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Benjamin Lim’s death a deliberate act of suicide, rules State Coroner

SINGAPORE — With no basis to suspect any foul play, Benjamin Lim’s fall from height was a deliberate act of suicide that could have stemmed from issues with managing his anger and emotions, as well as the stress of being under criminal investigation, ruled State Coroner Marvin Bay.

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SINGAPORE — With no basis to suspect any foul play, Benjamin Lim’s fall from height was a deliberate act of suicide that could have stemmed from issues with managing his anger and emotions, as well as the stress of being under criminal investigation, ruled State Coroner Marvin Bay.

Offering suggestions on police and school processes for young offenders as he delivered his findings on Thursday (Aug 18), Mr Bay said that it was “very likely that a combination of factors were at play in this instance”. 

The 14-year-old student from North View Secondary School had fallen to his death at his housing block in Yishun on Jan 26, after he was taken in for police questioning for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old girl. 

The case had sparked a debate on police processes and speculation over the circumstances leading up to his death. Differing accounts of what transpired before his death also emerged, and Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam later took the unusual step of delivering a ministerial statement on the matter in Parliament in March, even though the case was still before the courts.

On Thursday, Mr Bay noted that measures were taken to put Benjamin at ease while he was being investigated. The evidence, also showed that the police officers and school staff took active steps to handle Benjamin and the investigations “sensitively”, given his age and status as a student. 

During the hearing in May, the court was told that Benjamin did not leave any suicide notes. There were also no warning signs that he possessed any suicidal thoughts from the time he was brought to the principal’s office until he left the police station.

Although he was provisionally diagnosed with an “emotional disorder of childhood” when he was seven, Benjamin was never formally diagnosed with any clinical psychological disorder.

But Mr Bay found that he did, however, show predisposing traits of anger management issues and difficulties with emotional regulation. He was also “internalising a considerable degree of inner conflict” and appeared to be an introverted individual who was not inclined to openly discuss his problem, he said. 

The boy, for instance, chose to use his mobile phone instead of confiding with his mother and sister about the potential criminal charge he was facing after a visit to the police station. 

On the matter of the differing accounts of the exchanges between Benjamin’s family and the school counsellor Karry Lung — a point of contention during the hearing — Mr Bay said he found Mdm Lung’s account to be more reliable.

But he did not necessarily infer that Benjamin’s mother and sister had any desire to “exaggerate or distort the facts”. Their recollections could have been affected by their frantic search for answers to what had happened to the boy and subsequently by his death, he said. 

Mr Bay, who had viewed in-lift CCTV footage of the alleged molestation several times, also concluded that the boy had touched the girl even though it was momentary and he “did not appear to grasp or grope the girl”. But him addressing this issue was to understand Benjamin’s state of mind and not determine guilt, he added. 

On how processes can be improved in investigations involving students, Mr Bay suggested that a school counsellor accompany the student to the police station in similar situations, to provide real-time information to parents and background information of the student to the police.

Young suspects should also be provided with a better understanding of the probable consequences for their alleged offences, including how their sentences tend to involve stern warnings, therapy and rehabilitation. Otherwise, they may overreact to an unfavourable situation and gravitate towards self-harm or other destructive behaviour, Mr Bay said. 

To that end, research on youth suicides is being conducted by a group from the Ministry of Health, the Institute of Mental Health, the Forensic Medicine Division of the Health Sciences Authority, the Samaritans of Singapore and the court, he said.

In a statement issued after the findings were delivered on Thursday, the police said they “put to rest many of the questions raised prior to the Coroner’s Inquiry”. “We wish to again convey, our deepest condolences to the family of Benjamin,” they added. 

On Mr Bay’s suggestion of having school counsellors accompany the student to the police station, the police said it was being considered.

It was previously announced that the police were reviewing the option to have young offenders be accompanied by an appropriate adult.

A spokesperson for the Education Ministry said it is also studying the coroner’s suggestions on school processes and will consider them in tandem with the ongoing police review.

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