Christine Lindsay is sitting on the couch of her home in Possilpark, Glasgow, stroking the long, plaited hair of her younger daughter Chloe.
Just over six weeks ago, her 16-year-old son William would have been here too: a family reunited after more than a decade in which a complex set of problems and a fractured care system kept them apart.
During the 13 months they spent together, Christine could hardly take her eyes off him. “I’d be popping in to his room every ten minutes to see what he wanted; I wanted to fuss over him,” she says. “I’d say to him ‘I know you’ve had a hard life, son, but I am going to make it up to you’. And he’d reply ‘aye, you’d better, maw’.”
The 54-year-old believed she had years ahead of her to rebuild her relationship with William and his sister Chloe, 18, who also spent most of her life in care. Everyone who knew William says that – after years of mental health problems and skirmishes with the police – his life was finally stabilising.
He had a girlfriend, Kelsey, a job in a car wash and was planning to go to college. “He was a great boy – respectful and kind, always telling me he loved me,” Christine says. “He was looking forward to learning to drive too. He had a provisional licence and his brothers and sisters were planning to buy him lessons for birthday. But he never made it.”
Tragically, on 6/7 October, shortly before he was due to turn 17, William killed himself in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution. Four days earlier – having been given alcohol at the house of an older person – he had taken a knife from his home and made his way to Saracen Police Station, where he laid it on the counter. He was arrested and charged.
William had a history of self-harming; in the past he had taken a paracetamol overdose and wandered in front of cars. The social work department and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration believed he was a danger only to himself and wanted him sent to a secure children’s unit, but there were no places available, so he was remanded to Polmont where he was flagged up as a suicide risk. “I saw him in the sheriff court,” says Christine. “He looked mortified because he had never been to jail before. I said ‘I love you’ and that was the last time I saw him alive.”
According to his family, he was put on the Talk to Me (suicide prevention) programme when he arrived at the jail on the Friday, but was taken off it on the Saturday. At some point while he was in custody, either in the police station or in Polmont, he wrote four letters – one to the police, one to social workers, one to his family and one to Kelsey. They are understood to be with the Procurator Fiscal.
He phoned Chloe on the Saturday afternoon, was locked in his cell at 8:45pm on the Saturday night and was found hanged at 7:40am on the Sunday.
Later that morning, two police officers turned up at Christine’s door. “They said ‘can we come and sit down?’ and then they told me ‘William’s passed away’. See when they said that, I was shouting and bawling. I was out the back screaming ‘my wean’s dead, my wean’s dead’. And then I took an overdose.
“I survived that – and there must have been a reason, which is why I am speaking out now. I want people to know how William was treated in the care system and how he was failed by social workers and the prison. I want justice for William. I never want another young person to suffer like he did.”
Christine is the first to admit she has her own problems. She is still mentally fragile and has short-term memory loss. She is also worn out with grief. On the mantelpiece, she keeps a photo of William in his school uniform, looking smart and untroubled, although, by the time it was taken, he was already unhappy and absconding on a regular basis.
As Christine and her daughter look for more photos – swapping memories as they do – William’s dog Bear runs to and from the window, jumping up to look out. “He’s looking for William,” Christine says. “He misses him so much.”
William was the youngest of Christine’s five children. The others are John, Robert, Shannon and Chloe. Christine suffered domestic violence at the hands of a partner and, by the time Chloe and William were toddlers, she was a single parent. There were always concerns around the children’s welfare and William was put on the child protection register when he was one month old.
Some time around then, Christine started taking amphetamines to help her function, although she says she’s been clean for many years. Eventually she accepted she wasn’t coping and agreed to put her children into respite foster care.
Christine says she always loved her kids and expected to get them back, but the months turned into years and the foster carers turned into a revolving door of children’s homes and secure units. Christine says William had 27 different placements.
“For four years I was only allowed to see William and Chloe for 11 hours a year – how was I supposed to bond with them?” she says. “They didn’t even tell me when William took an overdose of paracetamol. I only found out a year later and I cried an ocean.”
William and Chloe were always close. Christine fishes out two precious photos of the pair as children. They both have vibrant red hair and in one William has his arm protectively round his older sister.
They were originally kept together, but when a foster placement failed they were split up. For years their contact was sporadic.
Then, in September last year, William was allowed to come home. When Chloe turned 18 a few months later, she left care and also moved back in with Christine. The family was together again.
There were still difficult times. “William would tell me terrible stories of what happened to him in care. When he was in Ballikinrain house he was bullied and would stick his fingers in the electric sockets to try to kill himself.
“Sometimes he would sit and listen to those rap suicide songs. He gave himself the name F***-Up when playing computer games. I would say ‘why are you calling yourself that?’ And he would answer ‘because I am’.”
Christine says William had been told she didn’t love him and that he had been manhandled so much in one children’s home he could no longer cuddle her. She is grateful, though, to his most recent social worker Mark Macdonald and for the staff from the charity Includem, who would take him out and let him get things off his chest.
Despite his occasional lows, William had been making excellent progress. “He went fishing a lot with his brother Robert,” says Christine. “He loved going out on his bike and walking Bear and a neighbour’s dog. He was 6ft 1in, but was really gentle. And he had more or less stopped drinking.” He had a string of girlfriends – Christine reels off their names – but for the last four months he’d been going out with Kelsey.
Chloe is very quiet – overwhelmed by her brother’s absence – but she has some memories too; of the pair of them on their bikes and of days drinking Dragon Soop and running with the Young Possil Team.
Christine is haunted by the ghosts of a Christmas past when she had decorated her home. “A social worker took one look at it and said ‘you’ll not be getting your kids home for Christmas’.”
She didn’t. Last year, however, they all got to spend Christmas together for the first time since William and Chloe were taken into care. “They all came here for dinner and I was just so happy and I was buying him nice claes and thinking ‘he’s hame for good now’,” she says. But then she cries again because she believes that if he had been allowed home earlier, everything would have turned out differently.
William’s funeral was arranged by Shannon who was heavily pregnant. More than 200 people turned up for the humanist ceremony. “So many of his friends came and they were all devastated,” Christine says. “This for a boy that didn’t believe he was loved.”
On William’s birthday – 20 October – and on Lindsay’s – 5 November – the extended family went to his grave at Lambhill Cemetery and let off fireworks. “We were shouting ‘William, William’, up in the air because he will always be with us in spirit.”
She hopes one day to set up an anti-teenage suicide charity in his name; it’s important for her that he has a legacy.
But perhaps he already does.
“A few weeks after William’s death, his longed for niece was born. Shannon called her Sophia Rose. The ‘Rose’ was in honour of her brother.
“We all put roses in William’s coffin,” says Lindsay. “I had a beautiful big one. But Shannon put in a tiny pink one from her unborn baby.
“When she was in labour all she could think about was William - that’s why she gave her the middle name Rose. So he will never be forgotten.”