March 23, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

NOW, here’s the thing. You can expect a stiff response to a civil society activist who complains about being incarcerated. But you don’t expect the same response to a 74-year old woman who lives alone.

It seems that Police and Prisons Department believe in meting out the same treatment to everyone, regardless of age or type of crime. The sanctity of their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is critical. Officers should leave their brains behind and refer to the book.

So Madam Gertrude Simon wrote to the ST Forum Page to say that elderly people should be treated better by the police and recounted what her mother went through over the weekend of March 4. Madam Josephine Savarimuthu went to Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre to presumably report a missing pawn ticket. That is, she went to seek help.

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Because we are a smart nation, the police officer could immediately see that there was an outstanding warrant of arrest for her in 2016 for a town council-related matter. She was taken, handcuffed her daughter claimed, to Ang Mo Kio police station and then to the State Courts and then to Changi Women’s Prison.

What did the agencies say? They made an issue of her declining to contact anyone, not even for someone to bail her out. “If she had accepted the bail offer, she would have been released that day, and attended court another day,” it added.

In other words, it was her fault. She need not have spent time in jail; she chose to.

Obviously, police officers are not very good at dealing with old people who can become flustered and forgetful when they are stressed. Then you have to reckon with this stubborn streak that they have about not “bothering’’ their children; that they are able to take care of themselves.

You would have thought some officer would have the initiative to ask to see her belongings to find traces of her next-of-kin, or go down to the house, which must be in the neighbourhood, to gather some clues. This, presumably, would not be SOP. And of course, the police don’t want to seen as favouring someone with (gasp!) an outstanding warrant of arrest.

The agencies, probably in anticipation of arguments that the old lady was traumatised, made it clear that she “did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody.” At the same time though, they also said that she was restrained at the hands and legs as part of Prison’s SOP, “which include preventing persons in custody from harming themselves.” But she wasn’t traumatised, was she? So why would she harm herself? Ahhh….that SOP again.

The saving grace was that the old lady was put in a medical ward and given her medicines. She stayed the weekend at the G’s expense. When her daughter finally knew what happen, she tried to see her mother on Sunday but couldn’t because it wasn’t visitation day. I don’t know about you, but if it was my mother, I would have barged through the prison gates and raised an almighty stink. Hey, this is an elderly person we are talking about, not an able-bodied pai kia.

MP Louis Ng would probably have cited this as an example of the public service without a heart. Should rules and SOPs be adhered to strictly even though a little empathy and common sense would serve better? It boggles the mind that the police could have forgotten that their strict adherence to SOPs was a factor that accounted for their late response to the Little India riot in December 2013.

Consider also what her summons was about. According to the old lady, it involved the wrongful placement of potted plants outside her flat, which amounted to an offence involving a $400 fine. Hardly a hardened criminal.

The agencies’ response is really, to put it bluntly, horrible. If the purpose was to maintain an image of immoveability because of a “duty to uphold the law”, it succeeded.

I wish the response would have been this instead:

We learnt with much regret what Madam Josephine Savarimuthu had to go through over the weekend when she was remanded at Changi. In hindsight, we could have done more to track down her next-of-kin and spared her the ordeal of incarceration. Law enforcement officers must uphold the law but they should also be sensitive in their one-on-one dealings with members of the public. While abiding by SOPs is important, this does not mean that no discretion is afforded to officers handling individual cases.

We will be looking for her missing pawn ticket.
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Read part 1 here.
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Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

IS IT too far-fetched to say that it took the death of a 14-year-old for a whole community to move? Probably not, since a new scheme to have adults accompany minors who get into trouble with the law seems to have been the direct, and most tangible, result of the suicide of Benjamin Lim.

Remember him? He was interviewed by police for allegedly molesting a girl, went home and jumped out of his window. He was subject of a debate in Parliament last March and a coroner’s inquiry into his death was held in August. You can read more about the case from the links below.

His death had raised questions of whether young people know enough of their rights or are emotionally geared for unwanted police attention, however nice the men and women in blue are.

So now, after a multi-agency review of police procedures, we have the Appropriate Adults Scheme for Young Suspects, to be rolled out from April, with an initial 100 volunteers. This means that if your kid, aged below 16, gets arrested by the police, chances are there will be an adult with him or her when he or she is being interviewed by the police.

Is it too far-fetched to say that it took the death of a 14-year-old for a whole community to move?

And in case you’ve been weaned on too many American cops-and-robbers television shows, no, you, the parent, cannot be the “appropriate” adult. That makes the Singapore scheme somewhat different from that in Britain where “familiar” faces such as parents and guardians can be the “appropriate adult”.

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The reason, according to officials at a briefing today, is because you, the parent, wouldn’t be a neutral party to police proceedings; you’ll probably end up overly-protecting your kid or threatening him with even more trouble at home. It has to be a stranger, trained to spot signs of emotional distress in kids when they run up against the law.

And don’t start thinking that you can talk to the adult after Ah Boy or Ah Girl is done with the cops to find out what happened. There’s the investigating officer for that.

Parents may wish to be there for their kids, but it’s still comforting that another adult, possibly a parent too, is holding Ah Boy’s hand. In any case, parents were never allowed at police interviews in the past. This should therefore count as an improvement.

Now, this is quite a massive project given that more than 7,000 young suspects were arrested between 2011 and 2015, or about four or five students a day. Adults on the scheme have to be on 24/7 standby and can be activated at any time. Singapore already has some experience, because a similar scheme for those with mental disabilities started in 2015. Administered by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled, it has 240 volunteers so far.

The social service organisation has yet to be picked for the job, but the training regime is likely to be similar albeit geared to deal with the sensitivities of young people.

Would having the scheme in place have made a difference to Benjamin? According to the coroner, the conduct of both police and school staff were “commendable“. Coroner Marvin Bay didn’t go so far as to recommend such a scheme, but made suggestions on improving the communications between the young people and the police, like telling them exactly what sort of trouble they are in.

 

Not a liaison

What would the AA’s relationship be with the young people’s kin?

Benjamin’s parents went public about their distress at what they saw as unsympathetic treatment from the police and the school. Can the appropriate adult be the liaison between parents and officialdom?

That’s not the role, officials at a briefing today said. The end of the police interview marks the end of the AA’s job. And if there is another interview, another adult would be in place. So it’s more about being a calming presence for the young person during an important part of police procedures.

Officials wouldn’t give the breakdown of the 7,000 juvenile arrests by year, so we have no clue if the numbers are rising or falling and how many more “adults” would be needed. What was more assuring was the 15 per cent figure on the proportion of such young people who were actually charged in court.

It seems that for the most part, young people are let off with a ticking off or some kind of rehabilitation activity.

Some people may think this is mollycoddling the kids, or an acknowledgement of a lack of trust in police conduct and procedures. Maybe after two interviews, appropriate adults will even consider it time-wasting. After all, young people get up to all sorts of things.

Would having such an adult with Benjamin during the police interview be helpful? No one knows what went through his mind on the day of the suicide. But as a community, we can at least say we did the best we can.

So here’s the contact if you want to sign up: aays@ncss.gov.sg.

 

Read our articles to find out more about Benjamin Lim’s case:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

SO THERE we were, Daniel and I, at Clementi Police Division at 10 minutes to 3pm today, exchanging our pink ICs for visitor passes strung on some really smelly red lanyards which seemed to have been infused with the perspiration of a hundred people.

Disdaining to drape the lanyard round his neck, Daniel held his pass in hand, never mind signs that said we should wear them. Me? I was very law-abiding. I switched the lanyard for another I had with me, and wore it with the pass. I seriously swear that our trip to the police to receive a “stern warning” will forever be marked by the smell of those lanyards.

Anyway, we were told to wait in the lobby, like errant students hauled up to meet the school’s principal. Except that the room we were ushered into was extremely small with just two chairs and a table. Poor Daniel had to stand. Then the chief investigation officer told us that we would be administered “a stern warning in lieu of prosecution”. He looked the part – very stern-looking and all that.

The offence was for “publishing the results of an election survey during the prescribed blackout period”. To be more specific, this referred to the campaign period of the Bukit Batok by-election from April 27 to May 5. To the unaware, this is not about Cooling Off Day, which disallows any commentary on any platform. This is about how, according to the Parliamentary Elections Act, you cannot publish a survey of voters once a writ of election has been issued. You can read what happened here, here, and here.

After interviewing nine of us in TMG, the police decided that the key culprits were editor and publisher – which is as it should be. It would have been terrible to think that any of our interns or young people would have further dealings with law enforcement over this matter when they were simply following orders. There was another notice that was administered to the company, which Daniel signed.

Then we each signed off on our individual one-page Notice of Warning while Daniel signed another administered to the company.

In a small and hopefully deferential voice, I asked if this would mean any kind of record for us. (Actually I already know the answer, but much better to get it confirmed.) I was assured that it wasn’t a criminal record, but one for the police books because, as the warning letter says “if you commit any offence in future, the same leniency may not be shown towards you”.

We’re glad that this is over, because it hasn’t been very comfortable putting “Yes” in application forms which asked if you were currently under any kind of police investigation.

Before you ask, yes, it was very civilised and amicable and our experience with the police has not in any way been like that of other commentators in similar circumstances.

They treated us nice. We treated them nice. It was all very nicely done indeed. Now we have to decide whether to file or frame the Notice.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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REUTERS

At least two police officers were shot in Texas on Thursday during a protest against police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, KDFW TV in Dallas reported.

The condition of the officers was not known, the station said.

Soon after, CNN reported that at least three Dallas transit officers had also been shot during the demonstration.

Some reports later put the number of police casualties at up to nine.

Broadcaster KABC reported that shots were fired during demonstrations at Belo Garden Park in Dallas.

Footage shows protesters walking and chanting and then suddenly turning and running back towards the cameraman.

The cameraman starts to run in the direction of where police sirens appear to be heading, then several loud booms are heard.

The reported shootings come amid protests across the U.S. over the killing by police officers of two black men in as many days in separate incidents.

 

Featured image and video by REUTERS.

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by Cindy Co

THE roads are a little safer today: the Camry driver of viral video infamy has finally been arrested. The outpouring of outrage at the errant driver started on June 15 with a video posted online by Roads.sg on Facebook, showing the car – a silver Toyota Camry SKA1713J (and who dares to buy/drive that car now?) – knocking down a motorcyclist and his pillion rider on the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) and then speeding off.

The video was cut together with footage of the same car driving recklessly in two other incidents as far back as 2014. The online outrage saw the video gaining 183,036 views, with most comments expressing their frustration with reckless drivers and the perceived incapability of the traffic police to do anything.

 

 

The driver, Mr Muhammad Fazly, 29, and his pillion rider, Ms Siti Farina, 27, escaped mostly unscathed, although Mr Fazly had injured his right leg in the fall, while Ms Farina sustained injuries to her arm. Mr Fazly’s motorcycle, however, was badly damaged as a result of the accident. Mr Fazly was given a week of medical leave to allow him to recuperate.

Although the driver had previously been described as a 40-year-old, police said that they had arrested a 63-year-old man last Friday, June 17, for committing a rash act causing hurt. Four eyewitnesses to the incident have come forward to testify.

Reports of the driver’s arrest had been circulating since June 17 when the car was photographed by a member of the public, a Mr Ezuwan Husaini at 10 Ubi Avenue 3, parked inside the compound of the Traffic Police Headquarters.The photograph was posted on Facebook and shared widely, with comments noting that it is very unusual for a car to be parked inside the compound, even for an investigation.

 

 

Speaking on the aftermath of the incident, Mr Fazly said: “This kind of driver should not be allowed on the road – he appears to have an attitude problem.”

 

Feature image from Roads.sg.

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by Wan Ting Koh

FIRST, look at his or her warrant card. These cards, carried around by real police officers, should have features which prove their authenticity, including a police crest, a photo of the officer, name and NRIC number.
On the right side of the card, you’ll also see a vertical row of five holographic police crests, and for further verification, tilt the card at the angle to see whether the holographic word “POLICE” shows up beneath the officer’s photo.
The new Singapore Police Force warrant card will be used from March 1 this year. Photo taken from SPF Facebook page.
The new Singapore Police Force warrant card will be used from March 1 this year. Photo taken from SPF Facebook page.

 

And if all this still doesn’t reassure you, dial 999 for assistance.

This friendly tip was issued yesterday (June 7) after the police arrested yet another person posing as an officer to molest someone.

A 38-year-old man had posed as a police officer to molest a woman along Tanglin Halt Road on Sunday around 10.30pm, the police said. He was caught a day later at Redhill Close.

It’s not the first time someone has tried to get away with murder molest by pretending to be a policeman. Just a few weeks ago, the court heard the case of a secondary school student who said she was raped in 2013 by a former pizza delivery man impersonating a police officer.

Muhammad Firman Jumali Chew, is on trial for raping the 16-year-old girl after seeing her being intimate with her same-age boyfriend at a stairwell at Block 362, Woodlands Avenue 5.

The 30-year-old approached the couple and identified himself as a policeman. He then sent the boyfriend away, and took the girl to the nearby Block 359, where he allegedly raped her.

The victim, then a secondary three Singaporean student, later filed a police report.

Posing as police officers in order to commit crimes is not something new, of course. In fact, impostors go to great lengths to pass as police officers – and not just for sex. They do so to rob, extort money, or simply to gain access to resources they want.

In May 2014, for example, a 39-year-old posed as a police officer in order to get the contact details of prostitutes in Geylang whom he wanted to call for cheap sex at a later date. Pest control officer Yusri Abdul Wahab even disguised himself as a police officer by wearing a black polo tee with the word “Police” on it, and using a homemade police pass to further bolster his claim.

He was jailed four months for the offence.

Last year, three out of a gang of five were convicted of impersonating police officers in order to conduct a false raid on traders whom they planned to rob. While the other two members acted as lookouts, music teacher Magesan Ramasamy, 36, and Mohamed Faizal Ajmalhan, 32, and taxi driver Mohammad Ansari Abdul Hussain, 36, forced their way into the rooms of three businessmen, who were Indian nationals, in Dunlop Street on Sept 10, 2012.

The trio demanded for their victims’ passports, then restrained them with flexi-cuffs, and ordered them to sit or kneel. They then robbed the men of $1.27 million. For their crimes, Ramasamy got 10 years and six months’ jail while Faizal received a jail sentence of 10 years and four months. Ansari was sentenced to eight years’ jail and ordered to receive 12 strokes of the cane.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana. 

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Opportunism
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Tan Chu Chze

MAY the winds be in your favour: May they blow when your laundry is wet, when the afternoons need cooling, in the direction that flows through your windows, and parts your hair stylishly. As long as you don’t break wind.

Winds play an important role in our understanding of fortune. Seemingly unpredictable and uncontrollable, we feel lucky to have winds blow the way we want them to. Sailors of the past understood this very well, since ships depended on winds to propel them. This is why Latin speakers of the past had the phrase ‘ob portum veniens‘. It means “towards the harbour”, describing a situation which worked very much in their favour.

Hundreds of years later, we retain ‘ob portum veniens‘ in the English language – only in a shorter form. It is now the word ‘opportune’. The noun form, ‘opportunity’, is our go-to to describe a favourable situation.

In that perspective, ‘opportunities’ seem like a good thing to have. However, taking opportunities isn’t always seen positively. When you change ‘opportunity’ to ‘opportunism’, it becomes an ugly behaviour. How is it that the practice or behaviour of taking opportunities is considered undesirable?

The past week or so has been rampant with cases of ‘opportunism’ – specifically legal opportunism – reported in the media. And by rampant, I mean a total of two cases. That’s a lot considering that MSM has no apparent record of legal opportunism prior to this. Even if there had been cases before, legal opportunism was clearly not an issue often talked about.

So the first was the Kho Jabing case. Despite being quite drawn out, the case had quite the fiery closure. Kho’s lawyers Gino Hardial Singh, Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss and Alfred Dodwell fought hard to save Kho from the death penalty, and took every opportunity to do so.

Unfortunately, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) saw their actions as taking advantage of legal appeals to delay Kho’s execution. While Kho’s lawyers argued that they were only doing their best to serve their client, the AGC maintained that it was at the cost of abusing legal processes for motivations the procedures were not designed for.

A similar situation goes for Roy Ngerng and Teo Soh Lung. Both Teo and Ngerng are being investigated for publishing articles on the recent Bukit Batok By-Election on Cooling-Off Day. You can read our report here.

However, the tables have been turned. This time, it is the police force who are seen as overstepping the requirements of their investigation, particularly with the confiscation of the two people’s computers and mobile phones. The group, Function 8, has gone as far as to describe the police’s fervour as – you guessed it – legal opportunism.

What is clear from these cases is that opportunities remain a positive thing for the people taking them. In Kho’s case, it is his lawyers, while in the case of Teo and Ngerng, the police. However, what makes opportunities ‘opportunism’ is when there are negative consequences, like when the intentions of legal appeals, confiscation policies, and powers of search are undermined.

Perhaps what best defines ‘opportunism’ is that it is not considered illegal or even malpractice (we covered “malpractice” here). There simply isn’t much basis to determine if it’s wrong or unethical. At least not clearly so. It just happens that the outcomes of taking some opportunities can sometimes really piss some people off enough for them to call it ‘opportunism’.

Then, ‘opportunism’ is just a vague and windy way of saying: “I don’t like what you’re doing.”

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Hamzah Omar Yaacob

HOW should a school handle cases that involve the police speaking to students at the school? This has been a central question throughout the controversial death of 14-year-old Benjamin Lim, coming up again over the past two days in the Coroner’s Inquiry that began on Tuesday. The coroner isn’t supposed to establish guilt or innocence on anyone’s part, but to ascertain how Benjamin died. Parents, nonetheless, would be keeping a keen eye on how schools discharge their duty of care to students.

Earlier this year, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng gave some insight into what schools are supposed to do. Here’s a link to the eight-step guidelines he raised in Parliament in March this year. Over the past two days, North View Secondary School’s principal Mr Chen Fook Pang and school counsellor Madam Karry Lung have given their sides of the story. How did their actions measure up against the guidelines?

Guideline 1. School staff will be discreet when bringing the student to meet with the police.

What the school did: The discipline mistress, Ms Steff Chan found Benjamin in the school canteen and took him to the principal’s office. In opening statements from the Attorney-General’s Chamber on Tuesday, she found him alone having a bun and a drink, and was sure that no students were around at the time.

The plainclothes policemen, who had been directed to wait in the school canteen, saw Ms Chan approach Benjamin. Under questioning by Benjamin’s family’s lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, Inspector Poh Wee Teck told the court that the policemen made no contact with him then.

About this point: Much has been made about the way Benjamin was told about police wanting to speak to him. Some points have already been clarified earlier, such as how the five policemen were in plain-clothes and were in unmarked cars. But there were still questions about whether his schoolmates knew about what was happening. A parent had told The Online Citizen (TOC) that it was well known that someone was in trouble. Benjamin’s father had complained about how his son was not allowed to finish his food in the canteen before being brought to the principal’s office. The sudden presence of Ms Chan in the canteen also suggested the school could have been more discreet, he said.

Guideline 2. School leaders will ascertain the student’s physical and emotional well-being before the police are allowed to interview the student.

What the school did: Mr Chen told the court on Tuesday that he requested to speak to Benjamin privately before the police questioned Benjamin. It’s unclear whether they had discussed his state of physical and emotional well-being. School counsellor Madam Lung was not present at this time, and was only called in later once the interview had started.

Madam Lung was asked by Mr Choo if she knew of Benjamin’s primary school records, which had indicated he had suffered from an emotional disorder and went through counselling. She replied that she had never counselled Benjamin before and was not aware of his prior records. She said: “I could clearly remember that two years ago, when he was in Secondary 1, his name was not on the list of students I was supposed to follow-up [with].” This was because his case in primary school had been closed, as she later found out when checking his records, she told the court. 

She also said that her primary responsibility during the interview was to “assist investigations” and “observe his emotions”. The school will form a case management team or “care team” during incidents like Benjamin’s, consisting of various school leaders, added Madam Lung. But this did not happen in Benjamin’s case – possibly because of the short notice the school had once the police arrived. However, Madam Lung told the court she had a meeting with heads of department to discuss “how the child is doing” sometime after the interview.

About this point: Was Benjamin shocked at the police approach or was he emotionally stable enough to go through a police interview? Madam Lung told the court yesterday that she felt Benjamin had exhibited a “certain degree of stress” during the interview, whereas on Tuesday she had said Benjamin appeared to be fine.

The question of Benjamin’s state of physical and emotional well-being is part of a larger discussion about whether Appropriate Adults should be in the room in order to protect the young person’s rights when they are interviewed by the police. Benjamin’s mother had asked if she could see her son while he was still at the school, but was told no. By the time she saw him at the police station, the police had already finished interviewing him.

Madam Lung said she had never been asked to attend police interviews at the station in her experience as a counsellor, in response to questions from Mr Choo. (P.S. Mr Ng said in Parliament said that these guidelines were being reviewed, in particular, whether school staff or Appropriate Adults should be present when minors are interviewed by the police.) 

Guideline 3. School leaders will request to be present and that the number of police officers kept to a minimum during the interview.

What the school did: Principal Chen asked for just one policeman to question Benjamin before school staff. On Tuesday, he told the court that he thought five policemen were too many, and added that he thought he was “pushing [his] luck a bit further” when he requested that school staff sit in.

In the end, only Inspector Poh spoke to Benjamin, in front of four school staff, including Mr Chen and Madam Lung. The school staff remained in the room when Benjamin called his mother to inform her that he had to be brought to Ang Mo Kio Police Division. Mr Choo asked Madam Lung if she had at any point intervened to suggest that Benjamin speak to his mother on the phone privately. Madam Lung said no.

About this point: Again it had to do with whether Benjamin had enough support from the school or was overwhelmed or intimidated by the presence of policemen.

Guideline 4. The school should request the police to inform the student’s parents that the student is required to go to the police station for further questioning, inform them of the situation, and the location of the police station.

What the school did: Inspector Poh said that Principal Chen requested Benjamin to call his mother. It appears that Inspector Poh contacted her first, as he told the court that he had passed the phone to Benjamin after his mother had requested to speak to him. During his conversation with her, Inspector Poh said that he had to bring her son to Ang Mo Kio Police Division to investigate a suspected outrage of modesty case, and that the police station was near Yio Chu Kang MRT. He also told the court that he noticed Benjamin was holding the phone “very tightly”.  

About this point: It has to do with whether the parents were kept in the loop about what was happening. Benjamin’s mother told TOC that the call with her son had been abruptly ended before she could finish. According to Madam Lung on Tuesday, she had signalled to Benjamin to end the call after hearing a loud voice on the line. Benjamin subsequently hung up.

In court yesterday, this point took on another angle. Madam Lung had said that Benjamin showed signs of stress while talking to his mother, which became a point of contention with Mr Choo. He said that it would be “upsetting” to Benjamin’s parents if she attributed his stress to the conversation. Madam Lung responded that she could not hear what his mother was saying.

 

 

Guideline 5. The school will ensure the student has something to eat before leaving for the police station, and will request that the student leaves in a discreet manner without being handcuffed. 

What the school did: Benjamin was allowed to finish the bun and the drink he had earlier bought from the canteen, said Inspector Poh. Benjamin also left with three plainclothes police officers in an unmarked car, and was not handcuffed. There were no student or staff members around to see him leave with the officers. Whether the school had requested this remains unclear.

About this point: It relates to whether the school had been callous in its treatment of Benjamin. Benjamin’s father expressed disappointment that his son was not allowed to finish a cold bun and drink in the canteen prior to attending the interview in the principal’s office. He only finished his food afterwards before being brought to Ang Mo Kio Police Division. 

Guideline 6. After the student is released from the police, the school will keep in contact with the students’ parents to render support, and to work out any follow-up steps to look after the well-being of the student.

What the school did: Madam Lung told the court that she called Benjamin’s mother after he had been released, to find out if he was “okay”. She then brought up a school camp which Benjamin was to attend a few days later, and suggested that he remain at home. The whole call lasted “two to four minutes”.  

What the parents said: Mr Choo said that  the school called to inform the family of its decision for Benjamin not to attend the camp and participate in E-learning.

About this point: Madam Lung said she raised the camp only as a “suggestion” that Benjamin stay at home, whereas Benjamin’s parents say the decision was already set in stone. It was quite shortly after this phone call that Benjamin fell to his death from his bedroom window on Jan 26.

There are two other guidelines which are not applicable here, given Benjamin’s death: That the school monitor the student once he or she returns from the police, and will keep the case confidential while investigations are ongoing.

Through the entire episode, was Benjamin aware of the consequences for admitting to molesting the 11 year-old schoolgirl on Jan 25? Senior Investigation Officer (SIO) Mohammad Fareed Rahmat who had interviewed Benjamin at the police station told the court yesterday that he “usually explains to the parents” the consequences for cases involving youth. He said on the stand that it would have been a warning, probation or a court hearing in Benjamin’s case. Because Benjamin’s mother preferred to speak in Mandarin, he asked another officer to attend to her and assumed he would explain, he said.

The inquiry was adjourned at the this point. The parties are to meet again on June 8. It would be interesting to have the mother on the stand to hear her side of the story. So far, the witnesses are from the school and police. Perhaps, that will happen next month.

 

Read our articles to find out more about Benjamin Lim’s case:

Featured Image by Natassya Diana. 

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by Bertha Henson

SO IT’S finally happening. The coroner’s inquiry into the death of Benjamin Lim, 14, the schoolboy who jumped to his death on the same day he was questioned by police in January, has started.

Now recall that the G had been stingy with information when questions were raised about whether the police interview had anything to do with his death. (In court parlance, it was an “unnatural death” and the cause to be decided by the coroner). The reason for the paucity of info was that nothing should be said that would pre-judge the findings of the coroner or this could be construed as contempt of court.

So what do we know from today? Or, rather what were the key questions that people had that investigators can now answer?

It’s no point asking if Benjamin was guilty of a crime; he was questioned for allegedly molesting an 11 year old girl in a lift. Establishing his guilt or innocence is not the point of a coroner’s case – he has to establish the how, when and where Benjamin died, at least that’s what State Counsel Wong Woon Kwong said.

In Parliament on 1 March this year, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had sketched out the police action from the time they went to Benjamin’s school, North View Secondary, to investigate a report made about an alleged molest by a student wearing the school’s PE attire up until when he left the police station with his family for home.

The coroner heard the same version: Five plain clothes policemen. Two unmarked cars. The boy questioned by one officer in front of school staff. He called home, spoke to his mother and was driven to Ang Mo Kio police division where he was questioned by one officer in an open-plan office. His mother and sister picked him up to go home.

Some light was shed, however, on the school’s end.

School staff viewing CCTV footage identified Benjamin because he was the only student who wore red-rimmed spectacles. Discipline mistress Steff Chan Su Qin who had taught him in Sec 1 found him in the school canteen and told him he was needed in the principal’s office. Benjamin was alone at the time. Principal Chen Fook Pang, who was questioned today, said he had suggested to the police officers that only one officer speak to the student instead of five, and to do so in front of school staff, who included counsellor Karry Lung. He also said he would speak to Benjamin privately first.

There was some discussion about the phone call he made to his mother before going to the police station. While he had remained calm before, the State Counsel said he showed “visible signs of stress as his mother spoke very loudly to him”.

Mr Chen agreed: “At this point, I could hear Benjamin’s mother speaking very loudly, even though the phone was not on speaker mode.” Madam Lung said he started frowning and his replies became softer. She signalled to him that the conversation should end.

Now, who ended the call? The school said it was Benjamin.

There is no dispute that Benjamin and the girl were in the lift together and that Benjamin had touched the back of her left thigh. Initially, while at the school, Benjamin said he had dropped his phone and might have accidentally touched her when he was picking it up. At the police station, he said he had deliberately dropped his phone so that he could touch her.

He told his mother a different story – that he didn’t know what happened. When his mother asked why he admitted to the molest, he gave the strange answer that “people said he did it, then he did it”. Note though this is the State’s version of events. The mother has yet to take the stand.

Today, his father, after viewing the CCTV footage privately, disputed that molest even took place. Mr Choo Zheng Xi, who is counsel for Benjamin’s family said the father was of the view that there was “no bodily contact” between Benjamin and the girl, just a “brush at the area of the girl’s skirt”.

Now, if you’re looking for answers which belong to the “why” category, like whether Benjamin killed himself because he was remorseful, or terrified of the police or his mother’s scoldings, you’ll be disappointed. Benjamin didn’t leave a suicide note nor anything on his phone to express his feelings. He merely removed a table fan from a desk in front of his  bedroom window and fell 14 floors to his death.

In fact, he behaved as usual after he returned home with his mother and sister from the police station. He had lunch and played with his mobile phone at the dining table. Then came this point of contention: a phone call from the school at 4.13 pm which the mother picked up.

The school’s version: School counsellor Karry Lung suggested that the family kept him company instead of sending him to the three-day school camp at Labrador Outdoor Learning Adventure Centre. She suggested that “the camp would not be that comfortable” and Benjamin ” might not eat or sleep well”.  Benjamin’s mother agreed. Ms Lung then gave a record of the conversation in an email to principal Mr Chen.

The mother’s version: Ms Lung told her that after a meeting with the principal, the school had decided not to let Benjamin attend the school camp and wanted him to stay at home to do e-learning instead. The mother said as much to the first responders who reached the home that day.

Another point of contention arose during the hearing: Whether the family and the school had talked about the camp earlier in the day, when the mother and sister rushed to the school upon hearing that Benjamin had been questioned by police. Ms Lung and Ms Chan said yes, but the mother and sister said they had no recollection.

So, some facts, a few versions and some indirect fingering of blame. Seriously, the newest fact is really this: Benjamin was seen at the Child Guidance Clinic when he was seven years old and provisionally diagnosed with “emotional disorder of childhood”. He attended counselling sessions in his primary school until 2011. It seems he would scratch himself when he was angry or upset.

Now what does that have to do with the price of fish, we’re not told yet. The hearing continues tomorrow.

 

Read our articles to find out more about Benjamin Lim’s case:

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Black clock showing 8.30.

GOOD morning! Let’s go travelling! On both public and private transport!

First, if you’re not going anywhere and merely sitting in your car with the engine running and enjoying the air-con, remember you can get fined. What? You didn’t know? Bet you also didn’t know that the fine is going up from $70 to $100 from June and if you don’t pay up, the court can impose a fine of up to $5,000. How come? You’re arguing that you’re just waiting to pick up someone and not impeding traffic? It’s to save the environment, you nitwit! It’s a lesson that has been taught to 1,489 motorists who were fined in the first three months of this year.

Second, if you’re taking a taxi, remember to pay your fare and not run away. That’s because paying the fare will be cheaper than the fine you have to pay if you get caught. It’s going up from $100 to $200 from May 9 for first time offenders, and repeat dodgers will be fined $400, twice the amount now. Oh, and you still have to pay the fare. Last year, there were 240 cases of fare evasion, said the Public Transport Council.

Third, if you are more used to taking the bus, watch out for some new-look buses on the road from the end of May run by Tower Transit. It will roll out 26 bus services which will operate from Bukit Batok, Clementi, and Jurong East interchanges, terminating at Bedok, Marina Centre, Shenton Way, and Toa Payoh.

Okay, so you’re more of a train person. Well, the contracts to build the Amber and Bedok South MRT stations have been awarded. But don’t think about being able to hop on the east coast stretch of the Thomson-East Coast line till about 2024. You might also want to know that SMRT raked in a 20 per cent increase in profits which reached $109.3 million for the year ended March 31. Hold your horses! This is mainly from its non-rail business. Then again, maybe that’s why talks on getting the G to take over rail assets and giving out operating licences in the proposed rail financing scheme seem to be dragging. According to ST, the sticking point is the rental of retail space in train stations and advertising revenue on trains – they account for three-quarters of its operating profit. So how should the rail financing framework be structured to take these fat margins into account? And would SMRT still be able to see such good profits?

And finally, don’t be taken aback by some specially-uniformed and heavily-armed men you see patrolling public places. There’re part of the G’s move to harden up security here to ward off any terrorist attacks.

We were thinking of taking you to Bukit Batok and stopping there for a while to see the sights, but according to TODAY’s interview with 80 residents, even the local inhabitants don’t think much about the road shows by the People’s Action Party and the Singapore Democratic Party.  But in case you want to know what’s on offer, we’ll give you a short report later.

Have a good Saturday, the start of the May Day weekend! Whoopee!

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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