A “high-achieving” Glasgow University student who took her own life in a Scottish young offenders’ institution was being taunted and threatened by other prisoners before her death.
Linda Allan said other inmates at Polmont Young Offenders Institution, Stirlingshire, had berated her daughter who was suffering from alopecia.
The 21-year-old told her mum and brother that she hadn’t slept for three days and was “terrified” of the unpredictability of the prison during their last visit.
Mrs Allan, 56, a nurse, former Scottish Government advisor, and herself an honorary clinical associate professor at the University, said that Katie had been “like a rabbit caught in the headlights” after being jailed for 16 months in March 2018 for dangerous driving.
She said she had not expected to be jailed for the offence, in which a 15-year-old boy was injured.
Katie was found dead in her cell on June 4, 2018.
Mrs Allan said: “When she was sentenced in court she was incredibly distressed in the dock, she was shocked, she was frightened, all of the above.”
She said Katie was also “devastated”, “deeply ashamed” and “deeply remorseful” about the choices she made on the night of the driving incident.
Mrs Allan told the fatal accident inquiry, at Falkirk Sheriff Court, that during a “tour” of Polmont for prisoners’ family members she had tried to warn prison officers that Katie was “from a different demographic from other prisoners” but the officers had “sort of shrugged ‘so what?'”.
On her final family visit – the afternoon before her death – Katie told her mother and brother Scott, then 15, she hadn’t slept for three nights.
Mrs Allan said: “She didn’t feel safe. She was terrified of the unpredictability of the environment she was in.
“She looked completely different from all other visits. She looked incredibly anxious and absolutely exhausted, she had big dark shadows under her eyes. I could see she’d been crying.
“She took a bit of coaxing to tell me what was going on – she didn’t like to display emotion in the visit hall. There was no privacy.
“Eventually she burst out crying. She was incredibly upset. She told me there’s been a huge physical fight in the hall, which would have traumatised Katie because she’d never witnessed physical violence before.
“She said she hadn’t slept for three nights because of the berating, things that were being shouted at her, and threats from prisoners in the cells beside her.
“They were very derogatory comments.
“She was petrified.
“Once she started crying the prison officer sitting near us – and this really sums up the humiliation – and gave her a J Cloth because there were no tissues to blow her nose with.”
She said Katie had asked to be moved to a different cell in the hall which would have been quieter, but that was refused.
Mrs Allan said that on the way out of the visit hall, she spoke to the prison officer who had been sitting near them, and told her what Katie had said.
The officer said she would speak to the officers in Katie’s hall.
Mrs Allan said that offered her reassurance, so she didn’t do anything else, but left with her son who was also really distressed because he’d seen his sister really upset.
Her voice breaking, Mrs Allan added: “It’s the biggest regret of my life that I didn’t phone, or refuse to leave.”
When she got home, she sent Katie an email through the prison system, urging Katie to speak to a warden and to make sure that nothing happened to jeopardise her application for release on home detention curfew (HDC) – for which she would have been eligible in just four weeks.
Part of it read, “Scotty [Katie’s brother Scott] was right, Katie, you aren’t prison-wise, and thank God you probably won’t be.
“Scott was so very worried and angry when we left. He feels so helpless, as both your dad and I do.
“I totally get that you are in custody to pay for a stupid mistake but this situation isn’t OK. Custody itself is punishment enough without threats of violence and verbal abuse.
“Remember you are not any of the things that are being said … let it all go and rise above it.”
Choking back tears, her voice breaking with emotion, Mrs Allan read out the final words – “You are loved, you have a home and a life to start rebuilding in a few weeks Katie.
“Please hold onto that. Read your books and try really hard to zone out the noise.
“When you don’t react they’ll get fed up.
“Love you, Mum.”
The inquiry heard that Katie had written a letter to her mother when she got back to her cell after that final visit, but it was never sent.
It read in part, “Please believe me that I’ll be OK. I just hate this place and a few of the people in it really aren’t making it any easier.
“I don’t see why people need to be so cruel, Mum.”
She said Katie had excelled at school – Williamwood High School in East Renfrewshire – and won an unconditional place at Glasgow to study geography and was still working on her dissertation in prison.
Mrs Allan said: “She was a high achiever, she joined everything, loved girls’ football, she was a girl guide, she achieved her Baden Powell award, and was a young leader till she went to university, loved the outdoors, camping and kayaking.”
Katie suffered from stress-related eczema as well as her alopecia, for which she had been treated privately, with complete success.
But within seven weeks of being jailed she was showing “visible signs of baldness” and treatment provided within the prison by the NHS was not working.
Mrs Allan said after a request for a bandana to cover the bald patch “a mental health nurse apparently came to the hall with bananas”.
Two bandanas were later provided by the “kind” wife of a prison officer.
The inquiry, which continues before Sheriff Simon Collins KC, is also looking into the death in Polmont in October 2018 of 16-year-old William Brown, known as William Lindsay.
William was remanded in custody after being deemed a “potential risk to public safety” three days before his death.
He was admitted to Polmont because there was no space in a children’s secure unit.
He had earlier walked into a police station with a knife while on bail for another blade offence.
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