Katie Allan was found dead after months of bullying, self harm and targeted strip searches at Polmont Prison
On Thursday 25 October at 10am, the family of Katie Allan – a University of Glasgow student that died by suicide in Polmont Prison in June of this year – are to launch a public campaign to challenge the failures of the Scottish justice system that led to their daughter’s death. The launch will take place at the Glasgow University Chapel.
A third year Geography student at the University of Glasgow, Katie was sentenced to sixteen months in prison in February 2018 for hitting a fifteen-year-old jogger while driving drunk. The victim made a full recovery. In June, Katie was found dead after months of alleged bullying, self harm and targeted strip searches from prison staff.
Katie was given a custodial sentence despite the family of the drink-driving victim writing to both the Crown Prosecution Service and the sheriff in the case asking them not to jail her. The family of the victim told the Daily Telegraph: “She was obviously full of remorse and apologised several times.
“We wrote to the CPS to ask them to spare Katie a custodial sentence, we were ignored. As the victims, we didn’t feel it was necessary, some people don’t get custodial sentences when the people have died.
“Katie was given a sentence that we didn’t want and we were all devastated when we read that she had died.”
Katie’s mum, Linda, has told the Daily Record that her daughter was strip searched after almost every visit and lost 80 per cent of her hair due to stress. She said: “The searches were supposed to be random or intelligence-led but it always seemed to be her.
“There was an incident when they were training female officers and they chose Katie to be strip searched. She was absolutely distraught after that because she was made to strip naked while they had a conversation.”
Katie’s parents say that the harassment led to stress-induced alopecia, which was flagged up to the prison doctor. However, they claim that the prison’s staff failed to notice self harm marks all over her body despite numerous strip searches. They also claim that Katie was threatened with a move to the harsher adult unit of the prison.
On the last time that she saw her daughter alive, Linda told the Daily Record: “On my last visit to see her with her brother, we knew something was wrong. She looked exhausted and hadn’t slept because she was being terrorised and bullied.
“We flagged this up with two prison officers as we now know that, just before she died, they told her she might be moved to the adult prison.”
According to Linda, Katie had been unable to sleep for three nights due to “shouting and berating and bullying” coming from cells beside her.
Despite Katie’s history of self harm, she was given no mental health checks and remained in a non “suicide-proofed” cell. Her request to be moved to a quieter cell was also denied.
Rev Stuart McQuarrie, Glasgow University’s chaplain, has said: “Katie was a soft target. She was vulnerable from the very moment she walked into Polmont.
“The system utterly failed to pick up the self-harm issue. Their duty of care was not fulfilled – it was abandoned.”
Katie’s family are calling for an immediate review and radical reform of the prison system, answers from the prison service rather than waiting four years for the results of a Fatal Accident Inquiry, and answers from the Scottish Government on this “broken system”. They claim that “the acceptable culture of violence, bullying, drugs and threats within Polmont is shrouded in a cloud of bureaucratic secrecy.”
You can donate to their campaign here.
A Crown Office spokesman said: “The investigation into the death of Katie Allan is ongoing and there will be a mandatory Fatal Accident Inquiry in due course once our investigations are complete.
“The case team and staff from the specialist VIA service have been in regular contact with the family and will continue to keep them informed of any significant developments.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Prison Service said: “We can offer no further comment on the circumstances surrounding Ms Allan’s death in advance of the fatal accident inquiry.
“The SPS will fully cooperate with the inquiry. We have absolute confidence in the governor of HMP & YOI Polmont.”
Katie’s family have been publicly supported by the University of Glasgow chaplain Rev Stuart McQuarrie as well as the human rights lawyer and University Rector Aamer Anwar.