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'Inner conflict' hours before death
State Coroner Marvin Bay yesterday ruled that 14-year-old Benjamin Lim's fall from height was suicide. He suggested refinements in dealing with such teens
Nothing suggested that Benjamin Lim, 14, was a suicide risk.
But State Coroner Marvin Bay found signs that pointed to the student "internalising a considerable degree of inner conflict" despite his seemingly calm demeanour hours before his death.
Delivering his findings in court yesterday, the Coroner said the student sported a "perplexed and troubled expression" when his mother first found out about the molest allegation over the phone - a sign that suggested her approval mattered to the 14-year-old.
Yet he chose to use his mobile devices instead of trying to confide his problems in his mother and sister - a "curiously ambivalent attitude" when facing the crisis of a criminal charge, said Coroner Bay.
This was one of the factors the Coroner pointed out when concluding that Benjamin's death was the likely result of a combination of factors at play.
On Jan 26, Benjamin, a North View Secondary student, fell to his death from the bedroom window of his Yishun flat.
Earlier that day, at about 10am, he had been taken to the principal's office and questioned by the police over a molest allegation.
Benjamin was then taken to a police station, where he later admitted he had deliberately touched an 11-year-old girl in a lift the day before. He was then arrested.
He was released on bail into his mother's custody at about 2.50pm, and they returned home.
At 4.36pm, Benjamin was found dead at the foot of his block.
In the hour prior to his death, the student chose to play games on his mobile phone instead of attempting to confide his problems in his mother and sister.
The molest, which Benjamin's parents had previously disputed, was confirmed by Coroner Bay yesterday.
After viewing the in-lift CCTV footage several times, he found that Benjamin did touch the girl momentarily, but added quickly that it was not a grasp or grope.
"The lift CCTV shows incontrovertibly that Master Lim had executed a deliberate touch after a rather clumsy attempt to mask his action by dropping his phone," he said.
The Coroner explained that while the molest was not the main purpose of the inquiry, it had to be revisited.
"Delving into this aspect is certainly not for any determination of guilt or innocence, but necessary to understand Master Lim's state of mind, specifically whether he might have been motivated by any apprehension of adverse consequences from events that transpired in the lift," he said.
The Coroner also found that police officers and school staff took active steps to handle the investigations sensitively, given Benjamin's age and status as a student. (See report, right.)
Benjamin's mother and sister, who were in court yesterday, declined comment.
Their lawyer Choo Zheng Xi said he will have to go through the Coroner's findings with Benjamin's mother, who is not conversant in English.