SINGAPORE – The father of a 31-year-old debater who took his own life after allegations of sexual misconduct against him were made public has sued the Debate Association (Singapore), claiming that its “wrongful” actions caused the death of his son.
Mr Lucas Li, a prominent member of the debate community, fell to his death on Aug 8, 2018, a day after the association announced in a statement that he was “permanently banned” from its events on the basis of inappropriate behaviour.
His father, Mr Lawrence Li, 67, is now seeking unspecified damages for the mental distress suffered by his son, as well as bereavement and the loss of dependency for himself and his wife.
The couple were financially supported by Mr Lucas Li, a government scholar who was working at Enterprise Singapore at the time.
A seven-day trial opened in the High Court on Tuesday to hear Mr Lawrence Li’s claims that the association had acted negligently and that its actions constituted a breach of contract.
The association said it should not be held liable for the suicide, and that its actions were justified, given the severity of the allegations.
In his suit, Mr Lawrence Li contended that his son succumbed to depression after the association’s executive committee, or Exco, posted a statement on its website and on Facebook on Aug 7, 2018.
The statement said an independent audit had been conducted of a training programme for young debaters, the Debate Development Initiative (DDI), because allegations had been made “by members of the debate community about inappropriate behaviour by a former DDI director”.
The statement did not name Mr Lucas Li, who was the founder of the programme and served as director from 2012 to 2014.
According to the audit report, Mr Lucas Li moderated a WhatsApp chat group named “DDI Darkness”, where participants of the programme engaged in discussions that were sexual in nature.
The report also stated that a member of the chat group complained that Mr Lucas Li had shared explicit photos of himself in a private chat with him and that there was a “physical sexual encounter” between Mr Lucas Li and him in 2014.
Taking the stand on Tuesday, Mr Lawrence Li said his son intended the chat group to be a safe space for trainees to discuss personal issues, but “the discussion got out of hand and Lucas could not contain it”.
He also said: “It doesn’t matter whether (the allegations were) false or true, the point here is that he was not given a chance to speak.”
His lawyer, Mr Paul Ong of Paul Ong Chambers, said in his opening statement: “Lucas was completely blindsided by the Exco statement.”