has four children aged seven to 17, said she understood that police had to act with urgency, but added that the boy may not have known how to react in such situations.

"If a parent can't be there, a teacher whom he is familiar with should have gone along," she said.

Others asked for police protocols to be reviewed, calling for schools to ensure that a student is accompanied by an adult throughout any investigations.

Engineer Robert Tan, 54, who has three sons aged two to 12, said: "Investigations need to be conducted as fast as possible but you could have kept the boy in the school, and not let him get away."

On Tuesday, Mr Ng said: "It is not the practice of the police to allow teachers or school staff to be with the student in the police car.

"Current police protocols do not allow other persons to be present when the student is undergoing questioning at the police station."





TOC denies deliberately misleading the public
Blog cites 'dearth of information available', says 'inaccuracies not the same as falsehoods'
By Seow Bei Yi and Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2016

A day after Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam charged that it had engaged in a "planned, orchestrated campaign using falsehoods" to blemish the police, The Online Citizen (TOC) denied that it had deliberately misled the public.

"Given the dearth of information available to us, it is natural that some of our reports were not fully accurate," the socio-political blog wrote on its website, arguing that "inaccuracies are not the same as falsehoods".

TOC had published 25 related articles after 14-year-old Benjamin Lim was found dead on Jan 26 at the foot of the Housing Board block in Yishun where he lived. Earlier that day, he had been questioned by police for the alleged molestation of an 11-year-old girl.

Asked about TOC's editorial yesterday defending itself, the Home Affairs Ministry said the police had already said on Feb 1 that there would be a coroner's inquiry (CI) into Benjamin's death. "(The minister) has given a full response in Parliament on the falsehoods put out in this matter, and has also explained why questions addressed to the ministry or the police cannot be answered, prior to the CI. There are proper processes in place to establish the facts," a spokesman said.

In Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Shanmugam addressed the issue to set out the facts and maintain public confidence in the police. Describing Benjamin's death as tragic, he hit out at "deliberate falsehoods" that have been spread in the case to tar the police. He took particular aim at TOC, saying its articles "practically (led) people to conclude that Benjamin committed suicide as a result" of how the police handled the case.

But TOC said only four of its articles were written in-house. The rest were letters and opinion pieces contributed by members of the public. "Their reactions were spontaneous", and this was "hardly an orchestrated campaign", it said.

A "falsehood" highlighted by Mr Shanmugam was contained in a Feb 5 article, which quoted a woman who claimed that officers went to Benjamin's school wearing attire with police markings. The minister made it clear that all the officers were in plain clothes. Investigations showed that TOC received its information from a Facebook post by a woman, who admitted to getting her dates mixed up. She later took down her post.

TOC said yesterday that it had contacted her on social media to verify her claims. It also said it reached out to the police and other officials before publishing the article, but did not receive any replies.

Mr Shanmugam pointed out TOC's "tactics" in posing questions to the authorities, then implying a cover-up when no response was forthcoming. The minister explained that the authorities had chosen not to comment in detail on this case out of respect for the family and as there was a CI.

In a Feb 23 article, TOC detailed the questions it had sent to the authorities, and titled the piece "Questions about Benjamin Lim's case, Home Affairs Minister and SPF cannot answer". TOC insisted yesterday that it believes "in giving all sides a chance to speak. Soliciting answers to pressing questions isn't a 'tactic'. It is merely journalism".

After Mr Shanmugam's ministerial statement on Tuesday, social activist Ravi Philemon, 47, wrote on Facebook that "the minister was right" for thinking that TOC put up a "planned, orchestrated campaign". When contacted by The Straits Times, the former editor of TOC clarified that while the articles may have tried "to get justice for the student", they "inadvertently also implied that the school and the police were less forthcoming".

And while not all the articles were written by TOC, he added, this "does not absolve the editors" of responsibility as they decide which pieces are put up.

Mr Shanmugam also highlighted that making claims about Benjamin's case could have infringed rules of sub judice, since an inquiry was pending. The rules of sub judice, which is Latin for "under judgment", regulates the publication of matters that are under consideration by a legal proceeding.

Veteran lawyer Amolat Singh said a person may be held in contempt of court for violating these rules, and agreed that a CI was the right forum to lay out the facts of what happened.

"The problem with the court of public opinion is, there are no rules. Sometimes, the one who shouts the loudest gets the furthest," he said. "There is no scope for a forensic examination of the facts."





What TOC said, what minister said
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2016

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament on Tuesday that The Online Citizen (TOC) had published about 20 articles which included allegations that were practically leading people to conclude that 14-year-old Benjamin Lim had committed suicide as a result of how the police handled the case.

WHAT TOC SAID

A parent of a student in the same secondary school as Benjamin said her son's account differed from the police statement that officers turned up at the school wearing plain clothes. 

WHAT MR SHANMUGAM SAID 

TOC supposedly relied on a posting by a woman who stated that her son had seen officers wearing polo T-shirts with the word "Police" on them. However, when the police checked with her, she said she had got her dates mixed up.


WHAT TOC SAID

It raised questions about Benjamin's case to the police and various agencies, as well as to Mr Shanmugam, but did not receive a reply.

WHAT MR SHANMUGAM SAID

A key reason that he and his ministry refrained from making substantive comments on Benjamin's death was out of respect for his family, and to give the family time and space to grieve.


WHAT TOC SAID

It ran several accounts drawing parallels between cases, suggesting that police conducted investigations in an intimidating and inappropriate matter.

WHAT MR SHANMUGAM SAID

These allegations were "entirely speculative", without regard for what actually happened in Benjamin's case.




NO RULES IN COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION

The problem with the court of public opinion is, there are no rules. Sometimes, the one who shouts the loudest gets the furthest... There is no scope for a forensic examination of the facts.

VETERAN LAWYER AMOLAT SINGH, on how a coroner's inquiry is the proper forum to lay out the facts of what happened





Legal experts divided on how to spell out sub judice boundaries
Some say legislative tweak needed, but others argue guidelines for public are enough
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 3 Mar 2016

With increasing public discussion on social media about news, there is a greater risk for sub judice to be committed and it is timely to study how to make sure the public does not fall foul of the law, said lawyers.

However, they were divided on whether there is a need for legislative tweaks to spell out the boundaries of sub judice or if publishing a set of guidelines for members of the public would suffice.

The lawyers were responding to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s ministerial statement in Parliament on Tuesday on the Benjamin Lim case, where he said allegations had been spread by some parties — including socio-political website The Online Citizen — to blemish the police. Benjamin, 14, had fallen to his death at his block on Jan 26 after he was taken in for police questioning on an alleged offence.

The minister had also said the authorities will relook laws to see how legitimate discussions on general principles and approaches prior to a hearing can be done with care.

Sub judice refers to public discussions of a case under judicial consideration that may affect or prejudice the outcome of the legal proceedings. The principle falls within contempt of court under common law here, as opposed to being written into the statutes. The United Kingdom, in contrast, enacted a Contempt of Court Act in 1981 that statutorily defined what constitutes an offence.

Commenting on Mr Shanmugam’s remarks about the issue of sub judice, lawyer Hri Kumar said enacting legislation on contempt of court could help make sub judice principles clearer to the public. “By having it in legislation ... those who frame the legislation will sit down and draw out clearer rules. Then those rules will be debated in Parliament and discussed,” said the Senior Counsel at Drew & Napier.

“Not only will that make the law clear, this entire (parliamentary) process will also serve as a mechanism to educate the public,” added the former Member of Parliament.

Last year, Mr Sui Yi Siong, a legal associate at Harry Elias Partnership, wrote a commentary published in the Law Gazette on the relevance of sub judice contempt of court. Noting that sub judice contempt is an area of law that was developed in the context of jury trials, which was abolished in Singapore in 1969, he questioned whether it was still relevant today.

He told TODAY that enacting legislation on sub judice has the advantage of certainty.

But Mr Edmond Pereira felt that public discussion of a case might still affect witnesses in a trial, who might then come in with “perceived notions and understanding”.

“It doesn’t matter if the judge is professional — he should know he’s impartial, should be able to reason, rationalise. But because of the impression gathered by other members of the public — who collectively form a source of information or evidence — (witnesses could) give information based on what they have heard or perceived and what they have read. There can be an influence,” he added.

Lawyer Amolat Singh said sub judice should remain under common law so that it can be flexibly applied in different scenarios and evolving situations. “If you define something, then there will be people who study the legal limits and then they push the envelope and come so close to the line without crossing the line,” he said.

Mr Singh felt that publishing a set of guidelines that spell out the out-of-bounds markers for sub judice contempt would suffice.

He added that sub judice principles remain relevant because the prevalence of social media has “created a bigger minefield” for people to commit contempt of court, where people do not always pause and think about what they say on such platforms.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan does not think there is a way to “achieve the level of clarity that would be amenable to the understanding of the layman”.

He added that it is difficult to be “prescriptive” as there are too many permutations on how one can commit sub judice contempt of court. “(But) the sub judice principle or rule is not meant to curb freedom of expression, it’s just to ensure that a hearing is not unfairly prejudiced by the goings-on in the public domain,” he said.

There have been warnings against sub judice contempt here in recent years. In February last year, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) issued a reminder warning against comments on the Internet, which may flout the rules, following the arrest of three Singaporeans for various offences during a Thaipusam procession.

In 2013, the AGC also warned local film-maker Lee Seng Lynn for committing contempt of court after she released video interviews with two bus drivers who were charged with organising an illegal bus strike the previous year.





Teen's death: This is a very sad case
The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam gave a ministerial statement in Parliament yesterday in response to questions on the death of student Benjamin Lim. This is an edited excerpt.

This is a very sad case - a young girl has been traumatised. A boy's life has ended prematurely.

We must do right by these two young lives. When police deal with young persons who have committed offences, their main aim is to rehabilitate them, so that they can go on to lead a crime-free life. That gives them a second chance. It is tragic that such an incident has taken place. It has been a very trying and distressing period for both families. We are very aware of that.

And we have refrained from commenting in detail on the matter for two reasons: One, out of respect for Benjamin's memory, and to protect the young girl as well. And two, because it would be inappropriate to discuss the facts in detail, which may be disputed, prior to the Coroner's Inquiry (CI).

And given that a CI is pending, I took advice from AGC (Attorney-General's Chambers) on what I can say today. They have advised that I can set out what I am going to, in this speech, but I do so with considerable reservation. I will explain why later. I will now deal with the questions raised by Members by looking at the following:

First: What are the facts in this case? Second: What is the police protocol for interviewing a young person? Third: The deliberate falsehoods that have been spread in this case to blemish the police. Some people were doing this, as I will show later. Fourth: Why has my ministry not commented in detail, until now, on the matter?

THE FACTS

First, the facts. I want to emphasise that the facts are as we know them, at this stage. One: Why Benjamin was asked to assist in police investigations. And two: How the police investigated the case.

On Jan 25, a police report was made. An 11-year-old girl said that she had been molested in a lift. Among other things, police retrieved relevant CCTV footages. A boy in school uniform was identified as the suspect. This boy was later identified as Benjamin Lim. He lived in Yishun.

On that day, Jan 25, while he was coming home from school, it appears that he made a detour and he went to another block in the neighbourhood, before going home. He seems to have followed the 11-year-old girl. The two appear not to have met before. He went into a lift with her, at the ground floor of her block. And he is said to have molested the girl in the lift.

There are CCTV footages showing Benjamin making his way to the other block, and Benjamin quickly following the girl into the lift, after she entered it. And there is CCTV footage within the lift, showing what happened. Police have these footages. Benjamin admitted to the police that he touched a part of the girl's body. And that he did so intentionally.

The girl has said to the police that Benjamin touched a part of her body. After the incident, he stepped out of the lift on the 13th floor. The girl says that there was a brief exchange between them when he stepped out of the lift. She did not follow him. CCTV footage shows him going down one floor to the 12th floor and then taking the lift down to the ground floor. It would appear that the purpose of him getting into the lift was to follow her, and after the incident, get out and go back. She reported to her father what had happened. The family filed a police report on the same day.

Now let me turn to the police investigations. As stated earlier, police retrieved some CCTV footages. Based on his school uniform, police identified that the boy was from North View Secondary School. On the next day, Jan 26, police went to the school. Five officers went. Three from the NPC (Neighbourhood police centres), and two from Division.

The 3 NPC officers have detailed knowledge of the community. They interact with the community and the schools. They link up, deal with the school, the teachers, the community. They make the interactions smooth. They answer questions the school may have. Basically they facilitate the process.

The Divisional Officers assist in the investigation of cases. The five officers were not in police uniforms, not in any attire with the word "police". They went in plain clothes, in unmarked cars.

The officers showed a screenshot of the CCTV footage to the school officials. The boy in the screenshot was identified to be Benjamin. A school official brought Benjamin to the principal's office. One police officer spoke with Benjamin. Some of the school's educators were present. The officer spoke with Benjamin about the incident. The other four police officers were not present.

After the interview, Benjamin was advised by the principal to call his mother, and he called his mother. When he finished conversing with his mother, the police officer also spoke with Benjamin's mother. He told her that Benjamin will be brought to Ang Mo Kio Division to give a statement.

Benjamin was then brought back to the station in an unmarked car, with three officers. One of the officers alighted along the way. That left two officers in the car - one to drive and the other to look out for Benjamin. At Ang Mo Kio station, an officer recorded Benjamin's statement. This was done by the officer at his workstation, in an open-plan office.

Another officer unrelated to the case was nearby doing his work. And there were other officers at their respective workstations. Benjamin was not handcuffed at any time. He requested to be given time to recollect his thoughts about the incident. His written statement was taken at 12.15pm, after he said he was ready. Benjamin was co-operative throughout. He was offered food and drink after the interview and he declined that.

After the interview, he was placed in a Temporary Holding Room, which was secured. This was pending his mother taking him back. He was alone in that room. Police also recorded a statement from the mother who was at the station. Benjamin was then released on bail. He left the police station with his mother and sister.

Time spent by Benjamin in the police station was about 3 ½ hours - which included the time the police spent taking the statement with the mother. That was the last contact between Benjamin and the police.

What happened after Benjamin and his mother left the station? Based on investigations, the following is what the police know. They went home. He had lunch. He played games on his phone. Sometime later, his mother told Benjamin that he would not be going to the school camp that would start the next day. This was after a telephone conversation between his mother and a school counsellor.

At about 4.20 pm, Benjamin was found dead at the foot of his block. These are the facts.



Now let us ask a question: If Benjamin had not taken his life, what would have happened in this case? Let me give Members some statistics, which will show what usually happens. Over the last five years, from 2011-2015, a total of 7,196 young persons have assisted the police in investigations. Of these, 70% i.e. seven out of 10 were either warned or placed on a Guidance Programme or had no further action taken against them. About 15% were charged. Another 15% of cases are under consideration.

Charges are usually only brought against young persons when there are aggravating factors, such as when the offence is of a serious nature like rioting, or if the young person is a repeat offender, or has breached the terms of a conditional warning, for example by failing to complete the necessary guidance programme. As the statistics show, the police approach to infringements by young people is generally as follows: Where possible, the police try to avoid criminalising the conduct. It is better to give the young accused a second chance, and help in rehabilitation.

It is likely that on the evidence available to us, Benjamin would have received no more than a warning. He is unlikely to have been charged in court. Police would have taken into account his age, and the fact that this is the first time. And while all molestations are taken seriously, the nature of the specific molestation in any case would have to be considered. The nature of the alleged molestation in this case can be characterised as being in the less serious range - that is based on CCTV footages.

POLICE PROTOCOL

Let me now deal with police protocol for dealing with young persons. Police adopt an expedited process for young persons. To interview them and release them as quickly as possible to their parents. In this case, Benjamin was released to his mother within four hours of being brought to the station.

Where suitable, the young person will be placed on a programme to help him. An example is the Guidance Programme. The focus is on diversionary supervision and counselling. The police guidelines are for the school to be kept updated on the progress of the case. That will allow the school to monitor and support the student.

Now, do we need to amend the protocol for interviewing young persons? I have asked my ministry to review the protocol. One suggestion is to video record interviews of all minors. We have announced last year that we are studying the matter of video recording. We will make further announcements when we have worked through the legal and other issues.

Another suggestion is that we extend the "Appropriate Adult" scheme to all young persons being interviewed. We have the "Appropriate Adult" Scheme to provide assistance to suspects who have mental and intellectual disabilities. The role of the "Appropriate Adult" is to assist these persons to communicate more effectively with the police. Police have said in their statement of Feb 1 that they will consider this point during the review.

ACLS (The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore) has contacted us and have offered to give their views. We will engage them, and get their views. But I will caution against rushing to conclusions at this stage. If there is something that we can do better, we will do so.

THE EXPERIENCE IN THIS CASE

Are there any specific indications, from this case, that the processes need to be changed? There is nothing so far on the evidence to suggest that Benjamin was mistreated by the police. I have set out how the investigation was done. At this stage, we cannot say that the interview was the specific reason for the suicide. Suicide often involves a very complex set of factors.

Police will also consult psychologists, other relevant experts. Some people have asked: Why did we need to take him out of the school? Could we not have waited until Benjamin got home?

We need to be clear about how we expect the police to investigate cases in general. When the police went to the school, they didn't know who he was or his history. An accused person, unknown to the police, could well have engaged in other molestations, and until then maybe no one had reported.

If the police wait, and he molests someone else in the meantime, then the question would be - why did the police not move faster? When an incident happens, as a general rule, I am sure we want the police to move in quickly. Every year , we pick up more than 1,300 young people - students, and also others. What do you think the public's attitudes will be if it was a victim who commits suicide, a victim of the molestation? Police would be expected to have moved quickly.

Young people get picked up for a wide range of offences, from rioting, sexual assault, physical assault to even murder. Some could be involved in very serious offences. Police need to move quickly, arrest, investigate, before the others (including other gang members) destroy evidence. Should we make distinctions based on the types of offences? What about gang riots, deliberate arson, or unlicensed moneylending cases? What about those which are more security related. Say a 14-year-old who is radicalised and wants to go out and kill. ISD (Internal Security Department) has interviewed some in that age group. And to prove a point, two weeks ago, we stopped a 15- year-old radicalised boy from Indonesia. He had wanted to go and fight in the Middle East. So let's take this seriously.

Let me now turn to the third point. We must reduce systemic risk where possible. We cannot assume that all police officers will always follow protocols. There will be some who will be tempted to take shortcuts. We have to ensure that we have a system that minimises the risk. Police will look at past experience, the thousands of young persons who had been investigated.

There are many aspects to this issue, many questions which need to be carefully considered. This is not a situation where we should have knee-jerk reactions or come to hasty conclusions. Any of our children could have been in Benjamin's position, and any of our daughters could have been in that 11-year-old girl's position. We will approach the review of the processes with that perspective.

DELIBERATE FALSEHOODS

There have been a number of inaccurate statements that have been put out. We say inaccurate, based on the facts that police have. Some of the inaccurate statements are as follows:

• That the police were not in plain clothes when they went to the school to identify Benjamin, effectively alleging that the Police were lying to Singaporeans when they put out their statement on Feb 1.

• Allegations that Benjamin was interviewed and intimidated by five police officers.

• That he must have been coerced to make an admission to an offence that he did not commit.

• Some have even suggested that the girl might not have been molested, and might have made a false report.

A number of these falsehoods have been put out by The Online Citizen, TOC. It has gone on a planned, orchestrated campaign, using falsehoods, and has published about 20 articles or so as part of its campaign.

One example of the falsehoods: police had said on Feb 1 that they went in plain clothes. Yet TOC published an article on Feb 5 saying that police wore attire stating "Police". The suggestion is that the police were lying to Singaporeans.

They supposedly relied on a posting by a lady, Mary Anne Pereira. She had stated that her son saw police officers with Polo T-shirts and the word "Police". Police checked with Ms Pereira. She says she had gotten it wrong. She got her dates mixed up. She is wrong because the police went to the school in plain clothes on Jan 26. She has taken down her post. People make many statements online. They can be mistaken. This is why there is a court process, to establish the truth.

The overall narrative and impression conveyed by the various TOC articles are: Police were lying; The police intimidated the boy; and police put pressure on him to confess to a crime that he did not commit.

Allegations, implications which are false, practically leading people to conclude that Benjamin committed suicide, as a result.

It is sad to see this level of dishonesty and politicising of this matter. Where the police are wrong, we must and will take action. But we should not allow deliberate, dishonest attacks. I have asked my ministry to study how the police and other institutions can respond in future to such falsehoods.

MINISTRY'S SILENCE UNTIL NOW

That brings me to the fourth point: why has my ministry not commented substantially, particularly to correct these inaccuracies, until now? Why has there been no substantive comment on this matter, either from the ministry or myself?

I told my ministry, early on, that we should refrain from commenting too much, or in detail, on this matter. I decided that for two reasons: One: Out of respect for the family, to give them some space and time to grieve. Two, there will be a Coroner's Inquiry.

That is the right forum for the relevant facts to be dealt with. I think Members will know when I keep quiet; usually there is a good reason, a good legal reason.

The family has lost a 14-year-old boy. They issued a statement,an open letter, signed by Benjamin's father. That statement contradicted some of the things police had said on Feb 1, and made some additional points which the police disagreed with. The family also suggested that Benjamin had been coerced into admitting to the molestation.

The police could have immediately rebutted the family's statement. The police could have set out their version, what I have set out today. The police could have released the CCTV footages which will show quite objectively what happened inside the lift.

But is that the right thing to do? To have a public trial by media, at this stage? Rebut the family in public, and add to the family's grief? The answer, good sense, is clearly NO. We can understand that the family, in their grief, may genuinely believe some things, and perhaps even assert them in public. But we chose not to respond. These matters can be dealt with at the Coroner's Inquiry.

And even at this stage, I have decided that we should not release the CCTV footages of what happened in the lift, out of respect for Benjamin's memory and to help the young girl as well. Police have continued to engage the family. When police spoke with Benjamin's family last week, his father told us the family felt pressured by the public and media attention - photographers and reporters have been loitering around their house. He asked for privacy, and explained that he would like his family to be kept out of the spotlight. He asked that we inform the media of this and tell the media that the family did not want their identity, names, pictures published.

The family even asked for the entire Coroner's Inquiry proceedings be held in private. AGC will give the request careful consideration. Ultimately it will be up to the court to decide.

The CI will, to the extent possible, try to establish the cause of Benjamin's death and the facts.

All Coroner's Inquiries in Singapore are held in public, unless the court decides that some part of it should be in private. For example in this case, it can be argued that the identity of the 11- year-old girl should not be revealed. She is a young victim who has been deeply traumatised. And it could be argued that the CCTV footage of what happened within the lift should be viewed in private as well, for the sake of Benjamin's memory and for the young girl.

Once the coroner announces his findings, both facts and conclusion, then people can offer their criticisms, viewpoints, comments on what the police did, what my ministry did, or did not do. That is the official version of the facts, after people are cross-examined on the stand.

Sub Judice principles set out what can and cannot be said when a court hearing or inquiry is pending. The various pronouncements, suggestions, statements which imply, allege that five officers interviewed him, that the police intimidated, pressured Benjamin, into wrongly admitting to guilt. And that these must have been amongst the reasons why he probably committed suicide. These allegations possibly infringe the principles of Sub Judice, apart from being highly improper at this stage prior to the Coroner's Inquiry.

Police came out publicly on Feb 1 to say that there would be a Coroner's Inquiry once police investigations into the death were completed. Police said in their statement that all relevant facts would be presented and the family would be able to raise all questions that they may have. This is Singapore, there is no such thing as a cover-up.

It is surprising that even a lawyer, Mr Thio Shen Yi, has made some comments which should not have been made. He has said that five police officers spoke to Benjamin. That is false. And that the five officers took him to the police station. That is also false. And that police should have behaved in a less intimidating way. He seems to make the assertion of intimidation, based on his other statements which are themselves false.

His statements imply that Benjamin killed himself because of police intimidation. Mr Thio has a duty to be fair to the police officers. He needed only to have referred to the police statement of Feb 1 to know that many of the assertions he is making were untrue. And without knowing anything about Benjamin, his mental make-up, his family background, one cannot reach such conclusions, that Benjamin was intimidated and that is why he took his life.

I have gone into some detail. We have the following set of circumstances. Assertions which go to the integrity of the police force have been repeated several times, including untrue "factual" assertions. And Members have filed many parliamentary questions. In these circumstances, not everyone will know why the Government has not responded, and people may misunderstand if the Government did not respond.

I have decided with some regret, and considerable reservation, and after consulting AGC, that we will have to set out the facts, discuss the matter. Amongst other things, public confidence in the police force must be maintained.

The law is as follows: The rules of Sub Judice generally preclude discussions which may prejudice proceedings but public officials like myself can make statements, if they believe it to be necessary in the public interest, even if there is a hearing pending.

As we go forward, from time to time, there will be other incidents in the future. The incidents will raise legitimate public queries. We must have a clear, proper framework to deal with them, such that when an incident happen: First the facts have to be established. We must avoid jumping to conclusions. We must also avoid attacking individuals or institutions based on those hasty conclusions. We must allow the facts to be established first. This is Singapore. There are proper processes for all facts to come out.

Second, if there are going to be public hearings, we should not prejudice or prejudge the hearings. There can be a full, open discussion, once the hearings are over.

Even prior to the hearings, there can be legitimate discussions on general principles and approaches. But it has to be done with some care. We will review the law to see how we can try and achieve this better.

At the end of the day, every life matters. It matters to the police. It matters to the Government. It matters to all of us.





Coroner's inquiry into schoolboy Benjamin Lim's death: 17 May 2016

Court shown video of alleged molestation
Father of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim disputes claim that girl was touched during inquiry into son's death
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 May 2016


Benjamin Lim, the 14-year-old who fell to his death in January after being arrested for alleged molestation, entered a lift at the same time as an 11-year-old girl. He was seen dropping his mobile phone. And as he picked it up, his right hand apparently touched the back of her left thigh.

A video of these events on Jan 25, captured by surveillance cameras, was shown in court yesterday, as the coroner's inquiry into his death began. The media was ordered to clear the courtroom when the minute-long video was played, to protect the identity of the victim.

But when reporters returned, Benjamin's 46-year-old father disputed that the girl had been touched. His lawyer Choo Zheng Xi told the court that what the father said he observed was a "brush at the area of the girl's skirt" and that it appeared to him that there was no bodily contact. Benjamin's parents cannot be named after the court granted their request not to be identified.

State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong, assisting the court in the inquiry, said investigation officer Mohamed Razif stood by the description of what transpired in the lift. The State Counsel explained it was up to State Coroner Marvin Bay to make a finding on whether Benjamin had touched the girl.

Benjamin's death on Jan 26 has put a spotlight on the treatment of young people during criminal investigations, and when schools should release students to the custody of police.



Yesterday, State Counsel Wong told the court that the police and North View Secondary School, where Benjamin studied, had taken steps to deal with him sensitively, including sending officers in plainclothes, letting the principal speak to him first to reassure him, allowing school staff to sit in during the interview by a single officer at school, and not handcuffing him. Officers also talked to him to put him at ease on the drive to the station and he was interviewed in an open-plan office.

The State Counsel stressed that the case stemmed from a serious offence involving the alleged outrage of modesty of a very young girl, who at about 4.25pm on Jan 25, lodged a report at Yishun North Neighbourhood Police Centre.

She said she did not confront the person who had allegedly given her a soft tap on her left buttock as she was scared. Through footage from police cameras around the block, police found that the suspect was wearing North View Secondary School's physical education attire.

On the morning of Jan 26, five plainclothes police officers went to the school in two unmarked cars. School staff identified the suspect as Benjamin, given the red-framed spectacles he wore.

When Inspector Poh Wee Teck interviewed the boy in the principal's office, Benjamin said he might have "accidentally" touched the girl as he was picking up his mobile phone. At Ang Mo Kio Police Division, Benjamin admitted to Assistant Superintendent Razif that he had followed the girl into the lift, deliberately dropped his phone and touched her.

He was placed under arrest and his mother posted bail for him. They reached home at 3.30pm. An hour later, Benjamin was found dead at the foot of the block where they lived.

ASP Razif said in his report that Benjamin had undergone counselling from Primary 1 to 4. He also said the boy had been looking forward to attending a school camp, according to his parents and older sister. Benjamin had been told by his mother minutes before he fell that he would not be attending the camp. The inquiry continues.





Boy 'calm during police interview, fidgety after phone call with mum'
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 May 2016

Benjamin Lim was calm when he was interviewed by the police at North View Secondary School, where he studied. But he turned fidgety after speaking to his mother on his mobile phone before he was taken to a police station.

This was the testimony of school principal Chen Fook Pang and school counsellor Karry Lung when they took the stand yesterday at the coroner's inquiry into the death of 14-year-old Benjamin.

Mr Chen, who was the first from the school to give testimony, said the teenager "cooperated very well" after police came looking for a suspect in a case of alleged molestation involving an 11-year-old girl.

Benjamin did not look anxious when speaking with police inspector Poh Wee Teck, he added.

But he appeared anxious after speaking to his mother on his mobile phone, when she was informed that he was being taken to a police station, said Mr Chen, who had asked to let Benjamin make the call.

Benjamin passed the phone to Inspector Poh, said the principal. The inspector told the boy's mother in Mandarin that the police needed to take him back to Ang Mo Kio Police Division to assist with investigations, and that the investigation officer would tell her later how to pick up her son.

"At this point, I could hear Benjamin's mother speaking very loudly, even though the phone was not on speaker mode," added Mr Chen, who said he could not make out what was being said.

Madam Lung said that Benjamin was coping well during the interview, which took place in the principal's office, even though he seemed "slightly stressed".

She explained that she did not see a need to step in.

But things changed when he was speaking to his mother. "I noticed that he started frowning, and his replies became softer," she said.

Sensing that the conversation "was not doing him any good", she signalled to the room at large to end the exchange.

Mr Chen also told the court that before he let the police interview Benjamin, he had made three requests to them - all of which were acceded to.

He told the officers that he wanted to talk to Benjamin first, without them present.

He also asked that only one officer spoke to Benjamin, as five were too many, and that school staff be allowed to sit in.

Mr Chen explained that he wanted to speak to Benjamin first to check on his well-being. This was part of the school's "common understanding with the police", going by previous cases.

He admitted he had "pushed (his) luck a bit further" by requesting that staff be present during the interview as well. This was not necessarily the case in previous instances, added Mr Chen.





Differing accounts of decision to pull teen from camp
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 May 2016

Whether it was his school or mother who decided to pull Benjamin Lim out of a school camp he was due to attend has become a point of dispute in the coroner's inquiry looking into his death.

The school's counsellor, Madam Karry Lung, insists she simply suggested to the teenager's mother that he be pulled from the camp. But his mother said the school had already made the decision and simply informed her of it over the phone.

Benjamin, 14, was found dead at the foot of his block minutes after his mother told him he would not be attending the camp for Secondary 3 students.

At 4.13pm on Jan 26, Benjamin's mother was mopping the floor at home when she received a call from the school counsellor, State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong told the court yesterday.

According to Madam Lung, she called Mrs Lim to convey the school's suggestion that it would be good for Benjamin to be with his family instead of attending the three-day camp for his cohort.

The camp was scheduled to begin the next day, on Jan 27.

Madam Lung explained that she and her colleagues, including the school principal and two senior teachers, felt it might be better for Benjamin not to go as his physical and emotional state could have been affected. The camp was also in Pasir Panjang, and it could have been inconvenient if Benjamin had to help with further investigations.

She said that when she called Mrs Lim, Benjamin's mother agreed with the suggestion that he stay at home.

According to the State Counsel, Madam Lung sent an e-mail at 4.28pm to inform the principal of the telephone exchange. But he also revealed that Mrs Lim gave a different account of what happened.

She said the counsellor had informed her of the school's decision not to let Benjamin attend the school camp, and wanted him to stay at home to do e-learning instead. This was what Mrs Lim told the first responders at the scene of Benjamin's death.

After the phone call, Mrs Lim told her son that he was not allowed to attend the camp. He said okay and continued playing games on his mobile phone.

Five minutes later, Mrs Lim found the door to his room locked. She opened it with a spare key but he was not inside. She rushed downstairs and found him dead.





What happened on Jan 26, the day Benjamin Lim died
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 May 2016

A timeline of events was laid out during the coroner's inquiry yesterday into the death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim.

9.45-9.50am: Five plain-clothes officers go to North View Secondary School in two unmarked cars. The officers are taken to see principal Chen Fook Pang. Staff suspect Benjamin was the one in police camera footage because of his red spectacles.

About 10am: Discipline mistress Steff Chan Su Qin gets Benjamin from the canteen, where he was sitting alone. The principal reassures him in his office. Inspector Poh Wee Teck interviews him in the presence of school staff. About 10.30am: Police decide to take Benjamin to the Ang Mo Kio Police Division. He calls his mother on his phone.

At the station, senior investigation officer Mohammad Fareed interviews Benjamin in an open plan office. The boy allegedly admits that he had followed an 11-year-old girl into a lift the day before, dropped his phone on purpose and touched her left back thigh while standing up.

Benjamin is arrested and put in a temporary holding area, away from other adults, as he waits for bail to be processed.

About 2.50pm: Benjamin is released into his mother's custody. On the way home, she asks if he had committed the act. He says no, and that he does not know what happened.

About 3.30pm: Benjamin reaches home. After showering and lunch, he plays games on his phone at the dining table.

4.13pm: School counsellor Karry Lung calls. Benjamin's mother tells her son that the school said he would not be allowed to attend a Secondary 3 school camp.

4.18pm: When she comes out of a toilet she has been cleaning, she finds the boy's room locked. She opens it with a spare key. He is not in the room. A window is open and his phone is on his bed. She rushes downstairs with her daughter.

4.36pm: Benjamin is pronounced dead.





Coroner's inquiry into schoolboy Benjamin Lim's death: 18 May 2016

Teen 'admitted touching girl after denying it at first'
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 May 2016

Benjamin Lim at first denied touching an 11-year-old girl in a lift because he was scared.

But after being given 20 minutes to think again by the officer interviewing him at Ang Mo Kio Police Division, the 14-year-old confessed and said it was the first time he had touched a girl and knew that it was "wrong".

He also apologised and promised not to do it again.

This was revealed yesterday on the second day of the coroner's inquiry into his death, when the officer who recorded the teenager's statement took the stand.



Senior Investigation Officer (SIO) Mohammad Fareed Rahmat said that at first, Benjamin, who was taken to the station at 11.15am on Jan 26, claimed he was taking a new route to his home after school on Jan 25, which was why he mistook a different block for his own.

But one point gave him away.

While in the lift with the girl, Benjamin pressed the button for the 13th floor, when he lived on the 14th floor.

SIO Fareed said: "It appeared to me that Benjamin was not being truthful. I asked him to take some time to think about what he would like to give as his account of the events."

When he resumed the interview at around 12.15pm, Benjamin said he had noticed the girl as he was walking home from school and found her "cute". So he decided to follow her.

After getting into the lift with her, he told police he came up with a plan to drop his mobile phone so that he could touch her as he stood up. When he picked up his phone, he used his right hand to touch her left back thigh. He denied he touched her left buttock.

When he exited the lift, the girl said something to him but he could not catch what she said. She then said never mind.

"I am sorry for what had happened. I felt regret for what I did. I just felt the urge to touch the girl on that day. I know what I did is wrong," he stated in his police statement.

SIO Fareed also explained that Benjamin appeared calm throughout the interview and as his statement was recorded. The entire process ended shortly after 1pm.

After the confession, Benjamin was arrested. He was released to his mother's custody at around 2.50pm after she posted bail of $2,000. At around 4.30pm, he was found dead at the foot of his block.

Asked by lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, who is representing Benjamin's family, if the teenager overheard that he was going to be arrested, SIO Fareed explained he had used a code word when asking a colleague to prepare the arrest report, calling it the "alpha" report.

He added that he never accused Benjamin of lying, but told him in general that the purpose of the investigation was to find out the truth.

He also said he followed the procedure set for interviewing young suspects, including questioning Benjamin in an open-plan office.





Coroner seeks further statements from boy's kin
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 19 May 2016

The two-day inquiry into the death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim closed yesterday with State Coroner Marvin Bay highlighting discrepancies in evidence, such as who made the decision to pull the boy from a school camp.

Asking for further statements to be taken from the teenager's mother and sister, he said it was important this "gap" be filled.

This issue has become a point of contention between Benjamin's parents and his school authorities.

After her call with the school counsellor, his mother told him that he would not be attending the camp the next day. Minutes later, he was found dead at the foot of their block. This happened on Jan 26, a few hours after the North View Secondary School student was arrested for the alleged molestation of an 11-year-old in a lift.

School counsellor Karry Lung said she told Mrs Lim of the school's suggestion that Benjamin not attend the camp, but his mother said she was merely informed of the school's decision. Benjamin's family cannot be named due to a gag order.

Yesterday, the Lims' lawyer expressed concern over how witnesses characterised Benjamin's behaviour when he called his mother to say he was to assist in investigations into a case of outrage of modesty.

On Jan 26, police had gone to Benjamin's school to look for a suspect later identified as him. In the principal's office, he called his mother to say the police were taking him to Ang Mo Kio Police Division. Both Inspector Poh Wee Teck, the officer who interviewed him, and Madam Lung suggested that Benjamin, who was calmer before, grew anxious as he spoke to his mother.

With Madam Lung back on the stand yesterday, lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, representing Benjamin's family, said it would be "very upsetting" to suggest the stress the teen appeared to be experiencing was related to his conversation with Mrs Lim, who was described as speaking loudly.

Referring to how she said Benjamin "started frowning and his replies became softer" when talking to his mother, Mr Choo said: "I want to clarify that you are not suggesting here that there was a correlation between Benjamin's mother speaking loudly and the significant stress that you observed".

Madam Lung said she could hear only Benjamin's reaction but not the conversation.

Insp Poh, who took the stand after Madam Lung, said he saw Benjamin cringe in the last exchange he had with his mother. After the teen hung up, Insp Poh saw that he was holding his phone "very tightly" and took the cellphone from him in a bid to relieve his stress. The next mention of the case will be next month.











'No warning signs' teen was suicidal on day he died

Not possible to understand what prompted his actions at home, says State Counsel
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 4 Aug 2016

There had been no warning signs that Benjamin Lim was depressed or suicidal from the time he was taken to the principal's office to when he left the police station on the day he died, said State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong in his closing statement for an inquiry into the teen's death yesterday.

The 14-year-old was found dead at the foot of his block in Yishun on Jan 26.

Earlier that day, he was arrested and questioned for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl in a lift.

Benjamin denied committing the act when asked by his mother and sister. This "provides some glimpse of how (he) may have harboured concerns about the perceptions of those closest to him", said Mr Wong.

"But it is not possible, simplistically, to delve into the psyche of (Benjamin) to understand what prompted his actions at home which led to his death," he added, saying that evidence shows a multitude of factors can influence suicidal behaviour.

Benjamin's mental state was among areas that State Coroner Marvin Bay had sought to clarify after a two-day inquiry in May.

A further report by a doctor could not conclude if Benjamin had a higher tendency to commit suicide, or if he had been suffering from any sub-clinical condition.



During the inquiry, there had also been discrepancies in evidence submitted, such as who made the decision to pull the boy out from a school camp.

Benjamin had been told that he would not be attending the camp the next day after his mother's call with school counsellor Karry Lung.

While Madam Lung said she told Mrs Lim of the school's suggestion that Benjamin not attend the camp, his mother disputed this. She said that she was merely informed of the school's decision that he would not go. Benjamin's family cannot be named due to a gag order.

While this remains an area of discrepancy, Benjamin's older sister said in a further statement that Madam Lung never spoke about the school camp during their meeting at school.

She had rushed to North View Secondary School with her mother upon hearing that Benjamin had been taken to the police station.

She previously said that she had no recollection whether they discussed the school camp at the time.

Yesterday, the State Counsel also highlighted that "various malicious falsehoods" had been "irresponsibly published and circulated by third parties", emphasising that the claims were shown to be untrue.

These included "wilfully misleading assertions" that Benjamin was brought to the police station by five officers, that he was interrogated for over three hours, and that officers who went to his school wore clothes and passes identifying themselves as the police.

Coroner Bay is expected to deliver his findings on Aug 18.





Benjamin Lim case: Coroner’s inquiry finds 14-year-old committed suicide


Coroner suggests better ways to handle young suspects

Police, school acted sensitively in Benjamin Lim's case; MOE, police to study suggestions
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2016

School counsellors could accompany their students being taken to the police station for investigation, the State Coroner suggested, as an inquiry into the death of a schoolboy, which raised questions about how young suspects are investigated, came to an end.

Making it clear that the police and the school acted sensitively in the case of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim, State Coroner Marvin Bay made other suggestions yesterday to mitigate the risks for young people under police investigation. Both the police and the Ministry of Education (MOE) agreed to examine them.

The suggestions touch on communicating clearly and directly with the young suspect, putting his worst fears at rest and offering him a reassuring presence.

Catastrophic thinking and miscommunication could have contributed to the death of Benjamin, which Coroner Bay ruled a suicide. His suggestions are aimed at preventing these in similar cases.

Benjamin, who was under investigation for molestation, was taken to the police station alone. Coroner Bay suggested that a school counsellor could have accompanied him.


"I am, of course, not suggesting that counsellors should become advocates for the child or actively participate in the interview process, but rather to be present as resource persons to meet any arising needs from the police, the student or his caregivers," said Coroner Bay.



In a statement, the Singapore Police Force said it would consider this suggestion, and was already examining whether young offenders should be accompanied by appropriate adults.


Coroner Bay said the counsellor would also be able to provide real- time information to parents on the location of the child - Benjamin's family were frantic with worry about his whereabouts - while monitoring the child's emotional state.

Benjamin, a North View Secondary School student, was found dead at the foot of the Yishun block where he lived on Jan 26, hours after being questioned at Ang Mo Kio Police Division for the alleged molestation of an 11-year-old girl in a lift.

Coroner Bay noted that a senior staff sergeant had told Benjamin's mother about a range of possibilities that applied to the boy, including that he could be let off with a warning. "There does not seem to be any indication... that (Benjamin) was made aware of this."

Since young people often fear the worst, he said, it would be useful to give them a better sense of what they faced. Between 2011 and last year, only 15 per cent of juvenile suspects who assisted in investigations were charged in court.

After Benjamin returned home from the police station, his mother received a call from the school counsellor. The counsellor said she suggested that the boy skip an upcoming school camp, but Benjamin's mother told him that the school had decided he could not attend it.

He was found dead soon after.

"(Benjamin) was unfortunately passed a garbled message that a peremptory decision had been made for him not to be part of the school camp," said Coroner Bay.

He suggested that schools communicate directly, preferably face to face, with their students on any action they planned to take, to avoid misinterpretation.

An MOE spokesman said: "We are currently studying the suggestions that the coroner has made in relation to certain school processes and will consider them in tandem with the ongoing review by the police of their protocols for interviewing young offenders."

Coroner Bay said the school staff and police officers acted properly and sensitively, "given (Benjamin's) age and status as a student".





Police and school handled teen 'sensitively'

Both took active steps to do so, given Benjamin's age and status as a student, says coroner
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2016

State Coroner Marvin Bay yesterday made it clear that the police and North View Secondary had treated Benjamin Lim, 14, properly when he was being investigated for alleged molestation.

They "took active steps to handle (him) and the investigations sensitively, given his age and status as a student", said the coroner.

Benjamin's death on Jan 26 had put the public spotlight on the treatment of young people during criminal investigations, and when schools should release students to the custody of police.

In March, the matter was raised in Parliament, with the Education Ministry committing itself to a review of its protocols in such cases.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam also debunked false claims about the way police conducted their investigations.


Yesterday, Coroner Bay pointed out how the five officers who went to the boy's school were in civilian attire and unmarked cars.

Benjamin was interviewed by just one officer in the presence of four school staff members. Before he was taken to the police station, he was allowed to speak to his mother.

The coroner noted that the boy was not restrained on the way to Ang Mo Kio Police Division in an unmarked car.

He also highlighted how Sergeant Muhammad Razlan spoke to Benjamin in the car to put him at ease. The boy shared personal information about his family, and laughed when he could not remember how old his siblings were. Seeing that he was quiet, the sergeant asked if he was ill. Benjamin said he was fine.

At the station, Benjamin was interviewed in an open-plan office.

He was also kept separate from adults who were in custody, and released within four hours of being taken to the police station.

It could have been better though if there had been an accompanying counsellor from the school, said Coroner Bay. This is because he or she would be an ideal person to monitor the emotional state of any young suspect, and give real-time information to parents on their child's location, to put them at ease.

The counsellor could also be a resource to the police, giving them a heads-up if the child had a psychological health treatment record. The counsellor might also be able to contact other teachers to provide more background or information that could help police understand the student and circumstances of the case better.

With trained eyes, the counsellor could even help parents to quickly schedule a session with the child's treating psychiatrist or psychologist if there was a need, said the coroner.

While never formally diagnosed with any clinical psychological disorder, Benjamin did in fact show predisposing traits of anger-management issues and difficulties with emotional regulation in his primary school years, said the coroner.

He had been provisionally diagnosed with an emotional disorder of childhood when he was seven. He would scratch himself when anxious or angry, cry for extended periods and be physically aggressive when upset. He was also not doing well academically. But he failed to go for a follow-up appointment.

He also had counselling from Primary 1 to 4. In April 2010, his form teacher had found a note saying "I want to die". He was assessed to have been affected by his grandfather's death. Since 2011, he had not been referred for counselling sessions.

There were signs that the boy did not seem inclined to discuss his problems openly and was "internalising a considerable degree of inner conflict". He had not sought to explain himself to his mother and sister when they questioned him about the police investigation, stating cryptically: "You all said it was me who did it, then it was me."

At home, Benjamin maintained his silence, preferring to play with his phone instead of confiding in his mother and sister.





Benjamin did touch the girl, but did not grope her

By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2016

There had indeed been a "momentary" touch between Benjamin Lim and the 11-year-old girl he was accused of molesting in a lift the day before he died, concluded State Coroner Marvin Bay yesterday.

But he stressed that the need to delve into this was not for deeming the boy innocent or guilty.

Rather, it was necessary to do so just to understand Benjamin's state of mind, and whether his suicide might have been motivated by fear of "adverse consequences" from what took place in the lift.

On Jan 26, Benjamin was found motionless at the foot of his block of flats. Earlier that day, he had been questioned at Ang Mo Kio Police Division on the alleged molestation that had taken place the day before.

Whether the alleged touch took place had been a point of contention during the inquiry in May. Footage from the lift closed-circuit television (CCTV) had been shown in-camera then to protect the girl's identity.


Benjamin's father said through his family's lawyer Choo Zheng Xi that he saw no bodily contact. But the police investigator stood by the description of what transpired.

Yesterday, Coroner Bay said the lift CCTV footage showed "uncontrovertibly" that Benjamin had deliberately touched the girl after a "rather clumsy attempt to mask his action by dropping his phone".

Relating the sequence of events in the footage, he said Benjamin was seen entering the lift after the girl and pressing the lift button directly below hers. While she stood at the right corner of the lift and he at the left, he was seen moving nearer and transferring his mobile phone to his right hand before dropping it next to her.

He picked up his phone and transferred it to his left hand. This was when the act occurred. Benjamin then looked at the girl as he walked away from her, and exited the lift.

Benjamin's movements - dropping his mobile phone, picking it up and then transferring it to his left hand - "appear to be very tentative and contrived movements".

After transferring the phone, the coroner said, Benjamin "shifted his right arm in a slight underhand movement towards the girl".

He added: "While her large haversack partly obscured the view of the movement, the observable trajectory of the path of travel of his hand would have resulted in a contact against either her upper rear thigh or lower buttock area.

"I would therefore conclude that there was a touch."

However, the coroner qualified this by saying it was "momentary" and the schoolboy "did not appear to grasp or grope the girl". Her immediate reaction of flinching and looking at him, added the coroner, supports the conclusion of contact.





Who pulled him out of school camp?

By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2016

A key point of dispute in the coroner's inquiry into Benjamin Lim's death was over who decided to pull him out from a school camp - the school or the family.

Benjamin was found dead on the afternoon of Jan 26, minutes after his mother told the Secondary 3 student that he would not be allowed to go to the three-day camp for his cohort.

Yesterday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said he found North View Secondary School counsellor Karry Lung's account to be "more reliable" compared to that of Benjamin's mother and sister.

Madam Lung said that when she met Mrs Lim in the school library before noon on Jan 26, she told her that Benjamin might not be in a good state of mind to attend the camp. Mrs Lim then said her son would not attend it, she said.


In Mrs Lim's account, she did not recall this discussion.

Madam Lung also said she called Mrs Lim after 4pm to check if Benjamin was okay, and told Mrs Lim that he might be experiencing some stress from the police investigations. She then told Mrs Lim that the school felt it would be good for his family to keep him company as he might not be able to handle going to camp, which was to start the next day.

She said she asked what Mrs Lim thought, and the mother replied "okay". Madam Lung then said that if Benjamin wanted to, he could do e-learning instead.

However, Mrs Lim's account was that the counsellor merely made a peremptory and brief call to tell her that the school had decided not to let Benjamin attend the camp. They wanted him to stay at home and do e-learning.

Coroner Bay said he found Madam Lung's account more reliable as it was supported by a colleague and featured in a school meeting later.

After the meeting and her call to Mrs Lim, Madam Lung sent an e-mail at 4.28pm to the principal. In it, the counsellor wrote that she had expressed the school's concerns about Benjamin's emotional well- being before suggesting that his family spend time with him.

She added that she had reminded Mrs Lim that her son could do e-learning if he did not attend the camp. "Mum responded well to the school's recommendation and will keep Benjamin at home," she said in the e-mail.

The coroner said the e-mail stands as a "near-contemporaneous record" of what happened.

Also, the e-mail was sent before Benjamin's death at 4.36pm. The counsellor learnt of the death at 6pm. "She would have therefore had no discernible incentive to embellish events... so as to cast her representations to Mrs Lim in a more favourable light," he said.

But while Mrs Lim and her daughter's accounts were "disproven", they were probably not out to "exaggerate or distort the facts", said Mr Bay. He noted that they had not managed to find Benjamin at school that day.

"It is equally plausible that their recollections were affected by the fact that they were frantically searching for answers of what had happened to (him) at the time," he said.

In their state of "cognitive overload", Madam Lung's attempt to discuss the school camp might not have registered. "It is also possible that the trauma (Benjamin's death) may well have affected their ability to process and recall these ancillary details," said the coroner. "(Benjamin) was unfortunately passed a garbled message that a peremptory decision had been made for him not to be part of the school camp."

He added later: "A young person who is excluded from a group activity, without an appropriate explanation, may be prone to feel a sense of ostracism and exclusion."





Group seeks to understand youth suicides

By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2016

With youth suicides in Singapore reaching a 15-year high, a multi-agency group is taking action to better understand why young people take their own lives and what can be done to help them.

It has already met - its latest meeting was on Tuesday - and drawn up a plan for information to be shared so as to "better understand the motivations and ideation behind youth suicides", State Coroner Marvin Bay revealed yesterday.


He made the announcement in delivering his findings on the death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim on Jan 26, which he concluded was a "deliberate act of suicide".

The group comprises the Health Ministry, the Institute of Mental Health, the Forensic Medicine Division of the Health Sciences Authority, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) and the Court.

"It is well known that the motivations for youth suicides are not very well understood," said the coroner, adding that Benjamin's death is no exception.


Thus, the multi-agency group will set out to understand the pathology of the suicides before working with other stakeholders to come up with ways to address "stressors and influences" that lead young people to harm themselves, he said.

In his report on Benjamin's death, Coroner Bay said it was very likely that "a combination of factors" led to his suicide. Quoting the SOS, he said the teenage years can be a difficult time when young people struggle with issues of identity and belonging.

There is a higher risk of suicide when young people have "predisposing vulnerabilities". These include mental health issues and external stressors from the home and study environments.

Last year, 27 young people aged 10 to 19 killed themselves. This was twice as many as in 2014 and the highest in 15 years.



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