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Margaret - Interview 40

Age at interview: 62
Brief Outline: Margaret's daughter was in prison when she took her own life. Margaret was shocked by the news. The inquest found that there had been a lack of care while her daughter was in prison. Margaret found support from her dog, friends, SOBS & a counsellor.
Background: Margaret is a part-time psychotherapist. She is single. She had a daughter who died. Ethnic background/nationality: White British

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One day in 2002 Margaret heard a knock at the door. Two policemen were on the door- step. They told Margaret that her daughter had died in prison. They also said that it appeared that she had taken her own life. This was a tremendous shock to Margaret. She felt as if the cells in her body were flying in all directions.
 
Margaret wanted to see her daughter as soon as possible in case her daughter’s spirit was still lingering around her body in a confused state. She wanted to make sure that any lingering energy was moved on. Margaret was taken to see her daughter’s body, which was in the hospital mortuary. The coroner’s officer arranged this and met her there. Margaret was moved to see that her daughter had been thoughtfully dressed in a pink shroud. She was able to see her daughter again when she was moved to the funeral director’s chapel.
 
Margaret was glad that some Buddhist nuns were able to pray for her daughter for a period of 49 days. They were led by a high Lama who could summon her daughter’s spirit. Margaret believes that their prayers helped her daughter towards the light.
 
Margaret went to see her daughter’s boy friend to discuss the funeral arrangements. He was in another prison. She was searched when she got there, which she found was a dehumanizing experience. 
 
The funeral took place at the chapel attached to the crematorium a few weeks later.  Margaret took great care when choosing the clothes for her daughter’s body as it lay in the coffin. She wanted her daughter to look lovely. She also wanted her to be warm for her burial. Margaret also spent time finding suitable music for the funeral. The first piece of music that was played was called “Do you remember me Lord?” Margaret is a pantheist but her mother is a Catholic, so Margaret was glad to have a friend, who is a humanist and also a Catholic priest, at the service. Her daughter was not cremated but buried in consecrated land.
 
Margaret went to see the prison governor at the prison where her daughter had died. The governor kept referring to Margaret’s daughter as a “drug addict”, which made Margaret very upset. Her daughter was a person, not simply a “drug addict”. Margaret was not able to talk to anyone who had known her daughter at the prison, which she thinks was unacceptable.
 
The prison service and the ombudsman and the police conducted investigations into the cause and circumstances surrounding Margaret’s daughter’s death.
 
The inquest took place two years later, and went on for two weeks. There were about 60 people in the room, including the jury. In theory an inquest is not supposed to attribute blame, but Margaret believes that in practice, for the prison service the inquest is considered a potential opportunity for damage limitation.
 
 Margaret had a barrister to represent her at the inquest. She obtained free advice from an organization called INQUEST. This is a small charitable organization that provides a specialist, comprehensive advice service to bereaved people, lawyers, the media, MPs and the wider public on contentious deaths and their investigation. It is for those living in England and Wales.
 
At the inquest Margaret discovered that shortly before her daughter’s death her daughter had received a letter from her boy friend. Margaret had not seen it.
 
The jury verdict at the coroner’s inquest concluded that Margaret’s daughter had hanged herself – contributory factors to the death on the part of the prison service being:

  • A total lack of awareness and staff training in the management of persons at risk of self-harm and suicide
  • The totally inappropriate decision to isolate Margaret’s daughter in a cell with bunk beds whilst on an open F2052H (suicide watch form)
  • An inappropriate and insufficient detoxification programme
  • Inadequate initial assessment to determine individual needs on entering custody

Following the inquest and after Margaret pursuing the matter, the prison service did concede liability.
 
Margaret made great efforts to try to prevent other deaths in prison. She is glad that there have been some improvements to the prison regime since her daughter died. There is now a “purposeful activity” centre where prisoners can do various things, such as art work. Prisoners are also able to “self-refer” and talk to someone appropriate when feeling depressed, anxious, or troubled. Margaret is also pleased that there is now an induction period when women arrive at the prison.
 
Margaret still feels desperately sad at times and still misses her daughter very much. She likens bereavement to a “big open wound” and thinks that there is still a taboo around the subject of suicide.
 
Margaret has found most help from her dog, who is very loyal and supportive. Caring for the dog provided a framework to her day. She has also found comfort from friends and in writing and walking. Margaret saw a counsellor for a short while. This counselling was arranged by her GP. She also found help from attending a meeting organized by Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS).
 
Margaret has given money to a charity in Africa in memory of her daughter. The money has gone to help children who have lost their parents.

 

Two policemen arrived at the house and told Margaret that her daughter had died. She was so...

Two policemen arrived at the house and told Margaret that her daughter had died. She was so...

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…The next morning there was a knock on the door.  I think it was about half nine or ten o’clockish. And the door was still locked from the night before and I came down and said, “Who is it?” And nobody answered. So I said that again and they said, “It’s the police.” So I opened the door and let them in. And just to explain my house here, you step straight into the living area.

 

And there were two policemen and there was a younger policeman, and the chap behind him. And the younger policeman … the person in front of me said, “Are you the mother of ..?” And he said my daughter’s name. And I said, “Yes.” And then in the next few words, he said that she died. And his one foot was still on the matting and he was standing right in front of me. And I can remember that.  I can … I can’t remember actually too much about what exactly I did then. But I do know that I was standing there and I could see his mouth moving, but he was talking too fast for me to understand what he was saying. And then I can remember that I started to go very hot and shaky and sweating. And I said to him, “I can see your mouth moving but I can’t hear what you’re saying.” And I said to him, “Would you like to sit down?” And he said, “No, would you, would you like to sit down?”  And I just sort of …

 

Hmm.

 

… collapsed on the settee really. This, well I say collapsed, sat down on the settee. The fellow behind him was an older policeman and he was very quiet. And he came and sat somewhere near to the settee. He pulled up a dining chair and sat near to the settee, quite near to me. But it was the young policeman that was still talking. And he said, he told me that my daughter had died in prison. And I didn’t know that she was in prison. I’d never been to a prison. I didn't know anything about prison. And he said, “We have we have, we’ve brought you the telephone numbers and addresses of her boyfriend and his father. And you can, if you’d like to write them down. And I just couldn’t … it was like I, my arms couldn’t move. So I said, “I’m afraid I can’t write them.”


Of course. What a shock. Would you like to have a break?


And I said, “Can you write it down for me?”

Hm.

 

It’s still written in my diary in his writing…


I’m sorry that must’ve been such a shock to be told that.


So I said, “Well where is she now, where is she is now?”


How long is it since you’d last seen her or …?


It was a while but let me tell you …


Yes.


I said, “Where is she now?” Because that’s the important thing I must get to her. And he said, “I can find out where, where she is or where the body is. I can’t remember what she said. And, and I’ll let you know.” And I said, “I must get to her now.”


Hm. Did he take you?


No. They said, the older policeman said, we’re … he was asking me who my next of kin was really. And I said, “Well my son.” And the younger policeman went outside. I think at that point I can’t remember, if it was then that they, that they rang through and told me that she was in the mortuary, at the hospital. And I said, “I must get there, I must get to her.”


Hmm.


But I couldn’t stop shaking. And the older policeman said, “Oh we’ll make you a cup of tea.” So he made a cup of tea. And then he was asking me of course lots of questions about, about her and was that, would that have been an important day, you know, the day that she died. Would that … I can remember that he said, “Was that significant in anyway?” And I can remember saying, “Well it is now isn’t it?”

 

Any death is likely to be a shock but Margaret believes that bereavement due to suicide adds ...

Any death is likely to be a shock but Margaret believes that bereavement due to suicide adds ...

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Yes. What I’d like to talk about is that when a death happens, when there is a death, a sudden death, a sudden and unexpected death, that that’s a shock to everyone anyway. When it’s a child or a sibling, or partner or whatever, they predecease you, that’s a shock in itself. So that’s a different layer.


Hmm.


And then, if the people who die appear to have had a hand in their own death, that’s another layer of shock. And the next layer, I guess, is a very profound layer as well, which is if the person is actually incarcerated at the time, if that person’s in custody, in a way that’s, it’s worse than the worse possible nightmare is to how a death could or might happen.


Hmm.


If you sub, subsequently find out that the person had been put in isolation against their will, that’s something that just doesn’t bear thinking about.

 

Margaret went quickly to the mortuary. Her spiritual beliefs gave her a strong sense of what she...

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But the first and most important thing was to get to [my daughter]. (…) And that was because [crying]; when they said she appeared to, to have taken her own life that she’d hung herself, (…) I was terrified that she might still be lingering around her body in a confused state because of the suddenness of the death.


Hmm.


I really do believe that that’s the least auspicious way to die. You know like at the moment at death that you’re in this pain and confusion and …

 

Hmm.

 

… on your own. And so I needed to get there so they could shift the energy on for her, if it was still lingering.


The body of the person who has died belongs to the coroner, legally belongs to the coroner. So the usual arrangements, if there’s such a thing as usual for a funeral, and a death, which would be decided by the family, next of kin, partners, whatever, that has to wait for the release of the body. But also there are all the rules and regulations about when you can see the person and where you can see the person. I was fortunate in that when I said very, very clearly that that was the first thing I must do, when I heard my daughter had died, which was to get to her, although the coroner, the coroner’s officer said,  “We can’t stop you, we can’t prevent because that’s your right. But we would strongly advise that you wait until the funeral directors have seen to your daughter before you see her.” And I can remember saying, “Well she’s my daughter, she doesn’t need to look pretty, I need to hold her.”


Yes.


And so he said, “Well, I’ll meet you at the hospital.”

 

But anyway, he met me at the mortuary. And I was able to buy a little toy for my daughter and a red rose in the little foyer there.


Is that at the hospital?


Yes, at the mortuary. (…) I guess what’s important is that when somebody dies and it’s a suicide or for any reason that there’s a bereavement, what’s important to happen then is what the people perceive to be helpful and important. It’s not a one-size fits all remedy that people can come up with, either an organisation or a family liaison officer. And what was important to me was to get to [my daughter] and to be able to hold my daughter.

 

Hmm.

 

And I appreciate that for some people that would be last thing they’d want. They might want to remember them as they had been, laughing and walking about and everything. But to me because of my beliefs, it was to make sure that she was all right and that any lingering energy could be moved on if she, if her spirit or soul was in a state confusion and not realising she’d died. And that was so important that I would get to her as soon as possible. So that’s really what I’m saying, that I think all of us when we lose somebody, even though we mightn’t know, we know what the most important thing for us at the time, if someone can skilfully and respectfully say, you know, “What needs to happens now for this to be manageable?”


Hmm.


Then somehow we can, that can be elicited. We can actually come up with that, if it’s said gently and we’re given the time. And it might be something that’s seems as trivial as well, can someone walk my dog while we go to the mortuary. It’s whatever at that’s second is helpful.

 

Looking back, did you find it helpful to go to be with [your daughter] … to see her?


Oh absolutely, oh absolutely. When I actually saw her, she was in w

 

Margaret believes that the subject of suicide is taboo and that others see her as 'contaminated',...

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I’m aware there are so many taboos still around suicide, if someone may have had a hand in ending their own life, and certainly around prison.


How are you aware of that?  Have other people made you aware of that?  Have other people made insensitive remarks?


Basically because when I’ve talked about [my daughter] they’ve chosen not to respond, as if I hadn’t said it.  

Oh.


And I find that so strange.  I find that there must be an awful lot of fear, there must be so much fear, they’ve been somehow contaminated by knowing someone that knows somebody that’s been in prison.


You think it’s prison or suicide, or both?


Both.


Hmm.


I think it’s both and I, I think it’s also there’s that your child has pre-deceased you.  It’s everybody’s fear really.  You mightn’t consciously know it but it’s the unthinkable.

 

After the inquest Margaret issued a statement via her solicitor. A reporter told her that if she...

After the inquest Margaret issued a statement via her solicitor. A reporter told her that if she...

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… So the person who was there [at the inquest] from the papers, even though she’d been told to approach me through the solicitor, did come up to me, because we didn’t have a proper room to sit in. So I had to sit in the corridor when we weren’t sort of in session.


Hmm.


On some of the days, not all of the days. And this day she came up, very respectfully I have to say, and said to me, “Would I be interested in doing an article?” It was for the Guardian actually. And I said that I wouldn’t be interested doing anything until after the inquest and that there were several other inquests to come. And I was being respectful that anything that I said might compromise or involve inevitably the situation. So she said to me, “Do you mean such a body, such a body?” So I said to her, “I didn’t mention any names and I wouldn’t like to do anything at this point. But if you’d like to give me your card, then when it’s the appropriate time, I would contact you.” Which I did do actually ages after the inquest, only because she’d been respectful.


Hmm.


And I think that’s important. And I had been told, I was asked through INQUEST if I would do an article, as well. Obviously I did a, I did a statement after the inquest, which was to go out via my solicitor.


Yes.


To all people who could access my statement.

 


… I’m just so … it’ so important to me that my daughter has dignity in death.


Yes of course.


And to me dignity is about not raking her up again all the time. Because it’s important that, how can I put it? To me it’s important that I don’t let anyone hurt her.


Yes.


That’s what is important.


Hmm.


That nobody hurts her.


Hmm.


So, so that part of her whether it’s her photograph or her name or whatever, they’re not put out for people to pick over.


No.


And, and that’s her right and privilege. And it, as one reporter said to me, “Well what harm can she come to she’s dead now?” And I said, “If that’s what you believe I’ve nothing else to say.” I mean that, that’s sort of takes your breath away.


Yes.


Ohhh. Takes your breath away. But actually he also said, “My advice to you, is if you say nothing, what you don’t say, people will invent.” And I thought, “Well that’s up to their creativity. I’m not joining in.”


Hmm.

Yeah.


Hmm.


So that’s why when we did the statement after the inquest that was done with my solicitor there. And we faxed that, she faxed that straight through to INQUEST, to go out to the media.


Hmm.


You know so they had got something. And, and then they showed me before it and the person at INQUEST, the organisation had put part of my statement as part of the article. And the article was beautifully written for the cause [to improve things in prison and prevent other suicides].

 

Margaret wanted her daughter to be dressed in colours she liked and to feel warm and protected...

Margaret wanted her daughter to be dressed in colours she liked and to feel warm and protected...

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And it was very important to me how she was dressed and everything, in the colours that she liked, the silver, and she got a full-length coat. And like a, not suede, like suede effect, it was suede actually, with fur lining.


Hmm.


Not real fur, obviously. And silver velvet trousers. And I can remember, she always wanted to wear something of mine. Even though I would buy her a dressing gown the same, she would want to wear mine.


Hmm.


So I took my socks off and put my socks on her.


Did you do all that at the funeral parlour?  Is that where you did that?


I gave those things to the man to put on.


Yeah.


And then my engagement ring, it was a fire opal set in diamonds and that was to come to her, she knew that.  And the last time we were together she said, “Oh mum, I’m so glad you’ve still got that ring.”  And there was part of me at the time that thought, “Oh just give her it.”  And then I thought, “She’ll only give it away within the week.” 


Hmm.


You know.  And I want her to have it …


Hmm.


… but the, you know, the way that she is at the moment, she would give it away. So, her hands were bigger than mine so obviously that was to go to her. So that was important to me as well, that she had that.  And there was a little diamond missing so I took it into the jewellers and said, “Could you have this ready for tomorrow because the funeral directors wanted everything she was to be dressed in and they did it for me overnight.  They were very good.  And they, the funeral directors said, “Well it’s actually, we’ll have to put it on her little finger”.


Hmm.


You know. No. Is that right? Her hands were bigger. It was on her little finger.


Probably the little finger …


Yeah, it’s on her little finger. 


Did she have an open coffin?


The one thing I didn’t think to choose was the colour of the lining. I chose the, the wood that I thought she would like and everything but I didn’t choose the colour of her, the lining. And I would have chosen ivory or cream and it actually was white. I’ve got a lovely photograph, it may sound, it may sound quite bizarre but it was very important to have a photograph of her in there, and of me with her. 


Hmm.


Well, not so much me but my hand on her forehead. On her brow.  And so there is a photo of that.  I asked the funeral lady to take that.


Was it an open coffin at the, at the service?  At the funeral?


No.


No.


The lid was on.


But it was for you.


But people could see her when she was in here. They could go and see her in the chapel of rest at the funeral director’s when she came here. When I say here, I mean, I don’t mean in this house…


Locally.


I mean, locally. It was hard choosing the things because when I went [shopping] it was just before Christmas and when I went it was so important that I got the right things for her. There would be her …


Hmm.


... and I thought I want her to feel warm and it’s important to me that she feels protected.  So I got a full-length coat.


Hmm.


There was another one that was slightly lighter that she would have loved to wear, it’s a jacket and that also was in a slightly lighter colour, almost a cream, whereas the one I’ve got is in a like a very light tan, with a cream, creamy brown lining.  I’ll show you the photo.

 

Margaret's daughter was buried rather than cremated because it just seemed 'right' at the time...

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So was she cremated?


No, no, no.


Oh buried.


Yes. I say oh no, no, no, because somehow I know most people are cremated. No she’s buried.


Hmm.


Yes. To me that is important, that it's a burial and not a cremation. Not because someone has forced that belief on me but because it, it just seems right. And it’s what [my daughter] would have expected, and wanted, because when my father died, her granddad, everyone in the family would have been buried.


Hmm.


Not cremated.


Hmm. Hm. Is that part of your spiritual belief or just …?


I think, well interesting actually having said that, my brother was cremated. But I think it’s, it’s something to do with the suddenness of a burning I think.


Hmm.


I can’t bear the thought of it.


Hmm.


And yet it was fine when it was my brother’s.


Hmm.


That was fine.


Hmm.


It’s like recently when the, what’s her name, Benazir Bhutto was killed it, it just seemed … it’s almost like you, you can’t take it in.


Yes.


When it happens so quickly.


Yes.


I, it’s just I know that she is; a part of her physical body is still there.


Yes. Yes, I can understand that.


And I think that is probably just habit rather than a belief. If it was important to somebody else, if somebody said to me, close to me said, I want to be cremated. Then that would be fine because they’d want to be cremated.


Hmm. It’s just what you feel comfortable with.


And also my daughter.


Hmm.


And that was important.

Hmm.


Yeah.

 

Margaret describes part of the inquest hearing that was held after her daughter died in prison,...

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So I read out the statement and I had said beforehand, “When I go up I don’t want to swear on the Bible”, because to me that would be very insincere, because I really do think so many people base their lives on a book, and forget what it’s all about. And so to me it’s caused more trouble in people’s lives …


Hmm.


… I’d rather, I’m a pantheist, I’d rather just know what’s real, what’s true and so, that would be like saying I don’t really mean what I say if I held the Bible. So I said I, they said, “Well you will take the pledge”, vow, whatever it’s called, so that’s what I did.


But in the end of my reading this, this chap, the barrister for the Home Office, jumps up and he starts, his first question was, “How old was your daughter when you adopted her?” So I thought, “What has that to do with the price of fish?” Really. I mean, really and truly, “What’s his tack here?”


Hmm.


“What’s going on?” And I realised because his, and then he said, “Did you tell her she was adopted?” And I can remember saying, “It’s the law.” Well, actually it’s the law in this country, if you’re in front of a High Court judge and have gone through an adoption society. But, I mean, he was just going on this like I was almost, and I suddenly thought, “Do you know what? He’s trying to make it out, I think he’s trying to make out, let’s find a reason that she might have wanted to end her life that has nothing to do with the prison service?” And I thought, “This really, I …” and one thing I don’t like is bullying, I can’t bear bullies.


Hmm.


Really and truly. So my mouth was already dry from reading the statement but I thought, “I'm going to stay, if it kills me, focused to answer him, whatever he’s asking.” And then when he said, he said, “Would you like to tell the jury…” Oh and the coroner said to him, “Mr, whatever his name was, there’s no need to stand up.”; because he did all this pacing up and down and posturing. Well, I didn’t get where I am today [laughs] as I say, without seeing people posturing and I was thinking, “You naughty person.”


Hmm.


“Really, of all the situations to do this in, this is not appropriate”. So he started his walking up and down. He’d ask me a question and then turned his back on me and walked away, obviously not wanting to hear the answer. It, there were like questions, just questions for the sake of asking them. And the coroner said to him, “There’s no need to stand Mr, whatever his name was” And he said he wouldn’t sit down. He wouldn’t sit down for the coroner. He said, “I want the jury to see me.” And you always think afterwards of what you could have said at the time but anyway I’m so glad that I just stayed very focused on what he was asking me. So he went off the tack of asking when I’d said that, “It’s the law,” you know, “that you tell your child.”


Hmm.


Anyway, then he said, so then he went on another tack and he said, “Would you like to tell the jury about your daughter’s relationship with Mr…”, meaning her boyfriend.,  “I, I believe the relationship didn’t always go well.” Or something like that. And so I said, “No I wouldn’t, that is nothing to do with anyone but her and her boyfriend.” And I said, “And it’s not for me to …” and t

 

Margaret found an article about post-traumatic stress. It gave her ‘permission’ for wanting to be...

Margaret found an article about post-traumatic stress. It gave her ‘permission’ for wanting to be...

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Then I did go to see a doctor, one of the female doctors at the practice and she was quite good in that I said, “I think, at some point but not now because I can’t cope with it, I’d like to see a counsellor.”


Hmm.


And it was about 18 months after my daughter had died, I had about four appointments [with a counsellor] and she, I mean she knew I also had been a counsellor as well and she said, “Well, you know, do you think you need another visit?” And I said, “I think I can get by but I would like to come for a visit before the inquest.” And now the practice doesn’t have counsellors, you have to see somebody in the mental health team, or an occupational therapist, so I thought I don’t want to go down that road. But there is a website on the computer which is; and it’s a wonderful paper, post-traumatic stress, which a health authority on Tyneside have produced. And it actually was very good. I read it once, I read it twice actually, because it had in what I would expect it to have in but it was almost like, what was helpful to me was the permission given if you like, the permission given for having this feeling of wanting to be isolated because it’s just too painful to sometimes get in, into conversations where inevitably things will come up where you almost like have to pretend that you haven’t lost a child or you haven’t had a death or...


Hmm.


…It’s just, it’s just you don’t want to send your energy sideways doing that.


Hmm. So you, you really prefer to be on your own for a while? Quite, quite isolated?


Only because of the options that weren’t available. I would have preferred to have seen a, a psychotherapist or a counsellor where I was paying but I didn’t have the money to do that.

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