On Benjamin Lim: Minister for Home Affairs gave TOC and Law Society president Thio Shen Yi a shelling
He also explains MHA's radio silence on the case till now.
In Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, everyone’s attention was turned to Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s speech on the curious case of the late 14-year-old Benjamin Lim.
He also spent a long time chastising sociopolitical site The Online Citizen and Law Society President Thio Shen Yi, though, for spreading falsehoods, and in particular TOC for a “campaign” he said they waged to question the conduct of the police.
But first, Shanmugam explained the ministry’s (and police’s) radio silence on the pretty widespread speculation and questions asked about the teenager’s case since the police’s last statement on Feb. 1:
1. The ministry has kept silent out of respect for Lim’s memory, but also because it is inappropriate to discuss the details of a case prior to a Coroner’s Inquiry.
Shanmugam acknowledged the existence of Lim’s family’s open letter setting out certain details and making points that contradicted what the police said on Feb 1, stating that the police could have responded to it and released the evidence they have to support what they know to be true.
These included CCTV footage from inside the lift and around the lift landings, as well as in North View Secondary School, and also other details they picked up from their investigations, like Lim’s movement in the apartment block where the alleged molest happened.
But they chose not to, because it would add to the Lim family’s grief, said Shanmugam. In particular, the choice not to release the footage recorded by the lift’s closed-circuit cameras is a deliberate one in respect of Lim’s memory as well as to protect the 11-year-old victim. Besides, he added, all these facts can be dealt with during the upcoming Coroner’s Inquiry.
2. The family has repeatedly asked for the Coroner’s Inquiry to be held in private and away from public and media scrutiny.
According to the Minister, Lim’s family had informed police that they were feeling pressured by public and media attention, asked for privacy and for his family to be kept out of the limelight.
As recently as on Monday, Shanmugam added, Lim’s father repeated these requests to a police officer — these despite the fact that all Coroner’s Inquiries are held in open court, unless the Court decides that some part should be private: say the girl’s identity, for instance, as well as the CCTV footage of what actually happened in the lift.
Nonetheless, Shanmugam said in his speech that the Attorney-General’s Chambers will consider Lim’s father’s request, although it will be for the court to decide whether or not to make the proceedings public.
That wasn’t all, though — the minister, in no less words, chastised sociopolitical website The Online Citizen for going out on “a planned, orchestrated campaign, using falsehoods”, publishing at least 20 articles on the case as part of it.
Here are some of the things they published that he said were wrong:
1) That the police officers were wearing white shirts with the word “POLICE” emblazoned behind them (they wore nothing to indicate that they were police officers).
2) That the school handed Lim over to “five police officers” (actually, he was interviewed in the presence of one police officer in the principal’s office, and then escorted out by three others, not five).
3) That Lim was not given anything to eat or drink throughout the time he spent at the police station (he was offered food and drink after the interview, but declined it).
4) In TOC’s report of Lim’s mother’s account of her conversation with Lim of what transpired with the police, Lim was said to have claimed he didn’t molest the girl, but admitted guilt anyway because they said he did — making it look like Lim was coerced into admitting guilt (CCTV footage from the lift showed him inside with the girl, and he also admitted to them that he molested her intentionally).
He also criticised Law Society President Thio Shen Yi, for an op-ed piece Thio wrote in the Singapore Law Gazette. In particular, he took issue with the underlined portions below:
In case you can’t see the underlined portion clearly, they are the phrases “five plain-clothes policemen visited his school and spoke to him at the principal’s office” and “(Lim was) taken by these (five) policemen to Ang Mo Kio Police Division”.
These, the minister pointed out, were false.
He went on to say that Thio seemed to imply through his writing that based on the incorrect statements he had written (about there being five men who spoke to him at the principal’s office and who also escorted him together to the police post), the police should have handled Lim in a less intimidating fashion.
He was referring to this section that Thio wrote:
“The police could have considered a less intimidating way of approaching the investigation. Even if an offence is arrestable, arrest is not mandated and the police need only do so if appropriate – so was it appropriate to arrest this 14-year-old boy at school during school hours? Instead of detaining or arresting Benjamin at school, the police have the power under the Criminal Procedure Code to require one to attend and be examined, and it is not uncommon practice for the police to contact a suspect/witness by phone and ask him to attend an interview. To be fair, the police have said they “will review and address the issue”. But are they just going to look at this particular issue, or will this be a catalyst for broader reform? Also, how transparent will this review be?”
Was it all detailed in the Feb 1 statement from the police?
Here’s the thing, though: nobody knew those details put out by TOC and Thio were false.
The only folks who knew were the ministry and the police, until Minister Shanmugam shared, on March 1, the exact number of police officers who went to the school (3 from the division police post and 2 investigating officers). He also said who spoke to Lim (1 officer, in the principal’s office) and how many Lim saw at any one point (at the most, three, who escorted him from the principal’s office to the car) — in the same speech where he immediately opened fire on Thio and TOC.
Here’s what the first statement (Feb 1) said, for those who may not remember:
1 In this case, a Police report was lodged about a molestation. Based on CCTV evidence, Police officers went to conduct enquiries at a school. To keep investigations discreet, the officers went in plainclothes and in unmarked cars. After discussions with the school officials, and the viewing of the CCTV records, Benjamin was identified as the boy in the CCTV records. He was brought to the Principal’s office by a school official and was spoken with in the presence of a Police officer. Before he was brought back to Ang Mo Kio Division, he contacted his mother to inform her of the Police’s investigations. The Police officer also spoke to the mother.
2 While at Ang Mo Kio Division, he was interviewed by one Investigation Officer at his workstation in an open plan office with other workstations. He was fully cooperative during the interview. He was then released on bail and went back with his mother.
3 The Police have been asked whether it should review the procedure to allow an appropriate adult to be present when a young person is interviewed. The Police will review and address this issue.
4 Police investigations have not been completed. A Coroner’s Inquiry will be held upon the conclusion of investigations, where all the relevant facts will be presented to the State Coroner. At the inquiry, the family will also be able to raise all questions that they may have.
5 Benjamin’s passing was tragic. The Police have expressed their deepest condolences to the family. They have met the family to address their questions on the case and provide clarifications on the actions of the Police officers during their interaction with Benjamin.
The statement does say that in the North View Secondary School Principal’s office, there was one police officer present. However, the police statement never made clear how many police officers actually went to the school in the first place; neither did it say how many officers escorted Lim to the car or to the police station.
To be fair, TOC did seem to imply certain conclusions that are not necessarily fair in light of the incomplete information available (since the police wasn’t forthcoming with it earlier).
At the same time, though, we’re not sure all these additional details would have been shared with the public if TOC had not been covering the case as extensively as they had, and sustaining continued public interest in it.
Minister Shanmugam said that the Coroner’s Inquiry is “the right forum for the relevant facts to be dealt with”. Perhaps it’s time for us to wait on the Coroner’s Inquiry to see the outcome of all this, and if the truth of what happened and why Lim eventually ended his life, will finally emerge.
Top photo adapted from TOC and MHA logos.