Coroner's inquiry into Benjamin Lim's death: Upsetting to suggest boy's stress related to phone call with mother, says lawyer

School counsellor Karry Lung of North View Secondary School took the stand again on Wednesday (May 18).
School counsellor Karry Lung of North View Secondary School took the stand again on Wednesday (May 18). ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - Suggesting  a correlation between Benjamin Lim's mother speaking loudly to her son over the phone and the "significant stress" he appeared to be under would be "very upsetting" to Mrs Lim, said the family's lawyer.

Mr Choo Zheng Xi was speaking on behalf of the 14-year-old student's family on Wednesday (May 18), the second day of the coroner's inquiry into the teenager's death.

The Secondary 3 teen was found dead at the foot of his Housing Board block in Yishun on Jan 26, after being questioned by police earlier in the day about a case of alleged molest.

 
 
 
 

Taking the stand again on Wednesday, school counsellor Karry Lung of North View Secondary School clarified some of her observations of Benjamin on the day of the incident.

She also spoke of her exchanges with the family throughout the day.

Madam Lung had said in her conditioned statement that after Inspector Poh Wee Teck spoke to Mrs Lim on Benjamin's phone in the principal's office, he handed the phone back to the boy. She then heard his mother speaking loudly to him.

This was when she observed that Benjamin started frowning, and his replies became softer and minimal, she said.

Said Mr Choo: "I want to clarify that you are not suggesting here that there was a correlation between Benjamin's mother speaking loudly and the significant stress that you observed."

This was because "it is by instruction that it would be very upsetting to the mother", he added.

But Madam Lung said she could not hear what was being spoken over the phone.

"I only heard Benjamin's reaction, how he replied," she said. "At first, he replied, but later, his voice became softer and softer."

Insp Poh, who took the stand after Madam Lung, said the counsellor intervened at this point to stop the conversation. 

After the teenager hung up the phone, the officer took it from him, as he had been "holding on very tightly" to it.

Insp Poh was the officer who interviewed Benjamin on Jan 26 at the school, in the presence of school staff.

He added that it was only right for the counsellor to step in, as no one knew if Benjamin would break down, had the call continued.

The last exchange lasted around five to seven seconds, said Insp Poh, "but the noise, I would say, was very loud".

Benjamin was cringing as well, he told the court: "We felt that he was scared, he was stressed."

Differing accounts between school staff and Benjamin's family members came back under the spotlight as well.

Madam Lung said that when she called Mrs Lim at 4.13pm that afternoon, she asked if her son was okay.

She also told Mrs Lim of the school's suggestion that he not attend school camp the next day.

"I asked her if it's okay this way, and she said okay," said Madam Lung. The call lasted around two to three minutes, she added, as "perhaps mummy was tired" and she did not speak much.

Mr Choo pointed out at this point that Mrs Lim recalls a different version of this phone conversation.