Benjamin Lim, the 14-year-old who fell to his death in January after being arrested for alleged molestation, entered a lift at the same time as an 11-year-old girl. He was seen dropping his mobile phone. And as he picked it up, his right hand apparently touched the back of her left thigh.
A video of these events on Jan 25, captured by surveillance cameras, was shown in court yesterday, as the coroner's inquiry into his death began. The media was ordered to clear the courtroom when the minute-long video was played, to protect the identity of the victim.
But when reporters returned, Benjamin's 46-year-old father disputed that the girl had been touched. His lawyer Choo Zheng Xi told the court that what the father said he observed was a "brush at the area of the girl's skirt" and that it appeared to him that there was no bodily contact. Benjamin's parents cannot be named after the court granted their request not to be identified.
State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong, assisting the court in the inquiry, said investigation officer Mohamed Razif stood by the description of what transpired in the lift. The State Counsel explained it was up to State Coroner Marvin Bay to make a finding on whether Benjamin had touched the girl.
Benjamin's death on Jan 26 has put a spotlight on the treatment of young people during criminal investigations, and when schools should release students to the custody of police.
Yesterday, State Counsel Wong told the court that the police and North View Secondary School, where Benjamin studied, had taken steps to deal with him sensitively, including sending officers in plainclothes, letting the principal speak to him first to reassure him, allowing school staff to sit in during the interview by a single officer at school, and not handcuffing him. Officers also talked to him to put him at ease on the drive to the station and he was interviewed in an open-plan office.
The State Counsel stressed that the case stemmed from a serious offence involving the alleged outrage of modesty of a very young girl, who at about 4.25pm on Jan 25, lodged a report at Yishun North Neighbourhood Police Centre.
She said she did not confront the person who had allegedly given her a soft tap on her left buttock as she was scared. Through footage from police cameras around the block, police found that the suspect was wearing North View Secondary School's physical education attire.
On the morning of Jan 26, five plainclothes police officers went to the school in two unmarked cars. School staff identified the suspect as Benjamin, given the red-framed spectacles he wore.
When Inspector Poh Wee Teck interviewed the boy in the principal's office, Benjamin said he might have "accidentally" touched the girl as he was picking up his mobile phone. At Ang Mo Kio Police Division, Benjamin admitted to Assistant Superintendent Razif that he had followed the girl into the lift, deliberately dropped his phone and touched her.
He was placed under arrest and his mother posted bail for him. They reached home at 3.30pm. An hour later, Benjamin was found dead at the foot of the block where they lived.
ASP Razif said in his report that Benjamin had undergone counselling from Primary 1 to 4. He also said the boy had been looking forward to attending a school camp, according to his parents and older sister. Benjamin had been told by his mother minutes before he fell that he would not be attending the camp. The inquiry continues.