THE families of two young people who took their own lives at a young offenders institution are calling for the lifting of Crown immunity so that the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) can be prosecuted.

Katie Allan died aged 21 at Polmont Young Offenders Institution near Falkirk in June 2018 while serving a sentence for a driving offence.

William Lindsay died in October that year at the age of 16, days after being sent there on remand.

The families of Allan and Lindsay have long called for justice in relation to the deaths.

A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) was announced on Tuesday, with a preliminary hearing to be held on Tuesday, July 11, at Falkirk Sheriff Court.

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Solicitor General, Ruth Charteris KC, said she hopes the FAI will provide the families with the answers that they are looking for.

She said: “I acknowledge the deep anguish that the deaths of Katie and William have brought to their families.

“I met with Katie’s mother and father and William’s mother and brother, and having listened to them talk about their experiences I fully appreciate that the wait for these proceedings has been too long and distressing for them.

“My hope is that this inquiry provides them with the answers that they are looking for and helps to prevent similar deaths in the future.

“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has introduced a number of reforms designed to reduce the time it takes to investigate deaths, improve the quality of such investigations, and improve communication with bereaved families.

“As part of these reforms, a specialist custody deaths investigation team has been set up to focus on cases such as those of Katie and William.”

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In a statement issued by solicitor Aamer Anwar on behalf of John Reilly, the brother of William Lindsay, and Linda and Stuart Allan, the parents of Katie Allan, they called for the lifting of Crown immunity, which means that the Scottish Prison Service cannot be prosecuted.

The statement read: “We note that the Solicitor General acknowledges the distress to the families caused by both deaths and the length of time taken for the Crown Office to get it to this stage. 

“But for the families the passage of time has allowed a cynical Scottish Prison Service to operate behind a veil of secrecy, covering up systemic failures & preventable suicides. 

“Nearly five years have passed since Katie and William’s death, in that time there have been two Lord Advocates, two Solicitor Generals, three justice ministers all apologising for delays. 

“Since then, William’s mother Christine has died, and prisoners are now twice as likely to die in prison in 2022 as someone was in 2008.”

A report by academics at Glasgow University in September 2022 found that the rate of suicide and drugs deaths in Scottish jails is significantly higher than in England, with 121 deaths from the start of 2020 until then. 

Anwar continued: “SPS hides behind empty words of condolences in the comfort that no matter how a prisoner dies on their watch, they will never ever be held to account, crown immunity from prosecution effectively gives them a ‘license to kill’. 

"We do not have the death sentence in Scotland but for William and Katie that is exactly what Polmont Young Offenders Institute meant. The lifting of Crown immunity must a priority for the Scottish Government.

“Whilst an FAI cannot apportion blame, the families of William and Katie hold the Scottish Prison Service and Health Service directly responsible for their deaths and will fight to ensure that other lives can be saved.

“The irony is that had Katie or William died in a private prison, a police cell or mental health hospital, it would have been possible to prosecute them.

“Crown immunity is a shameful abuse of power and in advance of the FAI both families are asking Justice Secretary Angela Constance and the Scottish Government what they intend to do about approaching the UK Government to save lives in our prisons.”

Katie Allan’s parents Linda and Stuart Allan added: “This Sunday will be the fifth anniversary of our daughter’s death. We will spend the day reflecting on Katie’s life and all she meant to us.

“Katie’s life, like many other young people, meant nothing to the Scottish Prison Service. If it had, she would not be dead."

Anwar said an evidential hearing is expected to start in January next year.

Unlike criminal proceedings, FAIs are inquisitorial in nature, and are used to establish facts rather than to apportion blame.

The inquiry will explore the circumstances of both deaths, with particular focus on the Scottish Prison Service “Talk To Me” strategy in relation to the prevention of suicide in prison.

The purpose of an FAI includes determining the cause of death, the circumstances in which the deaths occurred, and to establish what, if any, reasonable precautions could have been taken, and could be implemented in the future, to minimise the risk of future deaths in similar circumstances.

A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokesperson said: “While it would not be appropriate to comment on upcoming proceedings, we recognise the profound emotional distress experienced by families in any instance when a loved one dies in custody.

“The welfare and safety of those in our care is a priority for the SPS. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons wrote there had been ‘considerable strides made in healthcare’ for young people at HMP & YOI Polmont, following an independent review in 2019.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our sympathies remain with the families of Katie Allan and William Lindsay.

“We are determined any lessons that need to be learned will be, and that all appropriate agencies will look closely at the outcome of this FAI, as they should with all FAI recommendations.”