By: Yoong Siew Wah
Is it not an indictment of the PAP Government that it requires the tragic death of a promising 14-year-old Benjamin Lim to jolt it into making a review of the criminal investigation procedures to protect vulnerable teenagers like Benjamin Lim when they are hauled in by the benign police for interrogations?
The Benjamin Lim’s case elicited a lot of public interests and sympathies because of the manner in which the police handled his case. Until now it is not clear why the police had to send four burly policemen in plainclothes to haul a frail-looking 14-year-old student to the police station. And to add to his agony, the competent school principal had merrily neglected in his duty to provide an appropriate staff to accompany Benjamin Lim to the police station to ensure his well-being, at least psychologically.
What went on in the police station with Benjamin Lim at the mercy of the benign police officers could only be imagined.
The Coroner’s verdict in Benjamin’s case can be said to have left much to be desired. It is understandable as the Coroner had an unenviable task of arriving at a balanced verdict in view of the immense publicity on the case. To be fair, he can be said to have done a creditable job, only that he cannot be expected to please all.
The public just cannot understand how Benjamin Lim could have simply committed suicide if it had nothing to do with his traumatic experience at the hand of the benign police.
The Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam can be given credit for his commendable attempt at damage control. Although it had to be done after the tragic death of Benjamin Lim, it at least could have a salutary effect on the mind of anxious parents whose sons may fall foul of the law that they could at least have basic safeguards against ruthless interrogations of the benign police. Why it should be stipulated that the presence of Appropriate Adults is at the discretion of the police could be an unfortunate dampener in an otherwise consummate solution.
Whilst it is still early to assess any beneficial effect which could emanate from this review of criminal investigation procedures, it would very much dependent on the benign police giving inspirational spirit to the scheme because the delinquents are always at a disadvantage. Benjamin Lim’s father would have been a more happier man if his son had been able to be protected by this belated scheme and he may even still be horsing around.
In conclusion, it may be appropriate to quote this Chinese saying: It is not too late to repair the pen after the sheep have died (亡羊補牢，为時未晚). It especially applies to Minister K. Shanmugam’s attempt at damage control.
Report was first published in Mr Yoong’s blog ‘Singapore Recalcitrant’.
Mr. Yoong Siew Wah was the Director of Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) from 1971 to 1974. He was Director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in the 1960s, and had a distinguished career in the Singapore Special Branch in the 1950s.
The erudite Mr. Yoong, who is in his late eighties, keeps a blog called Singapore Recalcitrant.