Belfast Telegraph

Parents of Hydebank suicide prisoner remember precious daughter Frances McKeown

By Allan Preston

The devastated parents of a young mother who took her own life in Hydebank prison have said their daughter "lives on in our memories and will always be sadly missed by us".

Yesterday, the eighth and final day of the inquest into the death of 23-year-old mother-of-two Frances McKeown, a jury found she committed suicide by hanging on May 4, 2011.

Her mental health, a change in medication and family breakdown were listed as factors that contributed to her death.

The jury also found that any defects in care from the Prison Service or the South Eastern Health Trust had not contributed to the tragedy.

Three main causes were found to have led to her suicide:

l An emotionally unstable personality disorder - a condition that made her prone to impulsive behaviour.

l The use of an unprescribed anti-depressant drug Trazodone in combination with two prescribed drugs, the anti-depressant Fluoxetine and the anti-psychotic Risperidone;

l External factors such as the stress caused by her children being taken into care, marital problems and grief and anxiety caused by her prison sentence.

Following her findings, Coroner Suzanne Anderson addressed Mrs McKeown's parents, Louise and James Campbell.

"Mr and Mrs Campbell, you've shown quiet dignity through the inquest process, and I'd just like to extend you my deepest sympathy on the death of your daughter, Frances," she said.

A statement from Mr and Mrs Campbell was issued afterwards.

It read: "Sometimes in life, events occur that fracture the very foundation on which we stand. Our life, as we have known it, has changed for ever.

"Frances was a victim of suicide. She was not a perfect person, but she was our daughter, and she was a very precious, very vulnerable young woman. She struggled with her mental health difficulties, as we her family struggled for support and good mental health care for our daughter."

The parents said that during her life Frances made a number of inappropriate choices and decisions. "While some people tried to exploit her, others did their best to help her," they added.

"As a parent, it is horrific to watch your child battle with any difficulties and it is your role to fight hard on their behalf for help. We took on that role.

"However, when they become an adult, you as a parent are left struggling against systems and institutions that disregard you.

"It would be easy to become obsessed with taking on these bodies, but this is not going to bring Frances back. We believe very strongly that no monetary value could or should be placed on Frances' life. No amount of compensation is going to bring our daughter back."

Mr and Mrs Campbell also told how they wanted Frances to be remembered for more than just the manner and the place of her death.

"Her death took away a very young mother, our daughter, a sister, grand-daughter, god-daughter, niece, cousin and friend," they said.

"Frances was greatly loved. She lives on in our memories and she will always be sadly missed by us."

Before the ruling, the Coroner highlighted the key evidence. Frances was sent to prison in October 2010 following a charge of hijacking of a taxi. She was said to have been intent on killing her husband Brian McKeown, who she accused of the 2010 murder of her ex-boyfriend Kevin Fletcher.

Mr Fletcher's father, also named Kevin, was cleared of the murder in 2012.

On committal to Hydebank prison, Frances waited more than six months to be seen by a psychiatrist, despite her self-harming at the time and having a history of suicide attempts.

While the wait for psychological assessment was described as inappropriate, it could not be concluded that earlier treatment would have prevented her death.

It was also noted she had been engaging in other mental health services in prison such as SPAR (supporting prisoners at risk). A psychiatrist described her suicide to the court as "impulsive", noting that she had made plans for a visit from her parents earlier that day.

In February 2011, her anti-depressant medication was stopped by her GP for 19 days as she was found not to be in possession of her prescribed medication, which is an offence for inmates. It has since been admitted this should not have happened and she should have been placed on a supervised swallow regime.

At the time of her death, Frances was found to have the unprescribed anti-depressant Trazodone in her system. It was noted that - along with her two prescribed medications - the "disastrous" combination could have led to suicidal thoughts.

Brian McKeown, her husband, told the court he could not understand why his wife had committed suicide and denied being abusive towards her or having a negative influence on her mental health.

Belfast Telegraph


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