Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Benjamin Lim case

1 Mar 2016

A timeline of what happened

Seow Bei Yi

SINGAPORE - On Jan 26, a 14-year-old Secondary 3 schoolboy was found dead at the foot of a block of flats in Yishun. He had lived on the 14th floor with his family.

The boy, Benjamin Lim, had earlier been questioned by the police in connection with an allegation involving outrage of modesty.

In Parliament on Tuesday (March 1), Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam laid out the facts of the case. Here is a summary: 

Jan 25: In the lift
  • Benjamin makes a detour to another block on his way home from school
  • He allegedly follows an 11-year-old girl into a lift at the ground floor 
  • What happens in the lift is caught on CCTV; Benjamin later admits to touching a part of the girl's body 
  • He steps out of the lift at the 13th floor 
  • The pair have a brief exchange, but she does not follow him 
  • He gets into the lift at the 12th floor and goes to the ground floor 
  • The girl tells her father what happened, and they go to the police 
  • From CCTV footage, police identify the boy's school from his uniform

Jan 26: At Benjamin's school
  • Police retrieve relevant CCTV footage and identify a boy in school uniform as the suspect 
  • Five plainclothes officers go to North View Secondary School in unmarked cars
  • Benjamin is identified by school officials after seeing a screenshot of the footage
  • A school staff member goes to the canteen to look for Benjamin, and takes him to the principal's office
  • The principal tells him that a police officer wants to speak to him, and that staff will stay with him 
  • An officer speaks with Benjamin about the incident in the presence of staff 
  • The other four police officers are not in the room 
  • Benjamin is advised by the principal to call his mother, and he does so 
  • An officer tells Benjamin's mother that he would be taken to Ang Mo Kio Police Station to give his statement 
  • Benjamin is taken to the police station in an unmarked car by three officers. One officer alights along the way 
  • Benjamin's mother and elder sister arrive at school around 11am, but he has already left 
  • Principal tells a school counsellor to call Benjamin's mother later to check on his well-being 

Jan 26: At the police station 
  • An officer takes Benjamin's statement at his workstation in an open plan office 
  • Benjamin is not handcuffed at any time, and is cooperative
  • His written statement is taken at 12.15pm 
  • He is offered food and drink after the interview, which he declines 
  • He is placed in a temporary holding room alone 
  • Police record a statement from Benjamin's mother 
  • Benjamin is released on bail around 2.50pm, after around 3½ hours on the station. He leaves with his family
Jan 26: At his home 
  • Benjamin has lunch, then plays games on his handphone 
  • Around 4.15pm, his mother receives a call from a school counsellor
  • The counsellor discusses with Benjamin's mother if it would be better for him to remain with his family during this period 
  • His mother agrees and it was decided he would not attend the Secondary 3 school camp 
  • She tells Benjamin he will not be going to camp the next day 
  • At 4.20pm, Benjamin is found dead at the foot of block where his family lives

[Based on the timeline, it would seem that the trigger might be the decision for Benjamin to not go to the school camp. Within 5 minutes of that decision, Benjamin kills himself. He had been released at 2:50, he went home and played games on his handphone.]

Shanmugam slams inaccurate statements on death of teen Benjamin Lim; MHA to look into how to respond to falsehoods

1 Mar 2016

Lee Min Kok

SINGAPORE - Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Tuesday (March 1) hit out at inaccurate statements which have been put out regarding the case of a 14-year-old boy who fell to his death following questioning by the police.

The ministry will study how the police and other institutions can respond in future to such falsehoods, he said in Parliament.

These inaccuracies included claims that the boy had been intimidated by five police officers and coerced into admitting to an offence he did not commit, he said in a ministerial statement on the death of North View Secondary School student Benjamin Lim.

The teenager was found dead at the foot of his Housing Board block in Yishun on Jan 26, 90 minutes after being released from Ang Mo Kio Police Division, where he was questioned regarding an alleged molestation case.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, singled out The Online Citizen (TOC) for its inaccurate reports.

"It has gone on a planned, orchestrated campaign, using falsehoods, and has published about 20 articles or so as part of its campaign," he said.

The TOC reports gave the impression that the police were lying, and that police officers had intimidated and put pressure on the teenager to confess to a crime that he did not commit.

These articles led people to conclude that the boy committed suicide as a result, he said.

Mr Shanmugam cited an example of how TOC had published an article on Feb 5 claiming that the officers who visited Benjamin's school wore attire with the words "Police", despite an earlier police statement stating that they were in plain clothes.

TOC's claims were supposedly based on a posting by a woman, Ms Mary Anne Pereira, who later clarified with police that she was wrong and had got her dates mixed up. Ms Pereira has since taken down her post.
"It is sad to see the level of dishonesty and politicisation of this matter. Where the police are wrong - we must and will take action. But we should not allow deliberate, dishonest attacks," said Mr Shanmugam.

He also said he was surprised at recent comments made by Mr Thio Shen Yi, president of The Law Society of Singapore, on the case.

Several statements made by Mr Thio were false, he pointed out. These included how five police officers had spoken to Benjamin and that all five took him to the police station.

Although five officers went to the school, only one of them spoke to the teenager at the principal’s office. Three officers were in the car which took him to the police station, but one alighted halfway.

On Mr Thio's assertion that the police should have behaved in a less intimidating way, Mr Shanmugam said the statements effectively implied that Benjamin had killed himself because of police intimidation.

“Mr Thio has a duty to be fair to the police officers involved. He need only to have referred to the police statement on Feb 1 to know that his facts are untrue,” he said.

As a lawyer, Mr Thio should have known to seek expert evidence, such as assessments from psychologists, he added.

No substantive comment on Benjamin Lim case 'out of respect for family', due to Coroner's Inquiry: Shanmugam
Seow Bei Yi

SINGAPORE - Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said he and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had refrained from making substantive comments on the death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim "out of respect for (his) family", and because the matter was the subject of a Coroner's Inquiry (CI).

"Once the coroner announces his findings, both facts and conclusions, then people can offer their criticisms, viewpoints, comments," said Mr Shanmugam in Parliament on Tuesday (March 1).

Several Members of Parliament raised questions about issues related to Benjamin's death on Jan 26. MPs Desmond Choo and Christopher De Souza asked whether the Ministry could have addressed the issue in a more timely manner, given the amount of speculation in social media.

Highlighting the rule of sub judice, which sets out what can and cannot be said when an inquiry is pending, Mr Shanmugam said that the police "were right in not responding" out of respect for the CI process.

He also criticised several comments that have been made on the issue, saying these could have broke sub judice rules. He even went so far as to call some of these "falsehoods".

The delay was also out of respect for Benjamin and his family, to give them time and space to grieve.

After the incident, Benjamin's family wrote an open letter, signed by his father, which contradicted a few points in a statement by police. "We can understand that the family, in their grief, may genuinely believe some things, and perhaps even assert them in public," added Mr Shanmugam. "But we chose not to respond. These matters can be dealt with at the CI."

"The police could have immediately rebutted the family's statement," he said.

He highlighted how the police could have released CCTV footage of the alleged molest incident, and released Benjamin's statement to the police.

But that would not have been the "right thing to do", Mr Shanmugam stressed.

CCTV footage would also not be released, he said, "out of respect for Benjamin's memory" and "to help the young girl".

In the wake of the teenager's death, people raised questions as well on the role of schools and whether they should allow police to take students without their parents' consent or an accompanying adult.

Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said in Parliament on Tuesday that he too chose not to publicly respond to such queries earlier for the same reasons as Mr Shanmugam.

[When an accused is arrested, he would be cautioned to tell everything he knows about the case and that if there is some relevant facts which would be in his favour he should state it first or an adverse inference may be made if he raise the facts at a later time. 

Perhaps in the age of the internet and social media, this sub judice rule is a little restrictive? Perhaps the caution of the internet age is, get your story out fast and early or get left behind? Still it is not like the gist of the police story was not in the public view. So perhaps what is left is to a) sue for defamation, or b) charge those with breaking the sub judice rule.]

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