Polmont YOI probe is ‘just the first step’ says lawyer for grieving families

Katie Allan, whose mother  Linda, launched a campaign to reform the way the justice system deals with mental health. Former Glasgow University student Katie killed herself at Polmont Young Offenders Institute in June.
Katie Allan, whose mother Linda, launched a campaign to reform the way the justice system deals with mental health. Former Glasgow University student Katie killed herself at Polmont Young Offenders Institute in June.

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf has ordered an independent review of mental health services at Polmont Young Offenders Institution.

The move follows the deaths of William Lindsay and (earlier this year) Katie Allan, which have sparked public and parliamentary demands for an inquiry into how vulnerable inmates are treated.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar says the deaths were 'not inevitable'. and that the Scottish Prison Service is 'in denial over a catalogue of failures'.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar says the deaths were 'not inevitable'. and that the Scottish Prison Service is 'in denial over a catalogue of failures'.

The background to the deaths was first revealed in The Scotsman newspaper.

The row has led to ministers considering “a range of issues”, one of which is the provision of mental health services for young people detained at Polmont.

Aamer Anwar, solicitor for the parents of both Katie and William said their deaths were never ineitable, and that the Scottish Prison Service had failed them.

He said the new measures announced by Mr Yousaf are “desperately needed”, to expose what he called the catalogue of failures by the prison system, which he said “still remains in denial” - adding that the review is only the first step.

William Lindsay (16), also known as William Brown, died there last month while on remand, and in June Katie Allan (21) died while in detention for a drink-driving offence.

Health secretary Jean Freeman has said NHS Forth Valley is already involved in efforts to assess and improve mental health support at the institution.

In a letter to the Justice Committee, Humza Yousaf said: “Every death by suicide is a tragedy, and a death in custody can rightly raise particular questions for families.

“I have expressed my deepest of sympathies to the families of Katie and William.

“I had the opportunity to express this personally to Katie’s parents when I met them on November 13.”

He said it was important the mandatory independent Fatal Accident Inquiries into both deaths was allowed to proceed - but added that more immediate questions about mental health support needed to be addressed.

The review won’t, because of these FAI’s, concern itself with the circumstances in which Katie and William died.

Mr Yousaf added: “II met with the Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service on November 13, and he has outlined to me actions that are already being taken within the Service to support the dedicated and hard-working prison and NHS staff who work with the young people in HMP&YOI Polmont.

“This includes additional senior capacity, reporting directly to the Governor, with specific responsibilities for overseeing the effective operation of the SPS’s Talk2Me suicide prevention programme and enhanced Mental Health training for selected Prison Officer Personal Officers.”

Commenting on the way the Polmont institution is run, he said: “It is also vital that we recognise the wide range of positive work that is being delivered every day by the management and staff of the Scottish Prison Service and other agencies in HMP&YOI Polmont with the 340 young men and women entrusted to its care.

“Over the last ten years, marked progress has also been made to support better performance and consistently positive impact of youth justice responses - supporting better outcomes for young people in trouble, victims and communities.”

Mr Yousaf said this was shown by the significant reduction in the number of young people being dealt with by the children’s hearings system and court, as well as those in custody.