SINGAPORE - Ruling the death of Benjamin Lim a suicide, State Coroner Marvin Bay said the police and his school had taken steps to engage him sensitively. But an "additional refinement" could be for a school counsellor to accompany the student to the police station.
The North View Secondary School student was found dead at the foot of his block in Yishun on Jan 26, hours after being questioned at Ang Mo Kio police division for the alleged molest of an 11-year-old girl in a lift.
Coroner Bay said he had viewed the CCTV footage from the lift many times, and concluded that Benjamin's hand did touch the back of the girl. "It would only be fair to state that this touch was momentary, and Master Lim did not appear to grasp or grope the girl upon contact with her body," he said.
The coroner, saying it was probably that a combination of factors were at play in this case, suggested that Benjamin may have been worried about the consequences of his action. While he would probably have been given a stern warning or "sanctions geared towards guidance, therapy and rehabilitation", young people are often geared to engage in a phenomenon known as "catastrophic thinking", said the coroner.
"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."
The coroner suggested that young people be better informed of the consequences of their actions.
In this case, police did tell his mother that Benjamin could receive a warning in lieu of prosecution, he might have to undergo probation, or he might have to go to court. "There does not seem to be any indication from the adduced evidence in the record that Master Lim was made aware of this," said the coroner.
Before he jumped, Benjamin found out from his mother that he would not be attending a school camp that began the next day. While finding that the school had suggested to his mother it was better for him to be with his family instead of being at the school , the coroner added that in hindsight, it may have been better for the school counsellor to explain the decision to Benjamin.
"This will enable the actual context of the action to be properly understood," he explained. "A communication with only a parent or caregiver would carry the risk that essential nuances and details may, perhaps inadvertently, be filtered or edited away... A child may react badly if the measures, intended for their well-being, are misinterpreted to be punitive or retributive."
The coroner also suggested that school counsellors accompany students under their charge to the police station, if they need to be interviewed.
" I am, of course, not suggesting that counsellors should become advocates for the child or actively participate in the interview process, but rather to be present as resource persons to meet any arising needs from the police, the student, or his caregivers," he explained.
"While parents generally have a justifiably high degree of confidence in the effectiveness, efficiency and fairness of the police, they may feel rather more conflicted when their child is a person of interest in a criminal investigation. They may feel a degree of anxiety and uncertainty if their child is taken to a police station unaccompanied by any member of the school. An accompanying counsellor, as an integral part of the pastoral care team, would be an ideal person to monitor the emotional state of the child, and give real-time information to parents of the location of their child, to put them at ease."
Then at the end of his findings, the coroner extended his "deepest condolences to the family of (Benjamin) for their very sad loss".