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Night of jail death 'most traumatic of career': Former governor tells inquest that two prisoners committed suicide and one attempted

By Chris McCullough

Published 08/10/2016

Frances McKeown died in May 2011
Frances McKeown died in May 2011
Former Hydebank Prison Governor Gary Alcock

The governor of Hydebank Wood Prison at the time of the death of a young woman has described the night she took her own life as the most traumatic of his career.

Frances McKeown (23), who had a history of mental health issues, killed herself inside the prison in May 2011.

Governor Gary Alcock, who was in charge at the time, took the stand on day five of the inquest into her death yesterday.

It emerged in the court that Frances's parents had only been informed of her death by a media contact the next morning.

Following her death Governor Alcock was removed from his position at the prison amid claims of misconduct but was appointed three years later as the new deputy governor of Maghaberry Prison.

Frances took her own life five hours after Samuel Carson (19) died by suicide in a neighbouring block and on the same night as an attempted suicide.

Governor Alcock, who was on duty that night in May 2011, reported that in his 33 years in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, he had never witnessed any similar situation with two cases of suicide and another attempted.

He said: "It was the most traumatic night of my long 33-year career in the Prison Service and one I won't forget.

"Not only did we have two suicides but we had a third person who was, dare I say it, seconds away from death too."

Governor Alcock told the court how he was concerned about any copycat situations during that same night, and had told all the staff to be on the lookout.

"Due to my experience within the Prison Service I have seen copycat behaviour before when fires have been started, and was concerned about similar behaviour," he added.

Evidence delivered in the court during the week suggested that Frances had been bullied for a "lengthy period of time" by other inmates after she saw one kissing a prison officer.

Governor Alcock said that while he had no direct contact with Frances, he was aware of her allegation regarding the prison officer.

He also said he had received some anti-social behaviour reports on Frances and how she herself was bullying others.

Governor Alcock explained: "A prison officer came to see me early one morning in my office. He appeared to be very nervous and was shaking.

"He told me he had been supervising a number of females during a tea break when he overheard them discussing another male officer who was seen kissing an inmate.

"He decided to come to me about it. I told him I would deal with it and not to discuss it with anyone. I later investigated this as I wanted it proven or dis-proven."

The court heard there was also further concern regarding the contacting of Frances's parents about her death.

Governor Alcock said he had met with Frances's husband, Brian McKeown, in the prison on the night of her death, who promised he was going to phone her parents once he left the prison.

When he discovered Mr McKeown had not carried out this promise, Governor Alcock said he was "devastated" the parents had not been informed.

It emerged that her parents contacted the prison the next morning after being informed via a contact from the Press.

The inquest continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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