Authorities accused of covering up suicides in Scottish jails

The parents of a young woman who took her own life in prison have accused the authorities of covering up the number of suicides in custody.

HMYOI Polmont where Katie Allan took her own life
HMYOI Polmont where Katie Allan took her own life
HMYOI Polmont where Katie Allan took her own life

The family of Katie Allan reviewed information from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) on 258 prisoner deaths between 2008-18, cross-referencing the statistics with individual death certificates.

Katie, 21, killed herself at Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution just months before the death of William Lindsay, 16, who took his own life within 48 hours of being remanded there in October – despite being flagged as a suicide risk. Katie, a Glasgow University student, was jailed for 16 months in March last year for a hit-and-run crash while over the alcohol drink-drive limit.

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They said: “As we have been trying to come to terms with the death of our daughter and understand the sequence of failures that led to Katie taking her own life, we have been extremely frustrated at the limited amount of information available to the public on deaths in Scottish prisons.

“We have therefore undertaken our own research to try and understand why the SPS take so long to publish their deaths in custody statistics, why the information published is so limited, and why the SPS appear to hide behind the Awaiting Fatal Accident Inquiry statement, to defer release of the prisoner cause of death.”

The family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, added: “The Allan family has no confidence in an SPS which appears more interested in spin and cover-ups.

“They believe an FAI system held on average two years after a suicide is not fit for purpose, set up to fail families and hide what is truly happening.”

Under legislation introduced in 2016, all deaths in custody must now be the subject of a FAI, although a backlog of cases means some families have waited years for an official determination.

A spokesman for the SPS said: “There has been an independent review of mental health provision at Polmont carried out and a full inspection. We await any recommendations and will take appropriate action.”

A Crown Office spokeswoman said: “The investigation into the death of Katie Allan is ongoing and there will be a Fatal Accident Inquiry in due course.

“The case team have been in regular contact with the family’s lawyer and will continue to provide updates on any significant developments.

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“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is committed to the prompt investigation of deaths, but accepts that in some cases the time taken to complete a thorough investigation has been too long.

“COPFS has recently increased the resource available to the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU), with a view to reducing the time required to complete complex death investigations and improving the provision of information to families and next of kin.

“In addition, COPFS has revised the way the progress of all death investigations is monitored to ensure that they are completed as efficiently as possible.

“These measures represent a commitment to achieving a significant improvement in the service delivered by the procurator fiscal in this important area of work.”