Cop: Benjamin Lim said he felt 'urge to touch her'

Senior Investigation Officer (SIO) Mohammad Fareed Rahmat.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Senior Investigation Officer (SIO) Mohammad Fareed Rahmat, who interviewed Benjamin Lim and the 11-year-old girl he allegedly molested, read out his police statement for the first time yesterday.

In it, Benjamin Lim, 14, admitted he had a sudden "urge to touch her".

He admitted to feeling sexually aroused when he touched her.

And he admitted he "purposely dropped his mobile phone on the floor" to create an opportunity to touch the girl in the lift.

SIO Fareed was the final witness on the stand at the State Courts, where a two-day coroner's inquiry into Benjamin's death was held.

The policeman recorded the statement at Ang Mo Kio police station at 12.15pm on Jan 26 this year. The boy fell to his death at 4.30pm that day.

The statement contained details of Benjamin's admission, including how he had first spotted the girl at a bus stop.

He was walking home from North View Secondary School at about 2.30pm on Jan 25 using a different route than usual. The bus stop was near his home.

He saw the girl in her school uniform, alone.

Initially, Benjamin claimed he paid little notice to the girl, who was from another school and not known to him.

She walked in the same direction as Benjamin, who walked behind her.

She looked back at Benjamin and started to walk slowly.

He got scared that she would think he was following her.

Said Benjamin in the statement: "Suddenly, I have the urge to touch her. I find that the girl is quite cute-looking and that is why I want to touch her. So I decided to follow her."

They entered the lift together at around 2.50pm, said SIO Fareed.

The statement said Benjamin had planned how to touch her and he intentionally dropped his mobile phone to touch the girl on the left buttock with his right hand.

After the contact, the boy felt scared about what he had done and quickly apologised.

The girl nodded, the statement said.

"I am sorry for what happened," said Benjamin in his statement.

"I felt regret for what I did. I just felt the urge to touch the girl on that day."

He added that this was the first time he had touched a girl.

"I know what I did is wrong. I promised not to do this again. I hope the police can give me a second chance," he said in the statement.

Before recording this statement, SIO Fareed told the court that Benjamin's initial story had been that he had mistakenly thought the block of flats was where he lived.

TRUTH

But SIO Fareed realised that Benjamin could have been lying when he asked the boy why he pressed the lift button for the 13th storey when he did not live on that level.

Said SIO Fareed: "I did not tell him he was not telling the truth. Instead, I explained the purpose of the interview is to find truth, and I left him to think again about what he wants to say about what happened that day."

When SIO Fareed returned 20 minutes later, Benjamin told him what was later recorded in the statement without prompting.

The officer had interviewed the girl the previous day.

After the incident, she had run home to call her father immediately.

Her father rushed home and took her to Yishun North Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) to make a police report.

Said SIO Fareed: "Her father was very distressed and informed me that his daughter had been crying when she spoke to him over the phone."

When asked by State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong about the demeanour of the girl at the NPC, he said she appeared to be calm but upset.

Benjamin's family lawyer, Mr Remy Choo Zheng Xi, protested at the relevance of Mr Wong's query as the coroner's inquiry was not a criminal trial.

Said Mr Choo: "As to the demeanour of the girl, I can see how Benjamin's demeanour is relevant insofar as to his death, but I am not quite sure how the demeanour of girl is relevant."

Mr Wong replied: "To be clear, the purpose is to set the background, in particular how the girl in question and how the family reacted.

"This is necessary to set the context to how the police responded that day and day after."

The identities of the girl and Benjamin's family have been withheld due to a gag order.

The coroner's inquiry has been adjourned to a later date.

Boy had history of emotional disorder

Benjamin Lim, 14, had a history of emotional disorder during his childhood.

At seven, he would scratch himself when angry or anxious, cry for extended periods and be physically aggressive when upset.

Due to this behaviour, he was diagnosed with emotional disorder in 2008 by a psychiatrist, who also requested that Benjamin be counselled in school for anger management issues.

Benjamin had counselling from Primary 1 to 4. The frequency of the sessions was not mentioned in court.

When Benjamin was in Primary 3, his teacher found a note in his schoolbag with the words "I want to die".

The boy was assessed to have been affected by his grandfather's death.

Counselling ended in Primary 4 after his mother reported that his homework issues had improved and he was more motivated in his schoolwork.

The case was marked as closed.

Benjamin's emotional history was part of the investigation report prepared by Assistant Superintendent Mohamed Razif, who took the stand on Tuesday.

When Mr Remy Choo, the Lim family's lawyer, asked why the suicide note was relevant to the coroner's inquiry in ASP Razif's statement, the police officer said he did so out of "completeness".

RECORD

The issue of Benjamin's counselling record was brought up again yesterday when Mr Choo quizzed his school counsellor Karry Lung whether she was aware about his prior record.

While the record was in the school's computer system, Madam Lung said Benjamin was not flagged for her attention as his case had already been closed when he enrolled in North View Secondary School.

Said Madam Lung: "His name was not in the list of students whom I was supposed to follow up on."

Counsellor, cops quizzed on procedure

Questions were asked in court yesterday about the protocol of schools and police officers when dealing with minors.

The court heard how North View Secondary School (NVSS) school counsellor Karry Lung has never followed a student to a police station, despite her previous experience in such cases.

Madam Lung took the stand for the second time and was the first witness in yesterday's proceedings.

Asked State Coroner Marvin Bay: "You were there to give emotional and psychological support to Benjamin while he was being interviewed at the principal's office. Is there protocol worked out by the school for cases like this?"

Madam Lung replied that NVSS has a case management team and other staff who meet regularly to discuss students who are flagged or are under investigation.

Said Madam Lung in Mandarin: "We will discuss who will provide the main support to the child. Whether it is the child's form teacher, counsellors or year heads, the staff will coordinate and co-operate with each other and continue to give care to the student."

SUPPORT

When police enter the school to question students, school leaders may rope in the counselling staff to support the child, she said.

This is especially so if a student has prior history with counselling.

Said Madam Lung: "Every case is different and special... Sometimes students may have some anxieties and fear, different degrees of complex emotions."

But Benjamin Lim, who underwent counselling in primary school, did not receive any counselling from Madam Lung as his previous case of emotional disorder had been closed.

Mr Remy Choo, the Lim family's lawyer, also asked Inspector Poh Wee Teck, the second witness yesterday, on what the police procedures were in Benjamin's case.

On Jan 26 this year, Insp Poh was the highest ranked officer who visited the school with four other policemen in plain clothes and unmarked cars.

He was the sole officer who interviewed Benjamin in the principal's office, once the boy had been identified as the one in school uniform shown in closed-circuit television footage.

Said Insp Poh: "When the identity of the suspect in an outrage of modesty case is unknown, and our only lead was the school uniform, we will follow the lead urgently as we are unsure if there are other unreported cases.

"(In the case that) we do not get the identity of the suspect at the school, we will need to conduct other follow-ups."

He said while five officers were at the school, it was always his intention to speak to Benjamin alone.


This article was first published on May 19, 2016.
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