IT’S the only ritual that comforts her. Yesterday Mary Hillocks made the familiar trip from her Dundee home to the nearby Barnhill cemetery, where she replaced the flowers on the grave of her son Mark Hutton and sat down to talk to him.

“I always ask him: ‘What really happened?’” she said. “Something went very wrong. I am grieving 24/7 and still trying to find out what happened to my laddie.”

Hutton, 29, died at Dundee Police headquarters on March 5, 2016, after being picked up, apparently for riding his motorbike erratically. Hillocks has been told his death may have been a result of QT syndrome, which results in an irregular heartbeat. He was on the methadone programme and she has also been told other drugs may have been found in his system.

But she is convinced that the police neglected her son that night. “If he was unresponsive why did they not call for an ambulance sooner? Instead they went away and left him.”

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At a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) which was finally started, but then paused, in June this year, it emerged Hutton had not been given water for 15 hours and had been denied food because the custody officer believed he was in such a poor state he would choke on it.

He was assessed as high risk, with checks required every 30 minutes. But only four out of 10 checks were carried out when the shift changed at 7am. CCTV footage showed that the majority of these were simply a quick glance through the cell-door hatch.

Hillocks expected her son home at lunchtime that day, and was already worried that he had not returned. About 3pm officers came to the door to tell her he was dead. “And I’ve never been the same woman since,” she said.

Tomorrow, she will go back to the court-room as the inquiry continues at last, praying it will give her the answers – nightly internet searches that carry her way into the early hours never do – and terrified that it will not.

Now figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Sunday National have revealed her son is one of eight people who have died in Police Scotland custody over the past five years.

THEY include Warren Fenty, 20, who died in Kittybrewster police station in Aberdeen in 2014, and a 24-year-old man who died in Falkirk police station in 2016. In 2018, Declan Gallacher, 24, was found dead in his cell at Clydebank police station and Stuart Clunie was one of two men who died at Edinburgh’s St Leonard’s police station. Clunie was put in the back of a police van after being arrested over a domestic incident in June last year and was found “unresponsive” on arrival at the police station. His family believe he should have been taken straight to hospital.

James McMillan, 35, from Kirkintilloch, died in Stewart Street police station in Glasgow last May following a “domestic breach of the peace”. His death is “unexplained”, with the family left calling for answers. All the families are awaiting mandatory FAIs and no investigation reports have been published.

For Hillocks, the pain of losing her son when he was supposedly in state care is compounded by the lack of information. “The not knowing is tearing me apart,” she said. “My heart is broken. I’m frightened of my mum dying before we have any answers. This has to change. I don’t want this to happen to any other family.”

Leading human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, who represents the family of Sheku Bayoh, along with others whose loved ones have died in police or prison custody said it was essential that the system was made “entirely transparent”.

Anwar said: “Families are met with a wall of silence. The only time that anything shifts is when a very public spotlight is shone upon it. Until then often nobody knows about it – we saw that in the case of Alan Marshall.”

Alan Marshall died of a cardiac arrest after being restrained by officers in HMP Edinburgh on March 28, 2015. An FAI found his death was “entirely preventable”.

Lessons on how to prevent more tragic deaths were being lost as a result, he added. “What is really concerning is the total lack of accountability and transparency,” he said. “It is totally unacceptable.”

Yesterday Marshall’s family held a remembrance vigil outside the Crown Office in Edinburgh. His aunt, Sharon Macfadyen, said: “It’s not just about individual police and prison officers – the whole system has let us down. It’s time for families to stand together to demand our politicians take action.”

Janet Alder, of the United Families and Friends Campaign – the sister of Christopher Alder, who died in Hull police station in 1998 – also urged Scottish families whose loved ones “have died at the hands of the state” to come forward to put pressure on the Government to take action. She added: “We have seen deaths in police custody, prisons and medical units escalate over the last decade. There has been no justice in any of these cases.”

CONCERNS were raised by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) about ill treatment of those detained in police custody, following a visit to Scotland in October last year.

It found that, overall, facilities were “safe environments”. However nearly one-third of some 70 people interviewed made allegations of excessive use of force. One had been handcuffed throughout his stay in custody, including while being asleep.

The report said this could not be justified. It also recommended that those having “ingested or secreted drugs within their body should be examined by radiography and placed under observation in a medical setting” and raised concerns about the police complaint-handling process.

Dame Elish Angiolini is currently conducting an independent review of complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing. At a preliminary report in June of this year she made a series of recommendations about better co-operation between the Police Investigations Review Commissioner (Pirc) and Police Scotland in the case of complaints. Her final report is due next year.

Currently Pirc is instructed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to investigate all deaths in police custody, but none of its reports on these deaths has been published. A spokesman for the Pirc’s investigation team said it reported its findings back to COPFS. “Any subsequent action is a matter for the COPFS,” he added.

A spokesman for COPFS admitted that it was aware the families were left waiting for investigations for too long. He added: “COPFS has recently increased the resource available to the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit, with a view to reducing the time required to complete complex death investigations and improving the provision of information to families and next of kin.”

Police Scotland declined to comment on Mark Hutton’s case. However, in reference to the CTP report, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs said: “How complaints against the police are handled is critical in maintaining public confidence in policing and we are committed to enhancing that experience for our citizens.

“Our officers and staff work with commitment and professionalism day in, day out, to provide a high-quality policing service for the public, including those in our care.” Investment was needed to “maintain and improve custody provision”, he added.