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Summary of the Coroner’s findings on the death of Benjamin Lim

On 18 August 2016, the State Coroner Marvin Bay released his findings that the death of Benjamin Lim, a 14-year-old boy was a deliberate act of suicide and ruled out any foul play. He pointed out that it is“very likely a combination of factors were at play" which resulted in the fatal act.

Lim, a secondary-three student from North View Secondary, was found dead below his block on 26 January this year after his mother, Mdm Teng picked him up from the Ang Mo Kio Police Station where he had been brought to be interviewed for his alleged involvement in a case of outrage of modesty.

Below is the summary of the findings by the State Coroner on Thursday

A police case was filed on 25 January, a day before, the death of Benjamin Lim by the father of an 11-year-old girl who said that she has been touched by a Chinese male at her block's lift while she was going up back to her unit.

Following the police report, police officers then retrieved video from the lift lobby captured by the police's CCTV system. The video in the lift was managed by the town council and therefore unaccessible to the police. (The video from the lift lobby was only accessible to the police after Benjamin's death)

A photo of the video was sent to the discipline mistress (DM) of North View Secondary School that day but the DM was unable to recognize the student from the screen capture sent to her. The police then decide to drop down to the school to ascertain the identity of the student.

On the morning of 26 January 2016, five plainclothes officers went to the school in two unmarked cars, three were from the Crime Strike Force (officers who were friendly with the school) and two from the Ang Mo Kio police division.

When the police reached the school, the DM identified Benjamin via his red spectacles. After being introduced to the officers by the DM, the Principal requested that he was to speak with Benjamin first before the police were to speak with him. The Principal also requested that only one police officer was to question Benjamin with staff in presence.

Benjamin was in the canteen sitting alone on a bench when DM approached him, saying that he was needed at the Principal's office. He went to the office with a bun and a drink still untouched.

Under the request by the Principal, Benjamin recalled what happening on his way back home which included a detour back home and taking a lift up in a wrong block. The school counsellor was called in by the Principal as he wanted her to access his mental state of being.

When he was next questioned by the highest ranking plainclothes police officer, he shared for the first time that there was a girl with him in the same lift when he took the lift up and that he might have accidentally touched her after dropping his phone and picking it up.

The police decided to bring him back to the police station but before that, asked Benjamin to make a call to his parents to inform them that he is going back with them.

When the call was made, the police officer, Principal and counsellor observed that Benjamin show signs of stress when he was speaking with the mother and that the mother, Mdm Teng was speaking very loudly. The counsellor showed signal to the police officer that Benjamin should end the call as he was being stressed by the call.

After the call, the police allowed Benjamin to consume his food at the Principal office.

The officers were briefed by the Principal not to handcuff Benjamin and the whole matter was not seen by any students as they left the school discreetly.

One officer had to leave for another matter and Benjamin was escorted to the police with two police officers in an unmarked car. The officer with Benjamin in police car did not observe him to show any signs of depression.

Benjamin was brought to the investigating officer at the Ang Mo Kio police division and repeated his account to the IO. The IO sensing that Benjamin is hiding something, left him alone for about twenty minutes before returning to him for his statement.

When the IO took Benjamin's statement again, Benjamin was recorded by the IO to have said that he suddenly had an urge touch the girl as he found her cute while walking along a shelter. He followed the girl to her block and up the lift where he purposely dropped the phone next to the leg of the girl so that he can touch her.

After his statement was taken, Benjamin was brought to the charge office without restraint and was offered food and drinks but he declined.

Police say that Benjamin showed no signs of distress during bail process. He was released to his mother at 2.15pm on a S$2,000 bail.

Along the way back home, Mdm Teng, who asked him if he did the molestation. Benjamin replied, "You say I am guilty, I'm guilty then."

Back home, Benjamin had his bath and lunch, then proceeded to play games on his mobile phone.

The counsellor called Mdm Teng at 4.13 pm and sought her views on whether Benjamin should stay at home and not participate in the school camp the next day and stay at home to do E-learning. Mdm Teng gave a verbal acknowledgement which the counsellor took it as a yes.

Mdm Teng contest the account of the counsellor by saying that the counsellor merely called to inform her of the school's decision for Benjamin not to participate in the school camp. Mr Bay said that he is inclined to believe the counsellor because the counsellor's account is supported by the email that she had sent to the principal and that the counsellor had no reason to send the email because of Benjamin's death as she only got to know of the matter at around 6pm.

After Benjamin was informed that he need not go to the school camp, he continued to play with his mobile phone. The mother went to do her cleaning at the toilet and closed the door. When she came out, she saw the bedroom door of Benjamin closed and found it locked. She opened the door with a spare key and when she opened the door, she only saw the window opened with the table fan on the floor, and Benjamin's mobile phone was on his bed. Mdm Teng rushed down and saw him lying on the floor.

Benjamin pronounced dead at 4.20pm below his flat.

 

Alleged molestation

Based on the footage that was taken from a rear overhead view which Mr Bay had viewed “many times”, he said that Benjamin and the girl were in close proximity in the lift. While the girl had a large pink haversack that partially obscured the view of the moment of the asserted touch, he said Benjamin had shifted his right arm in a “slight underhand movement” towards the girl.

He said, “The observable trajectory of the path of travel of his hand would have resulted in a contact against either her upper rear thigh or lower buttock area,”

The girl’s instantaneous reaction of flinching and turning slightly to look at Benjamin would support the conclusion of contact, he added.

However, Mr Bay said that it would be fair to describe the touch as a "momentary" one and Benjamin “did not appear to grasp or grope the girl”.

Comments by the court

Mr Bay noted that Benjamin had shown predisposing traits of anger management issues and difficulties with emotional regulation and "internalising a considerable degree of inner conflict” and appeared to be an introverted individual who was not inclined to openly discuss his problem.

He also pointed that Benjamin was provisionally diagnosed with an “emotional disorder of childhood” when he was seven, he was never formally diagnosed with any clinical psychological disorder.

Mr Bay suggested that to avoid such thing happen again, the school's counsellor needs to be presented when the child is being interviewed, not as the "advocate" for the child, but to reassure the presence for the child.

Mr Bay also stated that the boy might have worried about the consequences of the charge on him and noted that most of the minors have been left off with warnings by the police.

He said, "Young persons may inadvertently associate their offending with the examples seen in current affairs programmes such as Crime Watch, and be completely unaware that the punishments meted in the depicted accounts are for hardened adult offenders who have committed heinous crimes in egregious circumstances. In such a setting, if a young suspect is not given an appropriate perspective, he or she may gravitate towards self-harm or other destructive behaviour based on the erroneous belief that what they have done will irreversibly change the course of their educational and career prospects, and other aspects of their lives,"