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Hydebank inmate Frances McKeown 'tried to kill herself several times'

Inquest hears how Hydebank prisoner who died in 2011 had mental health problems

By Cate McCurry

Published 04/10/2016

Frances McKeown
Frances McKeown
The parents of Frances McKeown at the inquest into the death of their daughter

A mother-of-two who killed herself in prison had attempted to take her own life months before her death after she was refused bail, an inquest has heard.

Frances McKeown (23), who had a history of mental health issues, hanged herself inside Hydebank Wood Women's Prison in Belfast in May 2011.

In the opening day of the inquest, which is set to last six days, Belfast Coroner's Court heard how Mrs McKeown had suffered from mental health problems and had been diagnosed with an emotionally unstable personality disorder and had attempted suicide a number of times.

Barrister Ronan Daly, who represents the Coroner's Service, told the jury that Mrs McKeown had been taking various medications including the anti-psychotic medication risperidone before she went into Hydebank.

The court also heard that she was referred for mental health assessments and in November 2010, she was referred to a prison psychiatrist but she didn't see one until April the following year - just weeks before her death.

He revealed that she had taken an overdose of paracetamol in December 2010 and was taken to the Accident and Emergency deparment for treatment after she had been refused bail to be released from prison.

Furthermore, in February 2011, her medication was stopped in prison for 19 days after she was found not to be in possession of her prescribed medication which is an offence in prison.

At the time of her death, Mrs McKeown was awaiting sentencing after being convicted in relation to a hijacking.

She had two children - a girl and boy now aged eight and seven - with her husband, Brian.

The court also heard that the children were taken into care before her death as a result of problems between the married couple and their mother's mental health issues.

Before she was convicted of the hijacking offence, Mrs McKeown had been admitted into Bluestone psychiatric unit in Craigavon on 11 different occasions.

While in prison, she was placed on the SPAR (Supporting Prisoners At Risk) process five times. These prisoners are subject to more regular monitoring by prison guards.

It was also claimed that she was being bullied by other inmates because she saw inappropriate behaviour between a prison officer and another inmate.

In his report, Northern Ireland's deputy state pathologist Dr Alastair Bentley said that she had self-harm marks on her body. Other drugs found in her system included Fluoxetine and Trazodone - both used as anti-depressants.

Giving evidence, prison staff nurse Audrey McCorry said that she was called to Mrs McKeown's cell after two prison guards found her behind the door of her room.

Ms McCorry told the court that when she arrived at Ash House, Mrs McKeown was lying on her back on the prison landing. However, there were no signs of breath or pulse and despite applying the defibrillator, there was no shock.

The Coroner's Court also heard that a Code Blue had been issued to alert staff to Mrs McKeown, who was the second prisoner to take their own life that day following the suicide of 19-year-old Samuel Carson in the young offenders centre.

Governor Keiran Magennis, who was the senior prison office that night, described the number of Code Blues as "unusual".

The inquest continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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