TBH ‘suicide’ finding: The impossible does not happen


Extracts from Teoh Beng Hock Royal Commission of Enquiry: 

Decision on the second term of reference:

[119] Having considered all the evidence in its entirety, we found that TBH was driven to commit suicide by the aggressive, relentless, oppressive and unscrupulous interrogation to which he was subjected by certain officers of the MACC who were in the ongoing operation by the Selangor MACC on the night of the 15th and into the morning of the 16th.

– Forensic psychiatric aspects

[233] Tormented by this predicament, TBH experienced a change in his state of mind. And in a matter of hours, this change transformed him from being in the low-risk group for suicide into the high-risk group. The doubts, extreme emotional conflict and the immense feeling of guilt were all intolerable. Finally, precipitating the irreversible crisis that happened to him between 3.30am and 7.00am on the 16th, was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Finding no viable strategies to surmount the hurdle of accusations levelled, he found himself unable to escape from the suffocating quagmire in which he was trapped. TBH would have felt trapped and have succumbed to despair. Since the window on the 14th floor was either open or could be easily opened and it was conspicuous and easily accessible near where he was on the sofa outside Nasdzri’s room, TBH would have found that the only way for escape from the torment he was undergoing was by jumping out of the window, even though it meant taking his own life….”



Self-inflicted death must have meaning and a reason. In Teoh Beng Hock’s death, we find neither meaning nor a reason for taking his own life, if we accept the findings of the TBH royal commission of inquiry.

Suicide is rare. It is even rarer for a normal person without abnormal psychology to commit suicide.

It is hard to believe suicide can happen within few hours of experiencing trauma. Hopelessness as an acute warning sign of suicide most often takes time to develop, days or weeks if not months. RCI has confirmed that TBH was “driven to commit suicide” within hours. The impossible does not happen and the improbable only happens very rarely.

This suicide verdict goes very much against common sense and the intuition of many Malaysians. A closer look is hence necessary to critically examine how the RCI arrived at such conclusion and whether the RCI has proved TBH’s intention to suicide.

The focus of study here is essentially of the psychological aspects of the section on ‘Forensic psychiatric aspects’, pages 64 to 72 of the Report of the Royal Commission of Enquiry into the death of Teoh Beng Hock (hereafter called RCI).

Serious flaws in RCI conjecture

RCI evaluated the evidence from forensic pathology and concluded that TBH fell to his death; and from forensic psychiatry that TBH would have jumped to his death. These conclusions are used as reasons to support the suicide verdict that TBH was driven to commit suicide.

However, there are serious flaws observed in RCI’s argument. The authenticity of the evidence of intention to suicide used to support the claim is doubtful. Also, the inference from evidence to the conclusion of suicide is invalid and unsound.

The commissioners’ method of reconstructing TBH’s psychological state prior to death is questionable. The suicide verdict is examined here from the perspective of suicide.

Making attributions without proof

One of the two main terms of reference as spelt out in the RCI is “…to enquire into the death of Teoh Beng Hock and the circumstances surrounding and contributing to his death. It does not state clearly whether ‘death’ means the cause of death (e.g. major injuries, heart attack etc.) or the manner of death (natural causes, accident, homicide or suicide).”

By RCI’s verdict of the enquiry, it had taken to itself the responsibility to determine the manner or mode of death.

As for the requirement of the level of proof, RCI stated that their finding would be based on “a balance of probabilities sliding to proof beyond reasonable doubt” (RCI pp.5). This means RCI claims its standard of proof is very high. Also, it says that in order to “understand the probability that TBH took his own life”, it is crucial to know TBH’s traits of character and his changing states of mind (RCI, pp.64).

It is clear from the above that RCI intended to use the language of probability in the reasoning in the argument. However, the RCI commissioners used the language of certainty when giving the verdict of “driven to commit suicide”; it does not say something like “TBH probably or most probably was driven to commit suicide”, but asserted that TBH was “driven to commit suicide”.

The commissioners should not use categorical terms of suicide in absolute certainty as the precise mental state of the deceased could not be known.

Purported intention to suicide unconvincing

When read closely, the RCI para.[233] on “conclusion on forensic psychiatric aspects” does not confirm that TBH intended to commit suicide but speculated that TBH must have committed suicide:

“…TBH would have found that the only way for escape from the torment he was undergoing was by jumping out of the window, even though it meant taking his own life.” (RCI, pp.72). However, such speculation is used as the reason to come to the suicide verdict: “…Having considered all the evidence in its entirety, we found that TBH was driven to commit by the aggressive, relentless, oppressive and unscrupulous interrogation to which  he was subjected by certain officers of the MACC..” (RCI, pp.37).

Para. [233] is of utmost importance in determining whether TBH had the intention to suicide. RCI was unable to confirm the intention to suicide and yet it confirmed suicide had occurred. This is a deep contradiction and the inference is seriously flawed.

RCI is using a strange logic which is only intelligible to itself. It runs something like this: Teoh Beng Hock would have found suicide as the only way out. Therefore, TBH committed suicide. Speculation has then become hard fact. There is little wonder that the public refuses to accept the verdict.

But, why must RCI deliver a suicide verdict? Why not an open verdict? We do not know for what reasons the commissioners felt compelled or were compelled to make a verdict that contradicts its own reasoning. With an unconvincing verdict, the reasoning itself in the RCI needs to be examined critically.