Family of Scottish prisoner who killed herself after ‘bullying’ launch reform campaign

The parents of a young woman who killed herself in jail after enduring “horrific experiences” have called for a review of Scotland’s prison system.

Katie Allan’s family said on Thursday they wanted a meeting with the Justice Secretary as they launched a campaign calling for change.

The 21-year-old geography student was convicted at Paisley Sheriff Court in March for a drink-driving offence which saw her injure pedestrian Michael Keenan and sentenced to 16 months in jail.

This is Scotland, this is the 21st century

Stuart and Linda Allan say their daughter was bullied in Polmont Young Offenders Institution near Falkirk and lost more than 80% of her hair due to the state of her mental health.

Katie had told the University of Glasgow chaplain Stuart McQuarrie of her distress over repeated strip searches.

Staff also allegedly failed to act on warnings from her family that she was vulnerable and had a history of self-harm. 

She died at Polmont in June.

Linda Allan accepted that her daughter deserved some form of punishment, but a custodial sentence went too far (Jane Barlow/PA)
Linda Allan accepted that her daughter deserved some form of punishment, but a custodial sentence went too far (Jane Barlow/PA)

Her mother Linda Allan said: “Katie absolutely broke the law, that is not in dispute – Katie pleaded guilty and fully accepted she should be punished, that also is not in dispute.

“What we didn’t realise is that one impulsive decision would ultimately cost Katie her life.

“The hardest thing for us to accept is how devastatingly Katie was let down by those that were ultimately responsible for her care.

“Some may say that Katie deserved what happened. She certainly deserved punishment.

“But this is Scotland, this is the 21st century – what Katie did not deserve was the horrific experiences she endured daily at the hands of the Scottish Prison Service.”

The review would cover the prison service, women in custody and the provision of mental health services.

Mr and Mrs Allan with their lawyer Aamer Anwar, centre (Jane Barlow/PA)
Mr and Mrs Allan with their lawyer Aamer Anwar, centre (Jane Barlow/PA)

It would also look how to reform the Fatal Accident Inquiry system, which the family say is no longer fit for purpose as they can take years to complete.

Their lawyer, Aamer Anwar, added: “This is an issue not just to the families of the deceased, but prison staff who do not have the resources to deal with mental health provision as well as the aftermath of a suicide.

“The Allans – like many other families before them – have seen a culture of secrecy and defensiveness which is not interested in learning the lessons or accepting responsibility.”

Relatives of the drink-driving victim had urged the courts not to impose a custodial sentence.

They have been in contact with Katie’s family since her death and were at the campaign launch to offer their support.

Margaret Keenan offered her support to the campaign (Jane Barlow/PA)
Margaret Keenan offered her support to the campaign (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Keenan’s mother Margaret said of Katie: “She didn’t deserve the punishment she received.

“As a mother of three children myself, I know our children often do things we don’t condone – but there are other punishments that Katie could have been dealt which have been much more fitting for her crime.

“Michael has recovered and he’s well and he’s absolutely behind this campaign also.”

Figures released by the campaign show there have been 130 deaths in Scottish prisons since 2014.

A spokeswoman for the the Scottish Prison Service said: “This is of course a set of very tragic circumstances and our sympathies are with all who have been affected by this sad death.

“All deaths that occur in Scottish prisons are subject to a Fatal Accident Inquiry and as such it would be inappropriate to comment further until this takes place.”

- Press Association

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