Mystery as figures reveal unexplained deaths of more than 60 people in Scots jails since 2013

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur is seeking assurance from the Scottish Government that deaths in prisons are properly investigated 

NEW FIGURES HAVE revealed that the deaths of more than 60 people in prisons across Scotland in recent years have not been adequately investigated.

After a parliamentary question from Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, figures showed that since 2013, 64 people have died while in prison, but the reasons for their deaths remain unknown.

Analysis of the parliamentary question shows that there have been 64 fatal accident inquiries (FAI) processes in total, resulting in an increasing backlog of FAIs.

Figures showed that since 2013, 64 people have died while in prison, but the reasons for their deaths remain unknown.

The Scottish Review website also revealed that half of the deaths in Scottish prisons in the last five years remain unexpained because of the failure to conclude a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI).

McArthur, who is the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ justice spokesperson, said: “These figures show that a growing number of prisoners’ deaths have yet to be properly investigated. Each year a case goes unanswered is another year that family and friends of the deceased are left in limbo.

“The Scottish Government must explain why this backlog has been allowed to develop and what steps it is taking to reduce it.

“For families not to have the answers as to what happened to their loved one is a real injustice.”

McArthur has written to the Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, urging him “to bring forward the necessary legislation that will make sure that all future fatal incidents are properly investigated”.

Any death in prison custody may lead to an FAI under the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976. However, the decision to hold an FAI lies with the Lord Advocate/Procurator Fiscal after the initial investigation into the cause of death.

“These figures show that a growing number of prisoners’ deaths have yet to be properly investigated. Each year a case goes unanswered is another year that family and friends of the deceased are left in limbo.” Liam McArthur

A Crown Office spokesperson said:”Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) aims to hold Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAI) as soon as practicable. Most death investigations conclude once a cause of death is known and, in the case of death in custody, an FAI will then be held.

"Some cases require further investigation before the Crown can proceed with an FAI. The investigations may involve complex technical and medical issues requiring the instruction of experts.

"There are also a number of other factors out with the control of COPFS which can contribute to delays.”

The Crown Office told CommonSpace that factors contributing to such a delay could include trying to get the necessary court time to hear the FAI and whether other criminal proceedings take precedence over an FAI.

The Crown Office told CommonSpace that factors contributing to such a delay could include trying to get the necessary court time to hear the FAI and whether other criminal proceedings take precedence over an FAI.

The spokesperson added: “A number of the 2013-14 deaths referenced in the SPS statistics as 'Not Determined - awaiting FAI' have concluded and we await the Sheriff's determination. Others are near completion or awaiting dates for an FAI to be set.”

The Crown Office said that the Scottish Fatalities Investigations Unit (SFIU) was established in April 2012 for the Procurator Fiscal to investigate all non-suspicious deaths.

This is to ensure that all reports of someone's death are properly investigated to the highest standards. Also, this will ensure that the Crown Office takes the appropriate action throughout the duration of these cases.  

The Crown Office spokesperson said: “In August last year, the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland reported that the introduction of SFIU, a national specialist unit responsible for investigating all sudden, suspicious and unexplained deaths, has significantly improved the service provided by COPFS with a 64 per cent reduction in the time taken between the date of death to the start of the FAI.

“In August last year, the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland reported that the introduction of SFIU, suspicious and unexplained deaths, has significantly improved the service provided by COPFS with a 64 per cent reduction in the time taken between the date of death to the start of the FAI.” Crown Office

“Throughout the investigations, SFIU will liaise with the nearest relatives of the deceased's family to ensure that they are kept fully informed of significant developments. COPFS' commitments to liaison with the families of deceased persons are set out in the Family Liaison Charter which the Lord Advocate laid before the Scottish Parliament in September last year.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the deceased for whom it must be a very difficult time.  Any death in custody, including prison, is properly investigated through a Fatal Accident Inquiry which is a matter for the Lord Advocate.”

Picture courtesy of Bill Collison

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