Coroner’s inquiry into Benjamin Lim’s death: Contradictory statements from school and mother about school camp

17 May 2016

In the Coroner’s inquiry held for the death of 14 year-old schoolboy Benjamin Lim in January 2016, the question of whether the school discussed the school camp with Benjamin Lim’s mother came up again.

In the hearing, which took place on Tuesday, 17 May 2016, Choo Zheng Xi, the representing lawyer for Benjamin’s family, pointed out to the Investigating Officer (IO) of Benjamin Lim’s death that his Investigation Report (IR) is based solely on the school counsellor’s statement, which contradicts the statement given by the mother and sister of Benjamin Lim. The IO had no clear explanation for the discrepancies.

On 26 January, Benjamin Lim was picked up by five plainclothes policemen for his involvement in a case of alleged outrage of modesty. He was then escorted by four policemen back to the Ang Mo Kio Police Division at around 10.40am to be interviewed. After allegedly “confessing” to his offence, he was released to his mother once the bail procedures were completed at 2.50pm. At around 3.30pm, he reached home with his mother and sister. At 4.13pm, the school counsellor rang about the school camp. Not long after Benjamin Lim was told that he need not go to the school camp, he locked himself in his room. He was found at the bottom of his HDB flat after police received a 999 emergency call at 4.20pm.

Apart from the State Counsel and Choo, representatives from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Education were also present at the hearing.

Prior to the start of the hearing, the State Coroner granted a gag order for Benjamin Lim’s four next-of-kin and the 11-year-old girl involved in the case. This means that the media cannot reveal details of the five individuals that would reveal their identity and address. The father and mother of Benjamin Lim will be referred to as Mr and Mrs Lim, and the two siblings, brother and sister of Benjamin Lim.

State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong said in his opening statement, “The police officers and school staff who interacted with and saw (Benjamin) on January 26 2016 all observed that (he) had not behaved unusually. The only clear sign of stress came about when (Benjamin) was spoken to by his mother over the phone at the school.”

Mr Wong noted that Benjamin had been diagnosed with “emotional disorder of childhood” in August 2008, when he was in Primary 1. He attended counselling sessions occasionally until 2011, when he was in Primary 4. By then, Benjamin was seen to be doing well and stopped going for counselling.

In the hearing, it was described in detail how an 11-year-old girl had lodged a report at the police station on 25 January with her father about being molested at the lift. According to her statement, the girl had entered the lift together with a boy who was subsequently identified as Benjamin by the school authorities.

It was said through the CCTV recording inside the lift, that Benjamin is shown following the girl into the lift on the afternoon of 25 January. On the way up, Benjamin moved closer to the girl in the lift and dropped his phone. As he picked it up, the girl said that she felt a tap on her left buttock and saw Benjamin’s hand moving away from her. The girl was scared and did not say anything. Although she tried to confront Benjamin before he left the lift, she eventually did not as she was afraid. After getting back home, she cried and called her father, who rushed back home to file a police report on the matter.

IO Mohamed Razif from Tanglin Police Division, who is in charge of investigating the cause of Benjamin Lim’s death, testified that forensic investigation on Benjamin Lim’s phone revealed that there were no relevant messages sent during the period of 25-26 January and no suicide notes were recovered. The last call made on Benjamin Lim’s phone was to his home at 10.38am to inform his mother that the police were bringing him back to the police division for investigation.

According to IO Razif, Benjamin had claimed to the school that he had gotten lost while taking a shortcut home on 25 January. Benjamin went up the block to orientate himself before finding his way back home. But Benjamin subsequently admitted to the offence at the police division and was placed under arrest at 1.05pm on 26 January.

Choo sought to clarify a few points with the IO, one being the date on which the police sent the photo of the CCTV footage outside the lift to the school. After clarification, the IO clarified that the police had sent the photo of the CCTV footage showing Benjamin Lim to the school on 25 January, at around 6.15pm, but noted that the school did not view the image until 26 January, where the boy was recognized due to his red spectacles.

Two, Choo noted that IO Razif mentioned in his investigation report that the school counsellor had, on 26 January, 4.13pm, discussed with Mrs Lim whether Benjamin Lim should attend the school camp. IO Razif’s report indicated that Mrs Lim had agreed with the school counsellor.

However, Choo disputed this point by noting that Mrs Lim’s statement is contrary to what the school counsellor mentioned. The IO then noted that the school counsellor and the Discipline Mistress (DM) had brought the matter up with Mrs Lim at around 11am at school.

Again, Choo pointed out that the conditional statements of the two individuals do not seem to match, as the school counsellor’s recollection stated that the DM was not present when the matter of the school camp was brought up, while the DM also mentioned that the school camp was brought up with Mrs Lim in a separate instance. In response to the coroner’s question if there were two separate instances, the IO replied yes.

Mrs Lim’s account on the matter is that the school called to inform her that the school authorities have decided in an earlier meeting that Benjamin Lim was not to attend the school camp and to do self-learning at home with the accompaniment of the family. No discussion was ever conducted with the mother by the school counsellor.

It is noted that a number of questions filed by Benjamin’s father have been blocked by the State Counsel. In particular, the State Counsel objected to the filing of the question on why there was a need for the three police officers from the neighbourhood police post, citing that it was not of any relevance to establish the cause of death. [Note: In total, there were five plainclothes policemen that day. Three were from the neighbourhood police post; they were said to be assisting with liaising with the school authorities and were apparently familiar with the teachers. The two other policemen were field investigators from Tanglin police division to assist in the identification of the boy in question. Two of the field officers left for other duties so only three went back with Benjamin Lim to Ang Mo Kio Police Division.]

The hearing will continue in the afternoon with Benjamin’s school principal and school counsellor taking to the witness stand.

Edit – Field investigator, Inspector Poh Wee Teck said he left with his colleague while the other 3 officers escorted Benjamin to the Ang Mo Kio Police Division.