Family calls for urgent action to prevent deaths in custody amid suicide ‘epidemic’

Picture: Jon Savage Photography
Picture: Jon Savage Photography

The lawyer representing the families of two young people who took their own lives in prison has called for urgent action to address a “spiralling epidemic” of suicides in custody.

The family of Katie Allan yesterday met with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf following the death of the 21-year-old in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution in June.

Last month William Lindsay, a vulnerable 16-year-old, killed himself within 48 hours of being remanded there despite being flagged as a suicide risk.

Stuart and Linda Allan, together with lawyer Aamer Anwar, met Mr Yousaf to call for an independent review of deaths in custody.

Mr Anwar claimed there could be as many as 12 suicides in Scottish jails this year, adding this would represent the “worst rate of suicides for over a decade”. He said while 26 deaths have been recorded behind bars in 2018, only one had been formally recorded as suicide.

He said: “We heard today that half of the deaths so far they believe are in relation to natural causes. That means approximately 12 deaths in Scottish prisons are potentially suicides.

“We are not at the end of the year. If that is the case then this is the worst rate of suicides for over a decade.”

Mr Anwar claimed the Scottish Prison Service’s (SPS) “system of recording deaths in prison hides the spiralling epidemic of suicides in our prisons”.

He added: “The families of Katie Allan and William Lindsay hold the Scottish Prison Service, the health service and the care system directly responsible for their deaths, and they will fight to ensure other lives can be saved.”

Mrs Allan said she was hopeful after the family’s meeting with Mr Yousaf, but said she wanted to see the justice secretary come back with proposals in the next couple of weeks.

Asked about the number of suicides being recorded in Scotland’s prisons, she said: “I certainly believe there is a cover-up going on, whether that’s intentional or whether it’s just not been pointed out before.

“We believe this year has seen the highest rate of suicides in the prison estate in Scotland.”

Addressing MSPs at Holyrood, Mr Yousaf said: “Any death of a young person is a tragedy for the individual and their family. As with any death in custody, there will be an FAI (Fatal Accident Inquiry). However, I am determined that appropriate early actions are taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young people in custody.”

The SPS said the number of all deaths in custody had remained largely stable over the past few years. A spokesman said: “I’m not aware of a significant rise in the number of deaths by suicide, but one death by suicide is one death too many.

“We do everything in our power to look after people who come into our care, many of whom are incredibly vulnerable. We’ve invested very heavily in training and development for staff to help address the issue of people who want to self-harm.”