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Screengrab from Beautiful memories

Speedy review of current procedures so that no other child will be placed in same situation as Benjamin

The below is a letter from the family of Benjamin Lim in response to the state coroner's finding that was released on 18 August 2016. TOC reproduces the family's letter in full. 

The family of Benjamin Lim would like to extend our deepest gratitude to friends and members of the public for all the outpour of love and support we have received during the past several months. Your gesture meant more to us than we can express in words. We would also like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to our lawyers, Mr. Choo and his team for their kindness, professionalism and hard work.

It has been several months since the sudden and unexpected passing of Benjamin, at age 14. The coroner’s inquiry into his death started in May, ended in August with the Court’s ruling that Benjamin’s death was a case of suicide.

Sadly, the Court’s ruling does little to bring closure for our family; we now have more questions than we did before.

However, we would like to clarify on a point we made in our first public letter. During the inquest we were told that five police officers went to North View Secondary School in the morning of 26 January 2016, and officers were in civilian clothes. We mistakenly assumed that police have their ID cards displayed when they were in the school. But the fact remains, that there were five officers that went to the school in two unmarked vehicles. Whether or not only one officer interviewed Benjamin in the school, and only two out of the five officers eventually escorted Benjamin to Ang Mo Kio police station. The point is why five when two or maybe three officers were actually needed. When giving his oral testimonial during the hearing, the school principal agreed that five officers to approach the school are “too many”. The principal made the decision to allow only one officer to speak to Benjamin in his office.

It was said that Benjamin appeared normal and not under stress when he was brought to the principal’s office from the canteen, and when he was placed in front of a few adults in authoritative position. The only time Benjamin appeared uncomfortable was when he spoke to his mother on the phone. Witnesses in the same room heard the mother speaking loudly to her son, and it was at the point that Benjamin showed “heightened stress”. So now it appeared that it was the mother and her tone that caused Benjamin to suddenly became stressful, and not due to the fact that he was placed in front of one policeman in civilian clothes together with management staffs from his school.

We were extremely puzzled by this declaration. We find it very difficult to believe that Benjamin was normal until he was speaking to his own mother. The school counselor opined that the communication between mother and son was so tense that conversation should end immediately. But the counselor decided that Benjamin became normal again soon after the phone call has ended and he appeared to her being stable enough to be escorted by police officers to the police station all alone? We question the ability of the school counselor in her assessment of Benjamin’s state of mind throughout the ordeal.

It was argued that there were discussions in school concerning school camp between school’s staffs, Benjamin’s mother and sister. We maintained that there was no recollection of such discussion by both mother and sister. The mother cannot recall if there was indeed a discussion on this topic as her only concern when she was at the school in the morning of 26 January 2016 was to find out what happened to Benjamin. The sister cannot remember from the beginning, but she recalled there was no such discussion after she became more settled after the first two days of the hearing.

Family members submitted evidence of a call log captured from the mobile phone belonging to the mother, of which it showed the school counselor called the mother at 4.13pm on 26 January 2016 to inform of the school’s decision to exclude Benjamin from the school camp. The call log evidenced the duration of the call, which was 1 minute. There was no other call thereafter.

1mincall
Screenshot of Benjamin's mother's phone of the call she received on 29 Jan

The school counselor claimed that she called to check on Benjamin, and explained to the mother that Benjamin might be experiencing some stress from the police investigations, and informed that the school felt it would be good for him to stay at home so that the family can keep him company as he might not be able to handle going to camp, which was to start the next day. The counselor claimed that she asked for the mother’s opinion, and the mother replied “okay”. She then concluded the conversation by suggesting that Benjamin could do e-learning at home instead. All above said and discussed between the school counselor and the mother can be done within that one minute call?

The Court has ruled that the police and school authorities took active steps to handle Benjamin and the investigation sensitively, and everything was done in accordance with police and school processes. We take consolation from this finding that Benjamin was not in any way mistreated. However, we will be more assured had there been a video recording of the interview in the police station. We noted that Benjamin only changed the testimony at the police station even though he had blurted out all the facts to the principal and police inspector at school. We are puzzled what might have transpired at the police station to have spurred Benjamin to make the confession.

Last but not least, we acknowledged that the judge has called for the relevant departments to review their current procedures when handling child suspect. State Coroner Marvin Bay suggested that school counselors could go with students to police stations when the latter are picked up from school. As parents, we look forward to the speedy review of the current procedures.

We pray that no other child will be placed in the same situation as Benjamin, never again.