SINGAPORE: A former Institute of Mental Health (IMH) nurse tasked to care for patients - including those who were severely mentally ill and suicidal - abused his position and committed sexual offences against them instead.
The 36-year-old man - who cannot be named due to gag orders imposed by the court - was sentenced on Monday (Dec 28) to four years, nine months and one week's jail and 10 strokes of the cane.
He molested patients and took videos of them when they were naked. At the time of the incident, some of his victims were warded in the High Dependency Psychiatric Care Unit, a highly specialised ward for patients who are actively disturbed, suicidal or severely mentally ill.
Other victims include his then-colleagues and a pregnant woman who responded to an advertisement he posted for a photoshoot model.
The man was caught in March this year by a victim who saw him take an upskirt video of her on an escalator at a train station.
The police arrested the man on Mar 4 this year at IMH and seized his phones. Four types of videos were found in them - upskirt videos of IMH staff and members of the public, videos of IMH nurses changing, videos of IMH patients showering and videos of the accused molesting IMH patients.
As part of his duties caring for patients in the High Dependency Psychiatric Care Unit, the man had to monitor patients in the shower to ensure they did not commit acts of self-harm.
Usually, nurses are assigned to wards of their corresponding gender, but the man would occasionally be asked to carry out duties in the female ward by the nurse in charge of the shift.
Investigations found that he had filmed nine female patients in the unit.
He also molested a victim at the unit who had been restrained to a hospital bed, and filmed himself committing the crime.
The man also outraged the modesty of another patient who had been sedated for aggression.
In a separate incident, the man posted an advertisement online for a pregnant model for a photoshoot. He asked the woman who responded to the ad to wear a dress that clearly showed her pregnancy bump and met her at Chinese Gardens.
While instructing her to face away from him, the man took five upskirt videos of the pregnant woman before placing the videos in an application that password-protected the clips.
The man, who is married with four children, pleaded guilty to eight charges of molestation, insulting a woman's modesty and various acts of voyeurism. Another 34 similar charges were taken into consideration. He has been diagnosed with voyeuristic disorder.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiagesh Sukumaran asked for 58 months' jail and 13 strokes of the cane, taking into account "the large number of offences, the repugnant and sickening abuse of the accused's position" and "how the accused compromised the physical integrity and dignity" of the patients under his care.
Nurses are at the heart of our healthcare system, he said, but the accused instead perpetrated "egregious abuse at a public hospital", with his "despicable conduct" striking "at the very ethos of nursing" and threatening to "grossly taint and mar the efforts of healthcare workers everywhere".
Defence lawyers Mato Kotwani and Ashwin Ganapathy asked instead for not more than 57 months and a week's jail, and no more than nine strokes of the cane.
Mr Kotwani said his client's decision to plead guilty stemmed from his remorse.
"He is truly sorry for the hurt and pain he has caused to the victims and their families," he said.
He added that his client has made "unqualified confessions to the police, fully assisting in their investigations".
District Judge Luke Tan said he broadly agreed with the prosecution, adding that the accused has "really done a great disservice" to the nursing profession.
IMH said in response to queries from CNA that it takes a serious view of the incident. It has also since tightened protocol for staff members working in mixed-gender wards.
"IMH takes a serious view of the incident and staff conduct, and had fully cooperated with the police in their investigations," said an IMH spokesperson, adding that the accused was dismissed on Mar 11.
"We had also reached out to the affected staff and patients, addressed their concerns, and provided support to them," the spokesperson said.
"Following the charge in court, we have reminded all staff to adhere to the hospital’s code of conduct. We also further tightened our protocol for staff working in mixed-gender wards."
In response to queries by CNA, the Singapore Nursing Board said that the man has not been able to practise as a nurse since he was dismissed from IMH and no longer holds a valid practising certificate.