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.
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This article was first published on March 2, 2016.
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