Belfast Telegraph

Family of jail suicide mother to view report into her claims of an illicit kiss between inmate and warder

By David Young

A confidential report that heavily criticised the response of jail authorities to an allegation made by a prisoner – who later went on to kill herself – should be handed to her family, a coroner has ruled.

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.

Before her death, a Prisoner Ombudsman investigation had raised serious concerns about Mrs McKeown's care in custody – a probe that prompted her widower Brian to take legal action against the Prison Service.

Ombudsman Pauline McCabe, who has since left the post, 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 and found at the time 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 was instead passed to the Prison Service.

Mrs McKeown's widower asked for the report to be disclosed to him by the Prison Service ahead of the inquest into her death.

At a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast yesterday, Coroner Suzanne Anderson said she had now read the report and decided it was potentially relevant.

Ms Anderson said she had also examined another previously unpublished report related to Mrs McKeown's case – that was compiled by the Scottish Prison Service – and said it should also be given to the family.

"I have been provided with both reports and deem both potentially relevant, so they should be made available to the next-of-kin," she said.

In her main report into the prisoner's death, Mrs McCabe examined whether the episode involving the complaint had led to bullying 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 McKeown's allegation to be "wholly inadequate" and one that breached the authorities' duty of care.

Nessa Murnaghan, representing the Prison Service, said her client did not currently have a copy of the unpublished Prisoner Ombudsman report.

In regard to the report by the Scottish Prison Service, Ms Murnaghan told the coroner that significant redactions would have to be carried out on the document before it was passed to the family. She indicated the process could take six weeks.

STORY SO FAR

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.

The Belfast woman was arrested in September 2010 and was awaiting sentencing after being convicted in relation to a hijacking at the time of her death.

Mrs McKeown was the second prisoner to commit suicide in Hydebank Wood in a 24- hour period.

In the Young Offenders' Centre, alleged sex offender Samuel Carson from north Belfast also took his own life.

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