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Jail suicide mum Frances McKeown was arrested on way to kill her husband

Startling claims made at inquest of woman (23) found dead in Hydebank

By Cate McCurry

Published 05/10/2016

Frances McKeown, who was found dead in a cell at Hydebank Prison in May 2011
Frances McKeown, who was found dead in a cell at Hydebank Prison in May 2011
Her husband Brian McKeown outside court yesterday
Her former boyfriend Kevin Fletcher
The parents of Frances McKeown at the inquest into her death

A woman who took her own life in jail had hijacked a taxi to go to her husband’s home to kill him after claiming he murdered her ex, an inquest has heard.

The startling claim came during yesterday’s hearing into the death of Frances McKeown.

The 23-year-old was found on the floor of her cell during a routine check in Hydebank Wood College and Women’s Prison in May 2011.

During the second day of the inquest, it emerged that the deceased’s ex-boyfriend, Kevin Fletcher, was murdered at his home in Armagh on September 3, 2010.

He was found dead with multiple stab wounds in the living room of his apartment.

His father, also called Kevin Fletcher, was acquitted of his murder in December 2012 and his death remains a mystery.

A week after his death, Mrs McKeown stole a taxi and armed herself with a knife with the intention of driving from Belfast to Brian McKeown’s home in Armagh to kill him because she suspected him of being involved in Mr Fletcher’s murder.

However, she was stopped and arrested by the police and later remanded into custody at Hydebank.

During cross-examination by the South Eastern Health Trust’s barrister, Philip Aldworth QC, Mr McKeown (59) denied having anything to do with Mr Fletcher’s death and said he “didn’t know why” his wife wanted to stab him.

“Frances suspected you of being involved in the murder,” Mr Aldworth said. Mr McKeown replied: “Possibly.”

The court heard how Mr McKeown met a “vulnerable” Frances when she was 19 and he was in his early 50s.

Months later the pair married and they had a baby girl in 2008.

However, social services soon became involved after problems emerged with him living in the same house as Mrs McKeown and their baby girl.

Mr McKeown, who had been married twice before he met Frances, had a history of domestic violence. It emerged that he stabbed his first wife with a bread knife and served a prison sentence for it.

In the second marriage, there were ongoing issues with his wife and major marital problems involving drink and drugs.

He had five children from a previous marriage who were all made wards of court — meaning the court appointed guardians for them — two of whom he admitted assaulting.

Mr and Mrs McKeown were ordered by social services to live separately. However, during this time she became pregnant with their second child, and in October 2009 her two children were taken into care.

Mr Aldworth said that Mrs McKeown blamed her husband for the children being taken away from her.

The mother-of-two, who had a lengthy history of mental illness, was admitted to Bluestone psychiatric unit in Craigavon a number of times following this. During one stay, Mr McKeown alleged that his wife told him she had been raped by Kevin Fletcher. However, he said he could not recall the incident during yesterday’s inquest.

In November 2009, she returned to Bluestone unit with bruising on her face and she alleged that her husband raped her at knifepoint.

When this was put to Mr McKeown, he said: “I can’t recall.”

It was further alleged that Mr McKeown locked her in an outhouse at their home for a week over the Christmas holidays and repeatedly raped her. However, he said knew nothing about that.

In May 2010, Mrs McKeown moved to Belfast to live in a women’s refuge centre when she started seeing another man.

“She left you. She wrote you a letter saying she had run away to Belfast as she was afraid of you threatening to hit her again,” Mr Aldworth said.

A number of letters exchanged between the pair while she was on remand were also read out in court. In letters to her husband, Mrs McKeown said she was feeling better because of her treatment, which she said was working.

In another letter she revealed how she wanted to end their relationship. In a scathing reply, Mr McKeown said he was “sick of her”. “You were never a wife or mother to the two little ones,” he said. “I’m getting a full run-down on you from an inmate in there. Every move you make I will know about it.”

Again, Mr McKeown said he could not recall writing the letter. During three cross-examinations, Mr McKeown replied “I can’t remember” to most of the questions put to him.

Mrs McKeown’s father sat in court with his head bowed for most the evidence.

In her devastating suicide note, entitled Time to Die, Mrs McKeown said: “Please make sure my kids go to a good family — preferably my parents.

“I love my children with all my heart and soul and I will always be with them.

“Sorry for letting my parents down. Brian, I am so sorry for letting him down. I am sorry we were not able to work things out between us.

“It’s my choice, I wanted to die. No one would listen to me and how bad the voices were. Goodbye, Frances.”

The court was adjourned after Mr McKeown broke down in tears.

The case continues.

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