As the Minister for Law and Home Affairs, I think it’s fair to say most Singaporeans expected K. Shanmugam to defend the actions of the police yesterday. However, if it was Mr. Shanmugam's intention to cool things down, then I’m afraid his Ministerial Statement in Parliament is having the opposite effect.
This is what we know.
An 11-year old girl accused 14-year old Benjamin Lim of molest. The girl’s family made a police report. 5 police officers went to Benjamin’s school to pick him up. They interviewed him without his parents or a lawyer present for 3 and a half hours and then the boy was released. He was found dead hours later at the foot of his HDB block. Everyone, including the police, believes he jumped to his death.
Mr Shanmugam said that a Coroner's Inquiry will try to establish the cause of Benjamin's death and that the rules of Sub Judice generally preclude any discussions which may influence proceedings. I find this part of the statement very strange.
These are the facts. They are not in dispute. Whether you are defending the actions of the police or not, no one is doubting this chain of events. This was what happened. Saying there was no basis linking the death of Benjamin Lim to the way the police acted does not hold water because it is clear the boy jumped to his death due to him being picked up by the police.
Now the boy might be guilty. It's possible he jumped because of a guilty conscience, but to say his death is not linked to the actions of the police is just not correct. They clearly are.
However I think the biggest mistake Mr. Shanmugam made yesterday was in another part of his statement, Mr. Shanmugam said that when the police went to the school, they were unaware of Benjamin's identity. He also said that in most cases like Benjamin's, the person involved will be let off with a warning.
When I read this, I (like most Singaporeans) have to ask why it required 5 police officers to pick up 1 lone 14-year boy? I applauded the speed of the police but by the minister's own words, this is a minor case. Even if the police did not know who he was at that time, surely the police has better things to do than to send 5 officers to pick up 1 young teenager.
In many ways, that's the crux of the problem for Mr Shanmugam. The statement from the minister does not really help the case of the police. Legal or not, some of the actions of the police were very strange and I don’t think the Parliamentary Statement yesterday was helpful at all to them. I’m not the only one. Almost no one I spoke to who knew about the case thinks so either.
Coroner's Inquiry or not, I think Mr. Shanmugam need to step up and give a proper statement to the Singapore public. His Ministerial Statement in Parliament is doing more harm and good, and he need to step up to defuse the situation he just helped inflamed yesterday. Cooling things down is in everyone's interest.