Schoolboy death: Police obeyed procedure for young persons, says Shanmugam

THE police officers who went to the school of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim had worn plain clothes and followed procedures for dealing with young persons, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

He laid out the facts of the case in Parliament in response to questions from Members of Parliament, and detailed the events before the Secondary 3 student's death.

There is nothing so far to suggest that Benjamin was mistreated by the police and, based on the facts currently available, it cannot be said that the police interview was the specific reason for his death, the minister said.

Benjamin was found dead at the foot of his HDB block in Yishun on Jan 26. He had been picked up from his school by police officers earlier that day and taken to Ang Mo Kio Police Division for questioning over the alleged molestation of an 11-year-old girl.

Mr Shanmugam said on Jan 25, Benjamin appeared to have made a detour to another block in the neighbourhood on the way home from school.

CCTV footage showed him going to the other block and quickly following the girl into the lift after she entered it.

There was CCTV footage within the lift showing what happened, Mr Shanmugam said. The girl told her father about the incident and they filed a police report that day.

After retrieving the CCTV footage, the police identified Benjamin as a student from North View Secondary School, based on his uniform.

On Jan 26, five officers went to the school. Mr Shanmugam stressed that the five donned plain clothes and went in unmarked cars.

The officers showed a screenshot of the CCTV footage to school officials, who identified the boy as Benjamin.

A school official brought him to the principal's office.

Mr Shanmugam said only one police officer spoke with Benjamin, in the presence of several school officials.

The principal advised Benjamin to call his mother after the interview, and he did so.

The police officer also spoke to Benjamin's mother and told her he would be taken to Ang Mo Kio Police Division to give his statement.

At the station, Mr Shanmugam said Benjamin had asked for time to collect his thoughts about the incident. He gave his statement at 12.15pm.

He had admitted to the police that he touched a part of the girl's body and that he did so intentionally.

He was interviewed by one police officer at a desk in an open office setting and was not handcuffed at any time, Mr Shanmugam said.

The boy was in the police station for about 3½ hours in all, he added.

The police protocol for dealing with young people is to interview them and release them to their parents as quickly as possible, he added.

Based on police investigations, the minister said Benjamin had lunch after he went home with his mother. He then played games on his phone.

Benjamin was found dead at about 4.20pm.

Elaborating on the police force's approach to offences by young persons, Mr Shanmugam said police try to avoid criminalising the conduct where possible, to give the young person a second chance.

"It is likely that based on the evidence available to us, Benjamin would have received no more than a warning," he said.

"He is unlikely to have been charged in court."

The police will review their procedure for interviewing young persons.

The review will take in three broad points: what happened in Benjamin's case, the type of young persons who are picked up and how to reduce the risk of officers flouting procedures.

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