Inquiry into alleged suicide of teen accused of molest starts

Inquiry into alleged suicide of teen accused of molest starts
Benjamin Lim’s body was found at the bottom of this Yishun block of flats on 26 January 2016.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Four months after his death, answers as to why 14-year-old student Benjamin Lim allegedly leapt from his bedroom window may finally be revealed today.

The coroner's inquiry (CI) into his death will be held at the State Courts this morning and tomorrow.

The Jan 26 tragedy made headlines and sparked a parliamentary debate over the issue.

On the day of his death, Benjamin, a student from North View Secondary School in Yishun, had been investigated by the police for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl in a lift on Jan 25.

Quoting Benjamin's parents, The New Paper first brought up the issue on Jan 30 of whether a teacher or a parent should have gone with Benjamin to the police station.

After that report went viral, many asked if the police and school had dealt with the situation sensitively. They also asked if it was appropriate for five officers to be present at the school.

Lawyers and some parliamentarians had also called for vulnerable minors to be accompanied by an adult during police investigations.

On Feb 1, the police said they would relook their processes concerning minors.

During a Parliament sitting on March 1, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng tackled several questions about the case from several MPs.

But both ministers exercised restraint in their comments since the CI was still pending.

Said Mr Shanmugam then: "There will be a CI. That is the right forum for the relevant facts to be dealt with."

He later added: "Once the coroner announces his findings, people can then offer their viewpoints, criticisms on what the police, the ministry did, or did not do."

WHAT HAPPENED

On Jan 25, the girl made a police report about the alleged incident in the lift.

Through closed-circuit television video (CCTV) footage obtained by the police, her alleged molester had followed her to a block that was not his.

The boy in the video was later identified as Benjamin.

After the alleged incident, the girl was said to have left the lift after a brief exchange with Benjamin, and later told her father what had happened.

On Jan 26, three police officers from Yishun North Neighbourhood Police Centre and two officers from Ang Mo Kio Division went to the school.

They were not in uniform and arrived in unmarked cars during recess.

At the school, the officers identified Benjamin with the help of school staff and one officer spoke to him in the principal's office.

After informing Benjamin's mother by phone, the officers took him to an Ang Mo Kio police station, where his statement was recorded in an open plan office.

There, Benjamin allegedly admitted touching the girl.

Three-and-a-half hours elapsed before Benjamin was released on bail to his mother.

At home, at around 4pm, Benjamin's mother received a call from a school counsellor to discuss Benjamin's attendance at a three-day cohort camp the next day. Benjamin's mother then told him that he wouldn't be going to the camp.

At about 4.20pm, Benjamin allegedly jumped from his bedroom window.

QUESTIONS REMAIN

Several questions remained unanswered.

It is still not known why Benjamin had gone to that block, why he had followed the girl into the lift and what he allegedly did to her.

CCTV footage of the incident has not been shown publicly, although it is believed that the CI will address this.

Another question is this: While the police had also informed Benjamin's mother, why did the teachers not follow Benjamin to the station?

Said Mr Ng at the March parliamentary sitting: "It is not the practice of the police to allow teachers or school staff to be with the student in the police car.

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

There is also the question of what was discussed between the counsellor and Benjamin's mother - a point of contention as the family has said the counsellor did not call to make any recommendations, but rather to inform them of Benjamin's exclusion from the camp.

What is a coroner's inquiry

According to the State Courts, the coroner holds an inquiry when there is reason to suspect that a person has died in a sudden or unnatural manner, by violence, when the cause of death is unknown or situations where the law requires an inquiry.

The state appoints a coroner to hear the evidence of witnesses relevant to the case and deliver his findings at the inquiry's conclusion.

His findings will determine how the deceased died, and the circumstances and causes that led to it.

But the coroner's findings are not meant to apportion blame to any parties, according to the Coroners Act.

The findings will be neutral and based on facts, rather than judicial opinion.

The coroner's findings are also final.


This article was first published on May 17, 2016.
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