Major questions on minor's treatment
MPs look set to address in Parliament issues brought up by teen's death
How should minors be handled by their schools and the police during an investigation?
The death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim, who was questioned over a molest allegation, will be discussed in Parliament.
Two ministers are expected to address questions from six Members of Parliament and one Non-Constituency MP.
Among the questions: How can young and vulnerable accused minors be given more safeguards during investigations?
MPs also want to know how schools handle police investigations of their students and, in Benjamin's case, if official information on school and police procedures came too late to address the ensuing speculation.
The New Paper first raised the issue on Jan 30, four days after Benjamin's death.
TRAGIC: Benjamin Lim’s body was found at the bottom of this Yishun block of flats on Jan 26.
Immediately after the report was published, it went viral and was picked up by other media.
In response, on Feb 1, the police said they were reviewing their procedures for interviewing young persons.
A Ministry of Education spokesman also said that schools have a set of guidelines, including speaking to the student and contacting his parents or guardian first, before he can be taken away by the police.
On Feb 3, The New Paper ran an interview with West Coast GRC MP Patrick Tay, who called for more safeguards for minors accused of a crime.
So why are the MPs and NCMP raising the issue of procedures?
Said Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who visited the Lim family many times to offer support: "Benjamin Lim's family are my residents, but I asked the questions not just because of this.
"As a father myself, I felt for them. Just put yourself in their shoes and you will want information about your child's death, too."
The circumstances that led to Benjamin's death will be examined at a coroner's inquiry.
But because a coroner's inquiry takes months to happen, it will be "too long a time" for the family to go through without information, said Mr Ng.
"This is never an easy thing for any family to go through, so information is vital and can help them seek closure."
In the interim, information from Parliament may help answer some questions that the family has for the authorities, said Mr Ng.
Dr Tan Wu Meng, MP for Jurong GRC, who has a young daughter, told TNP: "When I heard of the case, I felt very sad and wanted to find out more to try to understand what happened."
He, too, wanted to know from Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam how the police guards the interests of children.
"There has been much public interest in what happened. I feel for the family of the deceased as well as the victim (of the molest allegation) and want to know more," said Dr Tan.
MPs told TNP that this was a good opportunity to address concerns over police and school protocols.
Mr Ang Wei Neng, MP for Jurong GRC, said: "For Benjamin's case, I do not quite see a need for police to arrest him during school hours. It is unlikely that Benjamin would abscond if he were to ask to go to the police station after his lessons.
"As for schools, MOE could consider asking a teacher to accompany the student to the police station or until the student's guardian has taken over the student."
He posed a question to Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng to clarify what the Ministry of Education's protocols are.
He said: "In the 1960s and 1970s, it was common sight to see the police going to school compounds to pick up accused for various crimes, including secret society activities.
"Such arrests serve as a warning to other students and discourage them from engaging in illegal activities.
"The times have changed. Today, secret society activities are very much under control.
"Students are very much less involved in serious crimes, save a few petty crimes. Many students are sheltered by their parents."
Workers' Party NCMP Dennis Tan said: "While matters are still ongoing, in many other countries, it is a standard practice for adults to be present when a minor is in police custody."
The shipping lawyer pointed out how in these countries, accused persons can also engage legal counsel to be with them during police interviews.
In an article published in the February issue of the Singapore Law Gazette, the Law Society of Singapore's president, senior counsel Thio Shen Yi, called for the "gold standard" of allowing early access to counsel.
This will address many of the concerns faced when dealing with young or vulnerable suspects, and help develop a fairer legal process, he said.
Parliament will sit today at noon.
Benjamin Lim's family are my residents, but I asked the questions not just because of this. As a father myself, I felt for them. Just put yourself in their shoes and you will want information about your child's death, too.
- Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng
WHAT BENJAMIN'S FAMILY WANTS TO KNOW
These are the issues that were raised during the three separate interviews The New Paper did with the family:
1 Why was it necessary to have five plainclothes policemen in two unmarked police vehicles visit Benjamin's school?
2 Why did the police take Benjamin away during recess time, rather than wait till after school?
3 Why didn't a teacher or the principal accompany Benjamin when he left with the police?
4 Why were Benjamin's parents not allowed to accompany him during the police investigation at Ang Mo Kio Division?
5 After his release, Benjamin had told his mother he felt fearful and cold during the police interview. What happened during the interview?
6 Why did Benjamin change his stance from an admission of guilt to the police, to later telling his mother at Yio Chu Kang MRT station that he did not do it?
7 Benjamin was eagerly looking forward to attending a Sec 3 Cohort Camp the next day. Why didn't the school allow him to attend the camp?
WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAY
On Jan 26, while in school, 14-year-old Benjamin Lim was taken into police custody.
He was accused of molesting an 11-year-old girl.
School staff took him to the principal's office, where he was first spoken to in the presence of a police officer, said a police statement.
His mother was notified and he was then taken to Ang Mo Kio Division in an unmarked vehicle to record his statement.
The teenager was unaccompanied by his parents until he was released to his mother on police bail.
The mother told The New Paper that her son admitted to the deed during a police interview.
She said he told her: "I did not do it, but since everyone thinks that I did it, then I did it."
They returned home, where Benjamin's mother received a call from a school counsellor saying that her son was advised not to attend a Sec 3 Cohort Camp scheduled for the next day.
Shortly after hearing this, Benjamin locked himself in his bedroom.
He fell out of his bedroom window of the family's 14th-storey Yishun flat.
Since his death, the police have said they are reviewing their procedures for interviewing young persons.
A coroner's inquiry will be held upon conclusion of the police investigations.