A key reason that he and his ministry refrained from making substantive comments on the death of Benjamin Lim was out of respect for his family, and to give them time and space to grieve, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.
In the wake of the teenager's death, his family wrote an open letter, signed by his father, which contradicted facts in initial reports.
The family also suggested that Benjamin had been coerced into admitting to the molestation, said Mr Shanmugam.
He added that the police could have rebutted the family's statement by releasing Benjamin's statement to the police and CCTV footage of the alleged molestation. "But is that the right thing to do?" he asked. "To have a public trial by media, at this stage? Rebut the family in public, and add to the family's grief? The answer is clearly no.
"We can understand that the family, in their grief, may genuinely believe some things, and assert them in public. But we chose not to respond. These matters can be dealt with at the coroner's inquiry."
- DOING THE RIGHT THING
The family has lost a 14-year-old boy. They issued an open letter signed by Benjamin's father. That statement contradicted some of the things police had said...The family also suggested that Benjamin had been coerced into admitting to the molest.
The police could have immediately rebutted the family's statement... The police could have released the CCTV footage which will show quite objectively what happened inside the lift...
But is that the right thing to do? To have a public trial by media, at this stage? Rebut the family in public, and add to the family's grief? The answer is clearly no.
MR K. SHANMUGAM (left), Home Affairs Minister
He also stressed that the CCTV footage will not be released, out of respect for Benjamin's memory as well as for the young girl's sake.
MPs, including Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC), Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), asked if the ministry could have addressed the issue in a more timely manner, given the amount of speculation on social media.
But Mr Shanmugam replied that "it will be unseemly for the matter to get to a stage where there are a series of allegations and counter-allegations and statements and counter-statements with the family, with the commentators, the police. You have a free-for-all. That's precisely what legal proceedings are destined to avoid."
He also said Benjamin's father Mr Lim had told the authorities that the family had "felt pressurised by the media" and asked for privacy. Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) asked why the socio-political blog, The Online Citizen, quoted Benjamin's father on Monday as saying that "if not for social media... the case would have died down a long time ago".
Asked about this last night, Mr Lim told The Straits Times that while he does not want his family to be identified to prevent "harassment", the family was not discouraging the media from writing about the incident and issues surrounding it.