Shanmugam lays out facts on schoolboy Benjamin Lim's case, says police followed procedures

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On Jan 26, 14-year-old Benjamin Lim was found dead at the foot of a block of flats in Yishun. The Straits Times breaks down what happened to the North View Secondary School boy from Jan 25 to Jan 26 in this timeline.
Mr Shanmugam said that Benjamin Lim would have received no more than a warning. PHOTO: TV SCREENGRAB

SINGAPORE - The police officers who went to the school of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim had worn plain clothes and followed procedures for dealing with young persons, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Tuesday (March 1).

Mr Shanmugam laid out the facts of the case in Parliament in response to questions from Members of Parliament, and detailed the sequence of events before the Secondary 3 student's death.

There is nothing so far to suggest that Benjamin was mistreated by police, and based on the facts currently available it cannot be said that the police interview was the specific reason for his death, the minister said.

Benjamin was found dead at the foot of his HDB block in Yishun on Jan 26. He had been picked up from his school by police officers earlier that day, and taken to Ang Mo Kio Police Division for questioning over the alleged molestation of an 11-year-old girl.

Mr Shanmugam said that on Jan 25, Benjamin appeared to have made a detour to another block in the neighbourhood when coming home from school.

CCTV footage showed Benjamin making his way to the other block, and quickly following the girl into the lift after she entered it. There was CCTV footage within the lift showing what happened, Mr Shanmugam said.

Benjamin walked out of the lift at the 13th floor, and the girl said she confronted him briefly but did not follow him. He entered the lift again at the 12th floor, and took it to the ground floor.

"It would appear therefore that his purpose in getting into the lift was to follow her, and after the incident, he got out," Mr Shanmugam said.

The girl told her father what happened, and they filed a police report that day.

Police retrieved CCTV footage for investigations, and from his uniform identified Benjamin as a student from North View Secondary School.

On Jan 26, five officers went to the school - three from Yishun North NPC and two from Ang Mo Kio Division. Mr Shanmugam stressed that the five donned plain clothes and went in unmarked cars. They were not in police uniform, nor did they have the word "Police" on their clothing, he said.

The officers showed a screenshot of the CCTV footage to school officials, who identified the boy as Benjamin. A school official brought him to the principal's office.

Mr Shanmugam said only one police officer spoke with Benjamin about the incident in the office, in the presence of several school officials.

The principal advised Benjamin to call his mother after the interview, and he did so.

The police officer also spoke to Benjamin's mother, and told her he would be taken to Ang Mo Kio Police Division to give his statement.

Three officers then took Benjamin to the station in an unmarked car, said Mr Shanmugam. One officer alighted along the way, leaving two officers in the car - one to drive and the other to look after Benjamin, the minister added.

At the station, Mr Shanmugam said Benjamin asked for time to collect his thoughts about the incident. He gave his statement at 12.15pm. He had admitted to police that he touched a part of the girl's body and that he did so intentionally, Mr Shanmugam said.

He was interviewed by one police officer at a desk in an open office setting, with other officers at their respective desks.

Benjamin was not handcuffed at any time and was cooperative throughout, Mr Shanmugam said.

He added that Benjamin declined an offer of food and drink after the interview, and was alone in a temporary holding room before his mother took him home.

He was in the police station for about 3½ hours in all, Mr Shanmugam said. This was the last contact between him and the police.

The police protocol for dealing with young people is to interview them and release them to their parents as quickly as possible, Mr Shanmugam said.

Based on police investigations, the minister said Benjamin had lunch after he went home with his mother.

He then played games on his phone. Sometime later, his mother told him he would not be going to school camp the next day, after she spoke to a school counsellor.

Benjamin was found dead at the foot of his block at about 4.20pm.

Elaborating on the police force's approach to offences by young persons, Mr Shanmugam said that police try to avoid criminalising the conduct where possible, to give the young accused a second chance.

"It is likely that on the evidence available to us, Benjamin would have received no more than a warning," Mr Shanmugam said. "He is unlikely to have been charged in court."

Police would have taken into account Benjamin's age, and that it was his first offence, he said. While all molests are taken seriously, he said the nature of the alleged molest would have to be considered.

Based on CCTV footage, the nature of the alleged molest can be characterised as being in the less serious range, Mr Shanmugam added.

The police will review their procedure for interviewing young persons.

Mr Shanmugam said the review will take in three broad points: what happened in Benjamin's case, the type of young persons who are picked up, and how to reduce the risk of officers flouting procedure.

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