Family anger after no censure over Polmont prison deaths

Posted: 14th July 2023

The family of a woman who took her own life while serving a jail term have spoken of their upset that no official censure will be given to the Scottish Prison Service.

Katie Allan, 21, died in Polmont young offenders institution while serving a sentence for a drunk hit-and-run crash.

Last year her parents were told that the SPS could only face a process known as Crown Censure.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said it will take no action.

A spokesperson said the “tragic” cases did not meet its criteria for investigation.

Katie’s father Stuart Allan spoke after a preliminary hearing for a joint Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), which will start next year.

It will also examine the death of William Lindsay, 16, who took his own life at Polmont young offenders institution, near Falkirk.

Both Katie and William died within months of each other in 2018.

Solicitor Aamer Anwar, who is acting on behalf of the families, said they had been told that Scottish ministers in charge of prisons are protected by Crown Immunity.

He said the news had left them “angry and distraught” and amounted to a “shameful abuse of power”.

The Crown Counsel concluded the only action available was to seek a formal record of the organisation’s failure to comply with health and safety legislation.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) requested the HSE undertook the process but on 7 July the families were told there would be no censure.

Mr Anwar said: “The families believe that the HSE is not fit for purpose.

“If the Crown Office with all its resources believe there should be a censure, what is the point of the HSE if they claim they do not have the expertise to investigate?”

He also called on First Minister Humza Yousaf to remove Crown Immunity and called it “archaic” that the SPS was not accountable for deaths on its watch.

Speaking after the preliminary hearing, Mr Allan said: “It is difficult to have faith in the justice system and yet we found ourselves today at the start of the FAI process, where we must trust the system that has let us down so often in the past.

“We can only hope that the FAI will provide recommendations that prevent future unnecessary deaths of young people in Scottish prisons.”

The second preliminary hearing has been scheduled for 15 September, with the full inquiry set to begin on 8 January 2024.

Procurator Fiscal Andy Shanks, who leads on death investigations for COPFS, said it noted the decision of the HSE in relation to the censure of the SPS.

He added: “The procurator fiscal has pursued the investigation into the deaths of Katie Allan and William Lindsay thoroughly and detailed consideration has been given to the views of the families throughout these investigations.

“An FAI will allow a full public airing of all the evidence at which families and other interested parties will be represented. The evidence will be tested in a public setting and be the subject of judicial determination.

“The families and their legal representatives will continue to be kept informed of significant developments as court proceedings progress.”

A spokesperson for HSE said: “The death of any young person is tragic and we have carefully reviewed the information provided to us by COPFS.

“While the circumstances of the two deaths are complex, they do not meet HSE’s criteria for investigation.

“We have informed both families of our decision.”

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Katie Allan – Died June 2018

Katie, a geography student at Glasgow University, was jailed for 16 months for drink-driving after hitting a 15-year-old boy, who was knocked unconscious.

The incident happened in Giffnock, East Renfrewshire, in August 2017. Katie had drunk four pints of beer before trying to drive home from a pub.

She pleaded guilty at Paisley Sheriff Court to causing serious injury by driving dangerously and driving at more than four times above the legal alcohol limit.

Her parents Stuart and Linda claimed bullying and “humiliating” strip searches led her to take her own life at Polmont.

They said prison staff failed to heed warnings that Katie was “vulnerable” and had a history of self-harming.

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William Lindsay – Died October 2018

William spent most of his life in the care system. With drugs and domestic abuse at home, he was placed on the child protection register as an infant.

He lived between family, foster carers, children’s homes and secure housing units.

As his mental health deteriorated as a teenager, schools struggled to cope with his behaviour. He was often in trouble with the police and he attempted suicide several times.

In the months before his death, his behaviour improved. He returned to live with his mother and was removed from the Vulnerable Young Persons’ register.

On 2 October 2018, he was detained after walking into Saracen police station in Glasgow with a knife. His motivation was unknown.

The Scotsman reported that social workers and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration wanted William to remain in the children’s hearing system and be placed in a secure unit – but there were no places available.

He was remanded to Polmont, where he took his own life three days later.


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