The family of Katie Allan, a third-year University of Glasgow student that died by suicide in June of this year, have launched a campaign for justice and answers into their daughter’s tragic death.
Katie died in Polmont Prison after months of bullying, self-harm and alleged targeted strip searches. She was sentenced to a sixteen-month custodial sentence, despite the family of Katie’s drunk-driving victim (who made a full recovery) pleading with the CPS and sheriff in the case not to jail her. Her family are now campaigning to challenge the failures of the Scottish justice system that led to their daughter’s death, having launched their campaign at the Glasgow University Chapel on 23 October.
Just two weeks after the campaign launch, sixteen-year old William Lindsay also died by suicide at Polmont, despite having been flagged up as a suicide risk.
The Allan family campaign has been supported by the University of Glasgow, as well as the University’s Rector and human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, and the University’s chaplain Stuart MacQuarrie.
Aamer Anwar, who is also the Allan family’s lawyer, has said that the deaths of Katie and William “were not inevitable”. He called for “all those politicians who claim to care about justice or young people” to “consider their shameful silence on this issue”.
Labour Monica Lennon MSP tweeted: “Another preventable suicide. Another young life ended in prison. What the hell is going on at Polmont?”
Katie Allan’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.
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.”
A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said, “The death of any student is a cause of sadness and regret. The circumstances in which Katie Allen lost her life were particularly harrowing and tragic. We have provided support to the family, and will continue to do so, and were pleased to offer the Chapel as a venue for the launch of their recent campaign.”