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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Prison cleared over suicides
Cornton Vale
Cornton Vale is Scotland's only women-only jail
Scotland's only all-female jail has been cleared of any blame over the deaths of two women who were being held there.

Sheriff Principal Alastair Dunlop exonerated Cornton Vale Prison, near Stirling, in his written determination on two fatal accident inquiries held to examine the deaths.

He said that in both cases, which happened within days of each other last year, the cause of death had been "hanging by the neck".

Mother-of-two Michelle McElver, 28, from Cumbernauld, was found dead, with a noose round her neck made from the laces of her training shoes, tied to a bathroom coathook, in the jail's Younger House on 24 October.

Cornton Vale
The prison is for women only

She had been remanded in custody less than 24 hours earlier, charged with armed robbery.

The inquiry heard that despite the fact she was supposed to be on 60-minute observations, the officer in charge of her block could "not recall" if she had seen her during the two hour period before her death.

During the course of the evidence the questions of whether prisoners should be allowed to retain their shoelaces, and whether bathroom areas should be patrolled.

Sheriff Dunlop, in his a determination issued on Wednesday, said: "The evidence clearly supported the view that there was no reason why prisoners not identified as at risk should not have their shoelaces.

"The evidence also did not suggest that patrols of the bathroom area were appropriate within a regime of free association, not least for reasons of prisoner privacy.

"I have no reason to take a different view."

Cornton Vale
Cornton Vale was notorious for suicides at one time

Convicted murderer Frances Carvill, 38, from Castlemilk, Glasgow, was found by a fellow prisoner, hanging in a bathroom in long-stay facility Peebles House, on 26 October.

She had passed a twisted sheet out through a narrow gap in the bathroom window and tied it to the bars outside, before knotting it round her neck.

Despite desperate attempts to save her, she died three days later in Stirling Royal Infirmary when doctors turned off her life support machine.

The inquiry was told she had a personality disorder, which made her impulsive and unpredictable, and she had made several previous attempts to take her own life.

She had been jailed for life in 1993 for the murder of 66-year-old Daniel Currie by 13 stab wounds, and was worried about a forthcoming "lifer's review" under which she would have to go back before the judge who first sentenced her.

Stirling Sheriff Court
The FAIs were heard at Stirling Sheriff Court

Witnesses said Carvill was missing her children, and worried that the review would set back her date of parole.

Sheriff Principal Dunlop said: "Although her history of self-harm was a significant one, the evidence clearly supported the view that Frances Carvill had indeed made progress within the prison system."

Cornton Vale became known as the "Vale of Tears" after a series of suicides in the 1990s.

Eight young women were found hanged in their cells there between 1995 and 1998.

Six of them were unconvicted prisoners, or prisoners awaiting sentence.

See also:

05 Mar 02 | Scotland
Remand prisoner 'left unsupervised'
04 Mar 02 | Scotland
Cornton Vale deaths probed
31 Oct 01 | Scotland
Concern over women's prison deaths
24 Oct 01 | Scotland
Probe into female prison death
11 Jun 01 | Scotland
Prison turnaround is praised
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