'I was hearing voices', says convicted robber who fled during court hearing

Visvanathan claimed voices had asked him to "go back home".
On Thursday (26 September), Visvanathan Vadivelu was jailed 11-and-a-half years on one count of armed robbery by day, two counts of drug consumption, and one count of possessing diamorphine. (PHOTO: Getty Creative)

SINGAPORE — A convicted robber who fled partway through a court hearing claimed he had done so because he was “hearing voices” asking him to return home.

“Voices started asking me to go back home but now I’m okay. It was a mental state that I heard the voices I was so frightened I went back home,” said Visvanathan Vadivelu, who pleaded guilty last month to robbing a Shell petrol station in Bukit Timah more than two years earlier.

While attending a court hearing on 17 September this year, the 50-year-old fled the courthouse during a break and returned home. His mother, who is also his bailor, then called the police, which led to him being re-arrested.

On Thursday (26 September), Visvanathan was sentenced to 11-and-a-half years’ jail on one count of armed robbery by day, two counts of drug consumption, and one count of possessing diamorphine. The sentence includes a nine-month jail term that was imposed in lieu of caning.

Visvanathan, who was held in remand since being re-arrested, apologised to the court for wasting its time. He asked to be placed on bail for one to two weeks before commencing his sentence. District Judge Kan Shuk Weng denied Visvanathan’s request, citing him as a flight risk.

Among his reasons for requesting bail, was his desire to spend time with his mother during the upcoming Deepavali festive season. The judge, however, said, “You said you’d like to spend time with her, but between the time you pleaded guilty, till the time you were arrested because you failed to turn up in court, you already had a few weeks with her.”

Visvanathan also asked for his sentence to be served at the Institute of Mental Health, with the judge responding that IMH was not a sentencing option.

Representing himself, he said in mitigation that he had not been sleeping for three days prior to the robbery and was “not in the right frame of mind”.

“I started taking (medication) this year. When I looked back I realised my mistakes. Normally I would not have committed this crime, I never commit this kind of crime in my history,” he said, asking for a jail term of nine years.

Visvanathan had also previously been diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia, although these conditions were not found to have contributed to his offences.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Chong Yong sought 11 years and three months jail for Visvanathan, with an additional year to be imposed in lieu of 24 strokes of the cane.

Noting that the accused was aged 48 when he committed the robbery, the prosecution stated that he could no longer by caned under the law as he has since turned 50.

“It has taken more than two years for us to get to this point. There’s a huge loss in deterrent effect of sentence,” said the DPP.

“It is quite clear that there was an abuse of process. The accused deliberately dragged out court proceedings to avoid sentence of caning,” said DPP Chong.

Visvanathan has a history of property-related offences from 2005 to 2009, including theft in dwelling.

2017 robbery

According to the statement of facts, Visvanathan decided to rob a Shell petrol station along Upper Bukit Timah Road on 31 July 2017.

Wearing a black motorcycle helmet, black gloves and sunglasses, he also armed himself with a kitchen knife for the act. As he entered the station with his helmet visor pushed down, he waited for a customer to leave before carrying out the robbery.

He then pointed his knife at the cash register and demanded money from the cashier, who complied. Visvanathan placed the $1,193 he received into a plastic bag then fled the scene on his motorcycle.

He was arrested at his flat later that day.

On 15 September 2017, Visvanathan visited the Clementi Neighbourhood Police Centre while he was out on bail. He left drugs inside the station’s the male toilet, including one substance that was later found to contain diamorphine.

Visvanathan was later re-arrested and his urine tested positive for morphine and methamphetamine.

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