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Hydebank suicide woman vowed repeatedly to kill herself

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Samuel Carson with his daughter Summer, aged 9 months

Samuel Carson with his daughter Summer, aged 9 months

Director General of the Prison Service, Colin McConnell, speaking outside Dundonald House in Belfast yesterday

Director General of the Prison Service, Colin McConnell, speaking outside Dundonald House in Belfast yesterday

One of the cells inside Hydebank prison

One of the cells inside Hydebank prison

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Samuel Carson with his daughter Summer, aged 9 months

A woman who hanged herself in her prison cell just hours after another prisoner took his own life had made repeated warnings that she was planning to commit suicide, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.

The revelation raises serious questions for prison bosses after the two bodies were found at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre and Prison on Wednesday evening.

Frances McKeown (23) was found on the floor of her cell during a routine check by staff in the women’s section of the prison at around 8.30pm on Wednesday. Three hours earlier teenager Samuel Carson (19) was found dead in his cell in the Young Offenders section at the prison.

Ligatures were discovered in both cells.

Prison sources say Ms McKeown’s death may have been a copycat suicide.

Her lawyer Kevin Winters said last night she had previously threatened suicide and that her state of mind was known to the authorities.

He added that during a consultation with probation officials recently she had also threatened suicide.

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The deaths of Mr Carson and Ms McKeown are the third suicides within less than a year at Hydebank Wood.

In August last year 19-year-old remand inmate Allyn Baxter took his own life. The Prisoner Ombudsman’s report into Mr Baxter’s death is due out within weeks.

Since 2005 there have been at least seven suicides of inmates in the care of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, leading to a number of damning reports into the management of vulnerable prisoners.

Mr Carson, whose most recent address was in Carrickfergus, was remanded in the Young Offenders Unit of Hydebank Wood awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault on a 15-year-old schoolgirl over a three-day period.

The 19-year-old had also served a one-month sentence for burglary.

His family said yesterday they were too devastated to talk about his death, but in a statement through their solicitor, Denis Moloney, they said: “The tragic events of the past 24 hours concerning the death of a loved son, brother and father have not yet sunk in to this grieving family.”

Ms McKeown, whose last known address was at Ulsterville Avenue in Belfast, was in the female prison at Hydebank awaiting sentencing for a number of offences. She had pleaded guilty to hijacking a car, possessing a knife, dangerous driving and three counts of criminal damage to police cars and was due to be sentenced on May 20.

Director general of the Prison Service Colin McConnell said that staff were “devastated” by the deaths and described them as “incredibly regrettable”.

He said the deaths would be investigated by the PSNI, coroner and Prisoner Ombudsman.

“At this very difficult time I offer my sympathies to both the Carson and McKeown families. They are in the thoughts and prayers of our entire service,” he said. “I also want to recognise the efforts made by the staff who were on duty at the time, who did everything they could to bring about a different outcome.

Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe extended her sympathy to the families of both prisoners and said that investigations into the deaths have already commenced.

The two suicides have reignited serious concern over failings within the prison system when it comes to dealing with vulnerable prisoners.

The service has a suicide and self-harm prevention policy which aims to identify those potentially at risk, encourage vigilance by staff and ensure the inmates are managed by skilled people and treated appropriately.

The Committee for the Administration of Justice said, however, that it is clear from the deaths “that the prison system is not doing enough to protect vulnerable prisoners”.

Former Assembly justice committee member Conall McDevitt said there is a serious crisis with the Prison Service and management at Hydebank.

“Due to the seriousness of the incident, there must also be a separate, fully independent investigation into these extremely serious and tragic incidents,” he added.

If you have been affected by suicide, or would like to speak to someone about the issue, call the Samaritans confidential phoneline on 08457 90 90 90

Why did no-one spot the crucial warning signs?

By Alan Murray

It hasn’t been a good fortnight for the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

An intensive investigation is continuing into allegations of an inappropriate relationship between a prison officer and an inmate within the now closed Prisoner Assessment Unit.

Yesterday we learned that two young people serving short sentences were able to end their lives using makeshift ligatures inside Hydebank Wood Young Offenders’ Centre.

It does beg the question that if such events can occur without detection at two centres where monitoring and recording the personal advancements of prisoners are the key priorities, what on Earth is happening within the Prison Service?

Hydebank Wood is described as a medium to low security establishment with particular emphasis on providing young offenders with the tools to explore and appreciate their own identity, and to address issues of difference in regard to sectarianism and racism.

Since October last year the Peace III EU-funded Reconciliation Programme in Edgehill College has been working in partnership with the Prison Service to collaborate with young people and try to fashion a sustained change in their attitudes towards others, while gaining the skills to engage confidently with their peers.

Young offenders aged between 17 and 21 are encouraged to participate in an educational project entitled ‘My Story’ through which they are encouraged to reflect on their identities and participate in a range of personal and creative developments to advance them as individuals, or so the theory goes.

Whether Samuel Carson was participating in the ‘My Story’ programme is not known.

The Prison Service states that Hydebank has just over 300 single cells for young offenders and women prisoners who have been detained there separately since 2004, when Mourne House in Maghaberry Prison was redesignated for different use.

The women and the young people at Hydebank are encouraged to pursue educational projects within the two separate regimes there bringing them into inevitable discussion with specially trained prison staff.

It seems odd that in these two tragic cases no indication of intent to commit suicide was seemingly detected.

Frances McKeown would have been housed in Ash House where she would have enjoyed considerable personal privacy during the periods she was not in association with other female prisoners or staff, enabling her to make the provisions to take her own life.

Samuel Carson would have had a similar amount of privacy time, and unless they had been flagged up as potentially suicidal, overnight monitoring would not have been undertaken.

However, neither inmate died in overnight circumstances, which indicated that both took their lives during late afternoon to early evening, adding to the conundrum of how both deaths were not prevented.

Budget reductions and staff cutbacks have eroded the ability of the Prison Service to undertake every action and provide every staff task that was provided in prisons here a decade ago.

There is no suggestion that wrongdoing played any part in these two tragic deaths, but they do raise the question of how, with greater one-to-one involvement with inmates in both the young offender section and the womens’ prison section, no intimation of either suicide was gleaned.

Troubled times behind bars... how Northern Ireland’s prison system has been rocked by years of turmoil, scandal and controversy

SEPTEMBER 2002: Vulnerable teenager Annie Kelly was found hanging in a strip cell in the Mourne House punishment block of Maghaberry Prison.

MARCH 2004: Roseanne Irvine (34) was found hanging in her cell, even though she was on suicide watch.

NOVEMBER 2007: A report states that inmates at Hydebank could spend up to 20 hours locked in their cells each day, are routinely strip searched and unnecessarily handcuffed.

JANUARY 2008: Maghaberry prisoner Alan Ruddy was found dead in his cell after taking an accidental drugs overdose.

AUGUST 2008: Inmate Colin Bell (34) hanged himself in Maghaberry while prison wardens, who were due to be checking on him, watched TV on makeshift beds.

DECEMBER 2008: Inmates at Hydebank prison in south Belfast have had to endure “appalling conditions”, a report finds. The Independent Monitoring Board says inmates are “helpless pawns” in the poor working relationship between the Prison Service and its staff. It criticises the number of occasions prisoners were confined to their cells, disputing the prison authority's defence that staff shortages were to blame.

JANUARY 2009: An inquiry into the death of Colin Bell recommends the governor and deputy governor be subjected to a disciplinary investigation. Then-Northern Ireland Prison Service director Robin Masefield said that the standard of care was “unacceptable” and apologised to Mr Bell's family.

MAY 2009: A report states that Catholics in prisons get fewer privileges than their Protestant counterparts.

JULY 2009: Maghaberry Prison is one of the most expensive in the

United Kingdom and also one of the worst, a team of inspectors report. They list 200 ways to make the jail better and call for urgent action and better safety procedures. Inspectors who made the surprise visit to the jail call it one of the UK's worst performing.

AUGUST 2009: Convicted sex offender John Anthony Deery found hanging in the medical centre of Maghaberry.

NOVEMBER 2009: Wires, batteries and piping which could have been used in a crude bomb are found buried in a garden at Maghaberry Prison.

OCTOBER 2009: Four health staff at Maghaberry Prison are suspended after an investigation into the death of John Anthony Deery.

DECEMBER 2009: An inspection into the treatment of vulnerable prisoners finds “inconsistent assessment and monitoring of prisoners at risk”.

DECEMBER 2009: Maghaberry governor Steve Rodford resigns less than six months after he takes up his position after claims his home address was found in the cell of a dissident republican.

MARCH 2010: The Prison Officers’ Association calls for three senior managers to resign. The POA said it had no confidence in Robin Masefield, Mark McGuckin and Max Murray. It follows concerns over the handling of staff disciplinary action following the suicide of inmate Colin Bell.

JULY 2010: Around 30 dissident republicans conduct a “dirty protest” at Maghaberry jail

AUGUST 2010: Inmate Allyn Baxter (19) commits suicide in his cell in the Young Offenders’ Centre at Hydebank.

SEPTEMBER 2010: Alleged rapist Devidas Paliutis is released accidentally from Maghberry Prison.

OCTOBER 2010: Prisoner Connelly James Cummins is accidentally released by prison staff at Downpatrick courthouse following a court appearance.

NOVEMBER 2010: Sean Gerard Cahal, charged with robbery and possession of an offensive weapon, is released accidentally by prison staff following a court hearing at Belfast Laganside courts.

MARCH 2011: Prisoner Ombudsman accuses a prison officer of planting intelligence material about the governor of Maghaberry in a republican inmate’s cell allegedly in a bid to push Steve Rodford out of his post.

APRIL 2011: Unlawfully at large prisoner Devidas Paliutis is wanted by police in connection with a murder in Kilkeel committed while on the run.

APRIL 2011: Samuel Carson (19) and Frances McKeown (23) found hanged in their prison cells at Hydebank Wood.


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