Teen 'admitted touching girl after denying it at first'

SIO Fareed, who took Benjamin's statement, said the boy appeared calm throughout the interview and as his statement was recorded.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

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.

Coroner seeks further statements from boy’s kin

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

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.

This article was first published on May 19, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.