Cape Town - A mother says she is “seeking justice” after her mentally disabled son was flung into jail for failing to pay his bill at a restaurant.
Warren van Niekerk, 36, was arrested and jailed after staff at the Sunset Bay Spur in Gordon’s Bay called the cops because he couldn’t foot his “R240 bill”.
His mother says Warren, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia eight years ago, is psychotic and an outpatient at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital.
Mom Geraldine Europa, 54, says since the “horrific” incident on February 25, Warren has had a meltdown and has been in and out of hospital.
The father of two went missing on August 23 from their Diep River home and was found five days later wandering barefoot in Woodstock.
“He is at Victoria Hospital now and they might send him to Valkenberg,” the concerned mother said.
“I just want my son to be safe and OK. Each time he has to appear in court, none of us can sleep because it is traumatising.”
She’s been trying for months to get prosecutors at Strand Magistrate's Court to drop the charges against Warren. But her efforts were futile, even after supplying them with a doctor’s letter.
Geraldine says in February, Warren went missing from his home in Caledon, where he lived at the time and worked as a garage assistant.
She then received a call that he was wandering around Somerset Mall, where she learnt he’d been arrested and spent several days behind bars.
She says her son was agitated, barefoot, without his sweater and very hungry.
“I bought him KFC, cool drink and clothing,” says the mother.
“Once I got him to calm down, he said he’d been told he could no longer stay at his place in Caledon and he had nowhere to go and began to walk.
She reminded him he had her number and could’ve called her, “but he said he got confused”.
“He said while walking he got very hungry and walked into Spur.”
At the time he was still in a state of confusion.
“He went to the toilet and as he was leaving he told a staff member he had paid the waiter R260 and the bill was R240. He said he ordered a steak and a beer. He couldn’t pay and they called the police and he made an appearance in court.”
Geraldine says she and a relative went to Spur and offered to pay the bill.
“We were told the waiter noticed that my son ‘didn’t look right’ but they still took his order.
“They said there was nothing they could do because the matter was in the hands of the police and the court.”
Police spokesperson, Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana, confirms Warren’s arrest but says the charge has since been withdrawn.
“The case was withdrawn in court and the suspect was admitted to a mental institution.”
Geraldine says she was notified of this on Friday but insists: “I still want justice for my son and to make the public aware because I feel Spur could have dealt with the situation better.”
But Spur spokesperson, Wesley Heaney, says the bill was almost R500 and that Warren had refused to co-operate.
“The management of Sunset Bay Spur in Gordon's Bay confirms a recent incident that led to the arrest of a customer who failed to pay his bill of close to R500,” Heaney said on Sunday.
“After consuming several bottles of beer, two bottles of wine, a starter and a main course the man approached a manager and said the Spur management would have to call the police because he didn’t have money to settle his bill.
“The manager on duty tried to accommodate the customer by asking if a family member or friend could not be contacted to come and pay his bill, but the customer refused to provide any contact details or to co-operate.”
He says the situation escalated and management called the cops.
“At the police station the man became aggressive and the police arrested him.”
He says a day before the due court date, management was approached by a relative who offered to pay the bill on condition the charges were dropped.
“We agreed, but we have not received any such payment up to date,” says Heaney.
“We were not made aware of the man’s mental illness until the court date came into play. Had we known about this crucial detail we would have approached the situation differently and contacted the relevant social services to come to the aid of the man and his family.”