'˜The system failed them' - review ordered following suicide deaths at Polmont

A mental health expert will work with HM Inspectorate of Prisons to carry out an independent review into mental health services for young people at Polmont Young Offenders' Institution, the Scottish Government has announced.

Teenager William Lindsay killed himself within 48 hours of being remanded despite having been flagged up as a suicide risk. Picture: John Devlin
Teenager William Lindsay killed himself within 48 hours of being remanded despite having been flagged up as a suicide risk. Picture: John Devlin

The move follows demands for urgent action by families, lawyers and campaigners after the tragic deaths of Katie Allan, 21, and William Lindsay, 16 – also known as William Brown – who took their lives after being sent to Polmont.

The background to the deaths was first revealed by The Scotsman. At least four young people have taken their lives at the youth prison near Falkirk since January 2017.

Mr Lindsay was found dead in his cell last month after previously being flagged up as a suicide risk.

Last night Aamer Anwar, solicitor for the parents of Ms Allan and Mr Lindsay, said they “cautiously” welcomed the announcement.

“The deaths of Katie and William were never inevitable, the system and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) failed them,” he said. “The package of measures announced today are desperately needed to expose the catalogue of failures by our prison system, which still remains in denial, but it is only the first step.

“The families of Katie Allan and William Lindsay expect and demand a lot more to happen in the days and weeks ahead. Today is a good start, but the families hold Polmont responsible for suicides which took place. Ultimately they failed in their duty of care.

“If this review is independent then the families wait to see the proof of that as they must be fearless in the questions they ask.

“An epidemic of suicides has slowly unfolded over the last decade and the SPS has done everything possible to obstruct, delay and hide what is taking place.

“The families will do everything possible to hold the system to account, whilst exposing the brutality of the treatment of young people whose cries for help were ignored.

“Up until now the families of those who have taken their lives in prison have been shut out, patronised and not listened to.”

Scottish justice secretary Humza Yousaf said an audit of potential in-cell ligature points is being carried out at Polmont drawing on existing Care Quality Commission guidance for the inspection of psychiatric units.

In a letter to the justice committee, Mr Yousaf said the review would examine arrangements for young people with mental health issues entering custody, including the information available about their backgrounds, reception arrangements and on-going support and supervision while in custody.

He said he would look at relevant operational policies, practice and training and, where practical, would also look at comparisons between the support and arrangements in place in secure accommodation at Polmont.

“We are also aware of issues being raised about the information available about a young person’s history before decisions are taken that can lead to them being sent to custody or secure care.

“Separate consideration is being given to how best to look at these issues.”

The review will not consider specific circumstances of recent cases subject to current or future mandatory fatal accident inquiries.

Health secretary Jeanne Freeman confirmed NHS Forth Valley had engaged with the SPS to assess and increase provision in Polmont.