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.
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.