Belfast Telegraph

Mum of Hydebank suicide woman Frances McKeown tells of 'heartbreaking' decision to oppose bail for daughter

By Allan Preston

The mother of a young woman who took her own life in Hydebank has spoken of the "heartbreaking" decision to go against bail for her daughter in the hope that she would receive better mental health care in prison.

Frances McKeown, a married mother-of-two, was 23 when she died on May 4, 2011.

Her death came five hours after 19-year-old inmate Samuel Carson also took his life in a neighbouring block and another prisoner attempted suicide.

During the seventh day of the inquest into her daughter's death, Frances McKeown's mother, Louise Campbell, said she wanted her daughter to be remembered "as a loving daughter, mother and sister" rather than for how she died.

She blamed her daughter's death on her mental illness rather than the Prison Service, which was heavily criticised at the time for the standard of care offered to inmates with psychological issues.

A statement by Mrs Campbell that was read to the court described a young Frances as a tomboy who loved riding horses.

"She was born into a normal, hard-working, loving family," the statement added. "Frances enjoyed all aspects of family life, especially birthdays.

Having left school at 16 to complete an NVQ in childcare, Mrs Campbell said Frances had been a hard-working student who held down a number of part-time jobs.

"Sadly, in her teenage years difficulties began to emerge," she added.

"On one occasion, Frances stole money from the school fundraiser and used the money to buy treats for the other children in the school from the tuck shop. Frances also stole credit cards from the family home."

Later, she would attract the attention of the police for stealing her grandparents' car. Her parents found professional help for Frances, but she was not diagnosed with any mental health condition and her problems were described as behavioural.

Against the wishes of her parents, when she turned 18 she declined to engage with mental health services.

At this time she met her husband Brian McKeown, now aged 59. "There was a considerable age gap," said Mrs Campbell. "Frances married Brian when she was 20, her daughter was born to her when she was 20 and her son when she was 22."

At 21, Frances was eventually diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder - a condition that made her prone to impulsive behaviour.

Mrs Campbell told the court that between the ages of 18 and 22, her daughter's "deteriorating mental health and negative external influences in her life resulted in her being arrested for a serious crime."

Previous evidence to the inquest heard how Frances had hijacked a taxi and was armed with a knife and intent on killing her husband, who she believed murdered her ex-boyfriend, Kevin Fletcher, in 2010.

Mr Fletcher's father, also called Kevin, was cleared of his murder in 2012.

Before Christmas in 2010, Frances applied for bail. Her parents said they made a "heartbreaking" decision not to provide an address.

"My husband and I were genuinely concerned that if she was bailed she would not engage in services in the community and thus the vicious cycle would continue," explained Mrs Campbell.

"My husband and I both believe that the impulsive traits in her condition caused her to take her own life.

"I wish for Frances to be remembered for being much more than her death. Frances was a loving daughter, mother and sister and we'll never forget that."

Counsel for the South Eastern Health Trust and Prison Service passed on their condolences.

Yesterday, the inquest also heard testimony on improvements in mental health care made in the prison system. Before her death, Frances attempted suicide a number of times, had her medication stopped for 19 days and had to wait seven months for an appointment with a jail psychiatrist.

Tracy Heasley, a mental health nurse for the South Eastern Trust, explained the changes.

They include the establishment of separate mental health and primary care teams for prisons, as well as a dedicated GP team and pharmacy.

Other measures include a new electronic record system of the medical history of inmates.

Ms Heasley added that under the new arrangements, Frances would have been classified as urgent and seen within three weeks by a psychiatrist, rather than seven months.

The inquest continues.

Belfast Telegraph


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