Teenager flagged as suicide risk takes his life after 48 hours in prison

A vulnerable teenage boy killed himself at Polmont Young Offenders' Institution within 48 hours of being remanded despite having been flagged up as a suicide risk, The Scotsman can reveal.
William LindsayWilliam Lindsay
William Lindsay

A 16-year-old boy killed himself at Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution in Falkirk within 48 hours of being remanded there, despite having been flagged up as a suicide risk, the Scotsman can reveal.

It is understood the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Glasgow’s chief social work officer had wanted William Lindsay, also known as Brown, to be put in a secure unit, but there were no places available.

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The SCRA had also wanted the case against Lindsay, who spent his life in and out of care, to be kept within the children’s hearing system because of his vulnerability, but were over-ruled by the Crown Office.

As a result, he appeared before Glasgow Sheriff Court on Thursday, October 4 charged with possession of a knife, assault and breach of the peace; the sheriff remanded him to Polmont where he was found dead the following Sunday.

William’s suicide has caused widespread concern within the SCRA, Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and the Scottish government.

“This boy should never have been anywhere near Polmont,” one source said. “He was vulnerable and in need of mental health support. How is it possible for everybody to agree that a 16-year-old should not go to a jail and yet for him still to end up in jail?”

Last week, Linda and Stuart Allan called for a review of the way mental health is handled in the prison system after their daughter killed herself in Polmont.

At a press conference, they claimed Katie, 21, had been bullied by other prisoners and repeatedly strip-searched by staff who failed to notice or act on her self-harming wounds.

Katie had been convicted of causing serious injury by dangerous driving while over the drink drive limit.

She was jailed for 16 months, despite a social work report recommending a non-custodial sentence, and killed herself in June.

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Two other young men - Liam Kerr, 19, and Robert Wagstaff, 18, took their own lives in the prison in January 2017.

All the deaths will be the subject of a mandatory Fatal Accident Inquiry, but that could take up to four years.

Brown’s death raises fresh concerns about the treatment of prisoners in Polmont and the implementation of the SPS’s updated suicide prevention strategy, Talk to Me.

“The suicide of this young boy reinforces everything we want to change,” said Linda.

“In some ways, it is even more appalling [than Katie’s] because it happened so soon [after he was imprisoned], because he hadn’t yet been convicted and because he had already been identified as a suicide risk prior to going into custody.”

William’s death also raises questions about the provision of secure unit places for young people at risk from themselves or posing a risk to others. There are just five secure care centres in Scotland, offering a total of 84 places.

One of these centres is run by Edinburgh city council; the other four are run by independent, charitable organisations. These centres - the Good Shepherd secure unit in Bishopton, Kibble safe centre in Paisley, Rossie Farm secure unit in Montrose, and St Mary’s secure unit, Kenure -

are part of a national contract framework managed by Scotland Excel on behalf of the Scottish government and the 32 Scottish local authorities.

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Controversially, a substantial portion of places are taken up by children from English local authorities, due to a lack of capacity south of the Border and a reduction in their use up here. According to the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice, the most recent figures show placements from outside Scotland accounted for 30% of the total in 2016-17.

Another unit, built at St Philips school in Airdrie with £5m of public money, was closed in 2011 just five years after it opened.

Brown, who was first moved into foster care when he was four, had a history of self- harming including suicide attempts.

Although he had been in trouble in the past, he had moved back in with his mother and his life was stabilising. But on October 2, he walked into Saracen police station with a knife.

“There is no denying this was a serious offence,” a source said.

“But William was always more of a danger to himself than other people. The staff at Polmont were warned it was likely he would kill himself.

It is terrible to think he did so within such a short time period.”

The problem for Scotland Excel is that - north of the Border - the number of referrals to secure units is dropping, making it difficult to justify expanding the service.

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This is partly due to the cost - basic care in a secure unit works out at £5,500 a week. But it is also due to a belief that, in general, secure units are not ideal for young people.

Yet experts insist it is better for vulnerable young people charged with an offence to be placed in a secure unit than in a jail.

Linda and Stuart’s solicitor Aamer Anwar is now also representing William’s mother Christine.

“What we had been talking about these last few months was the need to ensure that no mother ever again had to go through what Linda has had to go through. Yet here again in the same prison, a young boy, who shouldn’t ever have been there, has killed himself. It can only be described as state-sanctioned violence,” he said.

“I am sick of reading report after report, Fatal Accident Inquiry after Fatal Accident Inquiry that offer sympathies to these families and do nothing at all to change the system.”

A spokesperson for the SCRA said: “The SCRA and the COPFS (Crown Office and Prcourator Fiscal Service) work closely together to ensure that young people involved in offending behaviour receive the most appropriate intervention.

“We are always concerned to ensure that young people can be retained and have access to the welfare-based protections and support of the Children’s Hearings System whereever possible.

“Our work with social work services throughout the country is a key feature of the provision of this welfare-based approach. We are deeply concerned about the circumstances of any young person who has taken their own life in this way and will continue to work with our partners to ensure that all such circumstances can be avoided and young people are given the support and help they need at the point when they need it.

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“The availability of secure care beds in Scotland is an ongoing issue and we look forward to supporting the next round of commissioning with secure providers in Scotland to ensure that this very specialist support is routinely available.”

In terms of what happened to William in Polmont, it is understood the standard procedure would have been for him to have been assessed by a mental health nurse to decide how he should be managed and what level of intervention was required.

The responsibility for healthcare inside Scotland’s jails was transferred from the SPS to the NHS in 2011.

An SPS spokesman said: “I can confirm a DIPLAR (Death in Prison Learning, Audit and Review) will take place and, like every other death in custody, William’s will be subject to a Fatal Accident Inquiry with which we will fully cooperate.”

The Crown Office approach towards under-18s in the justice system is to stick with the children’s hearing system unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise - for example, a risk to public and disregard for the law.

A spokesman said: “The investigation into the death of William Brown (or Lindsay) is ongoing and is under the direction of Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU). There will be a mandatory FAI in due course once investigations are complete. The family will be kept updated in relation to any significant developments.”

Likewise, a spokesman for Glasgow’s health and social care partnership said: “We have been made aware of the tragic death of this young person. We will contribute as appropriate to any review of the circumstances that led to his death.”

Linda, Stuart and Anwar are due to see Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf on Tuesday and plan to raise William’s death as well as Katie’s.

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The Scottish government is currently looking at ways to improve the recording of the number and distribution of approaches to the Secure Accommodation Network and the reasons given for refused placements. The current contract runs until 31 March 2020, with the next round of commissioning due to commence in April 2019

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We recognise many young people entering the criminal justice system have complex needs and we work with agencies to ensure appropriate support is available when needed.

“Good quality secure care, which helps improve outcomes for children with highly complex needs to allow them time to re-engage and move forward positively in their community, are needed in some cases. It is for Sheriffs to decide whether or not to commit someone to custody, having considered representations from relevant agencies.”

Shadow justice secretary, Daniel Johnson has contacted the Allans to offer support. “This is the second high profile case to come to public attention within a month, and it seems clear to me that we need to have a serious look at the standard of mental health support and counselling in our justice system, as there appear to be clear problems emerging following the transfer of responsibilities from the prison service to the NHS,” he said.

“If it is the case that this young person found himself in Polmont because of a lack of secure beds, that would be completely unacceptable.”

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