Benjamin did touch the girl, but did not grope her

The open plan office at an Ang Mo Kio police station where an investigation officer interviewed Benjamin Lim.
The open plan office at an Ang Mo Kio police station where an investigation officer interviewed Benjamin Lim. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS

There had indeed been a "momentary" touch between Benjamin Lim and the 11-year-old girl he was accused of molesting in a lift the day before he died, concluded State Coroner Marvin Bay yesterday.

But he stressed that the need to delve into this was not for deeming the boy innocent or guilty.

Rather, it was necessary to do so just to understand Benjamin's state of mind, and whether his suicide might have been motivated by fear of "adverse consequences" from what took place in the lift.

On Jan 26, Benjamin was found motionless at the foot of his block of flats. Earlier that day, he had been questioned at Ang Mo Kio Police Division on the alleged molestation that had taken place the day before.

Whether the alleged touch took place had been a point of contention during the inquiry in May. Footage from the lift closed-circuit television (CCTV) had been shown in-camera then to protect the girl's identity.

Benjamin's father said through his family's lawyer Choo Zheng Xi that he saw no bodily contact. But the police investigator stood by the description of what transpired.

Yesterday, Coroner Bay said the lift CCTV footage showed "uncontrovertibly" that Benjamin had deliberately touched the girl after a "rather clumsy attempt to mask his action by dropping his phone".

Relating the sequence of events in the footage, he said Benjamin was seen entering the lift after the girl and pressing the lift button directly below hers. While she stood at the right corner of the lift and he at the left, he was seen moving nearer and transferring his mobile phone to his right hand before dropping it next to her.

He picked up his phone and transferred it to his left hand. This was when the act occurred. Benjamin then looked at the girl as he walked away from her, and exited the lift.

Benjamin's movements - dropping his mobile phone, picking it up and then transferring it to his left hand - "appear to be very tentative and contrived movements".

After transferring the phone, the coroner said, Benjamin "shifted his right arm in a slight underhand movement towards the girl".

He added: "While her large haversack partly obscured the view of the movement, 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.

"I would therefore conclude that there was a touch."

However, the coroner qualified this by saying it was "momentary" and the schoolboy "did not appear to grasp or grope the girl". Her immediate reaction of flinching and looking at him, added the coroner, supports the conclusion of contact.

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Benjamin did touch the girl, but did not grope her'. Print Edition | Subscribe