A fatal accident inquiry begins on Monday into the deaths of two people who took their own lives in a young offender institution.
Katie Allan, 21, and William Lindsay, 16, were found dead in their cells in separate incidents at Polmont Young Offenders Institution in 2018, and their deaths will be investigated at the inquiry starting at Falkirk Sheriff Court.
Solicitor Aamer Anwar said both families want Crown immunity to be lifted so the Scottish Prison Service can be held accountable for failings under the Health and Safety Act, which he said were identified as “materially contributing” to the deaths.
They have urged First Minister Humza Yousaf to address the issue with the UK Government.
Crown immunity means organisations such as the prison service cannot be prosecuted. But Anwar described the rule as a “shameful abuse of power” and said it is inconsistent with standards applied in police stations and mental health hospitals.
He said three of Mr Lindsay’s close relatives – his mother and two sisters – have died since the teenager’s death, and there has been a succession of changes among legal figureheads in that time.
Ms Allan’s parents Linda and Stuart are expected to give evidence on the first day of the three-week FAI, and Mr Lindsay’s brother John Reilly will represent his family.
A statement from Anwar on behalf of the families said: “Both the families we represent believe the passage of time has allowed a Scottish Prison Service to cynically operate behind a veil of secrecy, covering up systemic failures and preventable suicides.
“Over five years have now passed since Katie and William’s death, in that time there have been two lord advocates, three solicitor generals, three justice ministers all apologising for delays.
“Since then William’s mother Christine Lindsay has died, along with his two sisters.
“Prisoners are now twice as likely to die in prison in 2022 as someone was in 2008.
“In October 2022, the families were told the Crown Office found that a breach of the Health and Safety Act at the prison ‘materially contributed’ to both deaths, but due to the operation of Crown immunity no criminal proceedings could be raised against the Scottish Prison Service or the Scottish ministers.
“The lifting of Crown immunity must be a priority for the Scottish Government, to date there has been no response as to what action, if any, has been taken.
“The families hold the Scottish Prison Service and health service directly responsible and will fight to ensure other lives can be saved.”
Mr Lindsay, who had been in care repeatedly, died on October 7, 2018 – three days after being admitted as there was no space in a children’s secure unit, despite a history of making attempts on his life.
Ms Allan, a student at Glasgow University, was found dead on June 4, 2018 while she served a 16-month sentence for drink-driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving, which she had pleaded guilty to.
The families have called for responsibility for FAIs to be removed from the Crown Office due to delays.
Anwar added: “The irony is that had Katie or William died in a private prison, a police cell or mental health hospital, it would have been possible to prosecute them.
“Crown immunity is a shameful abuse of power and in advance of the FAI, both families are asking Justice Secretary Angela Constance and the First Minister Humza Yousaf what they intend to do about approaching the UK Government to save lives in our prisons, or finding a way to remove immunity in Scotland.”
A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “The loss of any person in our care is devastating and we recognise the profound impact it has on an individual’s loved ones
“The health and wellbeing of those in our care is a key priority and everyone who enters custody is assessed by both our staff and NHS partners to identify what support is needed.
“Given a fatal accident inquiry is to be held imminently into the deaths of Katie Allan and William Lindsay, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”
A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “We acknowledge that the wait for these proceedings has been too long and has caused distress for Katie and William’s families.
“The Procurator Fiscal has pursued the investigation into their deaths thoroughly and detailed consideration has been given to the views of the families throughout these investigations.
“The FAI will allow a public airing of all the evidence at which families and interested parties will be represented. The evidence will be tested in a public setting and be the subject of judicial determination.
“The families and legal representatives will continue to be kept updated as the inquiry progresses.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with every family who has been bereaved by suicide in prisons.
“Fatal accident inquiries are a matter for the independent Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. We cannot comment on these cases with the approaching fatal accident inquiry and we will carefully consider the outcome.”
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