Benjamin Lim case: Family hopes for fast review of procedures

The family has put his photos in a cabinet below the altar in their home, along with tributes from his friends.
The family has put his photos in a cabinet below the altar in their home, along with tributes from his friends. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Teen's dad also says he was mistaken police officers had ID cards displayed when in school

The family of Benjamin Lim is hoping that the authorities' review of how schools and police deal with young suspects will be quickly concluded so that any tweaks to procedures will come sooner rather than later.

In his first comments since a coroner's inquiry ruled Benjamin's death a suicide on Aug 18, his father also admitted he was mistaken when he had earlier claimed that the five police officers, while in civilian attire, were sporting ID cards when they went to look for his son in school.

But while the inquiry has also assured the family that Benjamin was not ill-treated at the police station, where he was interviewed for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl, he said the family still has questions.

Why, for instance, was there a need to send that number of officers to Benjamin's school, North View Secondary, when fewer officers could have done the job?

 

The 14-year-old had jumped to his death on Jan 26, hours after he was taken alone to Ang Mo Kio Police Division for questioning.

The day before, the girl had lodged a police report about being allegedly molested in a lift. The boy's physical education uniform was recognisable from closed- circuit television footage, and officers contacted North View Secondary for help in identifying the boy.

Police went down the next day.

Benjamin was identified and brought to the principal's office, where he was spoken to by a single police officer in the presence of school staff.

In his latest comments in a letter to The Sunday Times, Mr Lim clarified a point he made in his first open letter in the wake of Benjamin's death: "We were told that five police officers went to North View Secondary School... and officers were in civilian clothes.

"We mistakenly assumed that police have their ID cards displayed when they were in the school."

School principal Chen Fook Pang had negotiated with the police that only one of them speak to the boy.

The police agreed. State Coroner Marvin Bay had, in giving his findings, said police and the school had treated Benjamin properly when he was being investigated for alleged molestation. They "took active steps to handle (him) and the investigations sensitively, given his age and status as a student", he said.

In the principal's office, Benjamin was allowed to call his mother.

According to school counsellor Karry Lung, Benjamin had been calm when the police officer was speaking to him, but seemed nervous when talking to his mother, who was heard using a loud voice.

Mr Lim said the family found it "very difficult to believe that Benjamin was normal until he was speaking to his own mother". He also questioned the counsellor's assessment that Benjamin was "stable enough to be escorted... to the police station all alone".

After giving his statement at the police station, Benjamin was brought home by his mother. He fell to his death around 4.20pm. Minutes earlier, his mother had told him he would not be attending a Secondary 3 cohort camp the next day.

This was after a phone call from the school counsellor.

Benjamin's mother says the counsellor told her that her son would not be attending the camp.

But Madam Lung, who had drafted an e-mail detailing the conversation right after the call, said she had expressed her concerns and only suggested that it would be better for Benjamin to stay at home with his family and do e-learning - which the coroner accepted. However, the coroner suggested it would have been better for the counsellor to have spoken directly with Benjamin.

In his latest comments, Benjamin's father said the call log on Mrs Lim's mobile phone showed her conversation with Madam Lung lasted a minute. He wondered if that was enough time for the counsellor to explain that Benjamin might be under stress, and why the school felt it would be better for him to skip the camp, and also ask for the mother's opinion.

Mr Lim said the court's findings have done little to bring closure to the family. The police and the Ministry of Education are conducting a review of protocol, taking into consideration Coroner Bay's suggestions, such as having a school counsellor present at the police station.

"As parents, we look forward to the speedy review of the current proceedings," said Mr Lim, whose family declined to be identified.

He added: "Definitely, we will see an improvement.

"I just hope it will be soon."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Family hopes for fast review of procedures'. Print Edition | Subscribe