SINGAPORE: Schoolboy Benjamin Lim had been interviewed by two different police officers separately on the day of his death on Jan 26, the Coroner’s Court heard on Wednesday (May 18).
An hour after he was brought to Ang Mo Kio Police Station to assist police with investigations, the 14-year-old admitted to Senior Investigation Officer (SIO) Mohammad Fareed Rahmat that he had touched a girl in a lift the previous day.
Based on Benjamin’s police statement recorded on Jan 26, the minor initially did not admit to touching the girl as he was “scared”. He confessed sometime around 12.15pm on Jan 26, after SIO Fareed had given the boy 20 minutes alone to “think again”.
SIO Fareed said he had paused the interview as he felt that Benjamin was not being truthful. In response to questioning by counsel for Benajmin’s family Choo Zheng Xi, SIO Fareed clarified that he did not tell Benjamin that he thought the schoolboy was not telling the truth. “I told him that the purpose of investigation is to find out the truth, and I told him I will let him think and interview him again,” he said.
Before his eventual confession, Benjamin had been questioned by Inspector Poh Wee Teck at his school, and had been interviewed by SIO Fareed at the police station for about an hour.
The court heard that Benjamin had also said in his statement that he was “sorry for what had happened” and that he knew what he did was "wrong”. He told police it was the first time he had touched a girl, and promised not to do it again.
SIO Fareed read out a transcript of some questions he had asked the boy, including whether Benjamin had felt sexually aroused when he touched the 11-year-old girl. “Yes”, Benjamin had answered. But the boy denied he had touched the girl’s buttock. He told SIO Fareed he only touched the back of her left thigh.
Upon Benjamin’s confession, an arrest report was lodged. At this point, another officer, SIO Kalaivani Kalimuthu spoke to Benjamin to fill up forms and asked him for particulars on his next-of-kin.
Counsel for the Lims, Mr Choo asked SIO Fareed several times whether Benjamin had been within earshot when the officer spoke to colleagues about the case, and especially when an arrest report had to be prepared.
SIO Fareed replied that he had used a code word when asking SIO Kalaivani to prepare Benjamin’s arrest report. “I asked her if she could assist me to make the ‘alpha’ (arrest) report”, SIO Fareed explained.
Mr Choo also asked whether Benjamin could have heard the officer calling his mother to tell her he had been placed under arrest. SIO Fareed said he had explained this to Benjamin before calling his mother, and that the boy seemed “fine to me, calm”.
The officer added he had done nothing out of the ordinary and had followed procedures he would generally have followed when interviewing youthful suspects, such as conducting the interview in an open-plan office.
Benjamin was first brought to the police station at 11.15 am on Jan 26, and the statement-taking process concluded at around 1pm. He was released to his mother's custody at about 2.50pm.
Shortly after Benjamin reached home from the police station, his mother – who had received a call from school counselor Karry Lung at 4.13pm – told him that he would not be attending a Secondary 3 school camp. Five minutes later, Mrs Lim discovered that Benjamin had locked himself into his room, and was nowhere to found when she entered the room with a spare key. He was found at the foot of the block and pronounced dead at 4.36pm.
At the close of the inquiry on Wednesday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said he is satisfied with the evidence presented so far, but there remains “a few strands to pull together”. Further statements will be recorded from Benjamin’s mother and sister by the police to “fill the gap” and shed light on discrepancies pertaining to Benjamin’s attendance at the school camp.
Mr Choo, who is representing the family, also said he would be seeking written clarification from another two police officers who had come into contact with Benjamin the day he died.
Parties will convene on Jun 8 to take stock of the inquiry so far. Mr Bay is expected to deliver his findings at a later date.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that three police officers questioned Benjamin Lim. It has since been clarified that the third officer only spoke to Benjamin to get his details to fill out forms.