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Halting jail death mum Frances McKeown's drugs wrong: expert

By Cate McCurry

Published 06/10/2016

Frances McKeown
Frances McKeown
Her husband Brian McKeown

A prison psychiatrist has said there was "no rationale" to stopping the medication of a woman prisoner who went on to take her own life.

Professor Seena Fazel, a consultant forensic psychiatrist, said the decision by a jail medic to withdraw Frances McKeown's prescribed drugs was "not appropriate".

Belfast Coroner's Court heard that the 23-year-old's anti-psychotic medication was discontinued for a number of weeks after staff discovered it was "missing" from her cell, prompting concerns she may have been stockpiling it or selling it to other inmates.

However, Dr Fazel said that prescription medication can be given in different ways in prison.

"If there are concerns about taking medication you can be prescribed at the pharmacy hatch once a day and can have supervised medication," he said.

On the third day of the inquest into Mrs McKeown's death, the jury were told that the deceased didn't see a psychiatrist for over six months in prison - despite two referrals being made, her long history of mental health issues, a diagnosed personality disorder and self-harm.

The young Newry woman, who had a history of sexual abuse, also suffered from drug and alcohol issues and was feeling suicidal.

Mrs McKeown was living in Belfast at the time of her arrest in September 2010 when she was caught hijacking a taxi in the city armed with a knife.

It emerged during Tuesday's inquest that she was planning to go to the home of her husband Brian McKeown and "kill him".

The mother-of-two believed he had murdered her ex-boyfriend Kevin Fletcher, who was killed a week before her arrest.

The inquest heard that when she was arrested she admitted feeling suicidal and had recently self-harmed. The prison's medical staff requested her GP notes and a mental health referral was made.

Dr Fazel was also critical over the length of time it took for Mrs McKeown to see a psychiatrist.

Turning to the withdrawal of her medication by Dr Anna Gallagher in February 2011, Dr Fazel said: "It was not appropriate. I could not see a clear rationale in the records to stopping her medication."

The inquest also heard how the night custody officer, Leanne Crawford, found Mrs McKeown's body on her cell floor.

"There was no light on in her cell and her bed was made up and it was neat and tidy," she said. "I thought she was moved to a different cell as she is usually sitting on her bed with the television on.

"I began to call her name but got no response. I confirmed with the other prison officer that she was there on the last round. I told the officer I could not see her.

"I called for her again and got no answer so I thought she was hiding on me. We got her cell door opened and I saw her on the left side, she was on the floor in an upright position.

"We took her into the landing and checked for a pulse, but there were no vital signs."

The inquest continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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