The individual police officers involved in the Benjamin Lim case “carried out their duties faithfully and properly, in accordance with the rules”, said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 1), adding that there is nothing so far to suggest that Benjamin was mistreated by the police.
“At this stage, we cannot say, that the interview was the specific reason for the suicide”, said Mr Shanmugam, referring to the Jan 26 incident in which a 14-year old student was found dead after he was questioned over a molest allegation.
He told Parliament that a review of the protocol for police interviews of young people is being carried out following the case. But based on the facts given to him, Mr Shanmugam told Parliament that he believes the police officers on the case had acted according to the current protocol for interviewing young persons.
THE CURRENT PROTOCOL
Under current processes in place, the police aims to interview and release young persons to their parents as quickly as possible. In Benjamin’s case, Mr Shanmugam said he was released to his mother within four hours of being brought to the police station.
Where suitable, the young person will be placed on programmes to help them. These programmes, such as the Guidance Programme, focus on diversionary supervision and counselling. The police will also keep the school updated on the progress of the case, allowing the school to monitor, and support the student.
He added that the police's approach to infringements involving young people is generally to avoid criminalising the conduct. "It is better to give the young accused a second chance, and help in rehabilitation," he said.
He added that Benjamin was unlikely to have been charged in court based on what the investigators had found.
"Police would have taken into account his age, the fact this is the first time. And while all molests are taken seriously, the nature of the alleged molest would have to be considered," said the Law and Home Affairs Minister.
"It is likely that on the evidence available to us, Benjamin would have received no more than a warning."
REVIEWING THE PROTOCOL
“If there are issues with the protocols, the responsibility is mine,” said Mr Shanmugam, adding that a review of the protocol has since been initiated. “Let’s not attack the police officers - who cannot defend themselves. They are doing their job, every day, in difficult circumstances.”
Some suggestions that are being studied include video recording of interviews for minors, and extending the Appropriate Adult scheme to all young persons being interviewed.
The Appropriate Adult scheme is intended to provide assistance to suspects with mental and intellectual disabilities when they are required to give statements to the police.
According to Mr Shanmugam, the review will take into account three broad points: The experience in the Benjamin Lim case; the types of young persons who are picked up; and reducing systemic risk.
ADDRESSING MPs’ QUESTIONS
Mr Shanmugam also addressed questions MPs had raised – such as the need for the police to take Benjamin out of school, instead of waiting until he got home.
He said that the police are expected to move in quickly to investigate when an incident happens, sometimes without much information on the accused and his history.
“If the police wait, and he molests someone else in the meantime, then the question would be: Why did the police not move in faster?" said Mr Shanmugam. "What do you think public’s attitude will be if it was a victim who had committed suicide? A victim of the molest? The police would be expected to have moved quickly."
Mr Shanmugam said he saw the need to speak up before the Coroner’s Inquiry was concluded to clear up assertions which call into question the integrity of the police force. He also appealed for others to avoid hasty conclusions and knee-jerk reactions.
“Suicide often involves a very complex set of factors. One has to look at the facts carefully, consult experts, to try and get an assessment as to what happened,” he said. “The police will also consult psychologists, other relevant experts.”