Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Coroner to seek confidential report

Prisoner ombudsman Pauline McCabe examined a separate incident involving Mrs McKeown during her time in Hydebank
Prisoner ombudsman Pauline McCabe examined a separate incident involving Mrs McKeown during her time in Hydebank

A coroner investigating the suicide of a woman prisoner is to ask for sight of a confidential report that heavily criticised the response of jail authorities to an allegation of officer misconduct made by the inmate.

Frances McKeown, a 23-year-old mother of two with a history of mental health issues, hanged herself inside Hydebank Wood Women's Prison in Belfast in May 2011.

A Prisoner Ombudsman investigation raised serious concerns about her care in custody prior to her death - a probe that prompted her widower Brian to take legal action against the Prison Service.

Ombudsman Pauline McCabe, who has since left the post, also examined a separate incident involving Mrs McKeown during her time in Hydebank - namely an allegation she had witnessed a female inmate and a prison officer kiss.

Mrs McCabe found that the prison authorities did not properly investigate the claim.

A separate report compiled by the ombudsman on the episode, which happened five months before Mrs McKeown died, was not published along with the death-in-custody probe, and instead passed to the Prison Service.

At a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast today, David Heraghty, a lawyer representing the McKeown family, told coroner Suzanne Anderson that the report could be important.

"I would have thought this court and all parties engaged with this process would consider this relevant," he said.

In her main report into the prisoner's death, Mrs McCabe did examine whether the episode involving the complaint had led to Mrs McKeown being bullied by fellow inmates.

The ombudsman found that a form of non-physical bullying had taken place but that it was unlikely this directly factored in her suicide.

While she did not publish the separate report, she did include the conclusions in the main publication.

They revealed that Mrs McCabe considered the investigation into Mrs McKeown's allegation to be "wholly inadequate" and one that breached the authorities' duty of care.

Ms Anderson told the court: "In the first instance I will seek a copy of that report and decide whether it's relevant to the scope of the inquest."

Mrs McKeown, who was living in Belfast prior to her arrest in September 2010, was awaiting sentencing in Hydebank after being convicted in relation to a hijacking.

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