A PRISONER died from suspected meningitis after pleas for medical help from his cell were overlooked by warders at Kilmarnock Prison, a Fatal Accident Inquiry is likely to hear.

Andrew Sorley had previously fallen into a coma with the disease and it will be claimed he knew the symptoms. As he begged to be taken to hospital, it is alleged that staff at Scotland's only private jail dismissed his claims, saying he was "at it".

Medics did not attend to Sorley until 13 hours after his initial calls for help and he later died at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow on June 20. The death, which will be the subject of a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), raises questions about public health issues and contagion in prisons.

Fellow inmates say Sorley, serving two years for carrying two knives in public, was heard banging on the door of his cell pleading for help. Prisoners later tried to revive him after he had collapsed on the floor of his cell.

Prisoner Peter Simpson told the Sunday Herald that warders checked on Sorley three times during the night but he did not receive medical help until 9am.

Simpson, serving six years for stabbing a man who had shot him in an earlier attack, said he desperately tried to help Sorley in his cell the next morning.

Sorley's medical records were not sent with the patient to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, and as a result diagnosis was delayed, Simpson claims.

Figures from the Scottish Prison Service reveal that HMP Kilmarnock has a higher than average number of deaths in custody in Scotland, the Sunday Herald can exclusively reveal. The UK has the highest level of deaths in custody in Europe. Prisoners are entitled to prompt medical attention and care under prison rule 33 and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Simpson said Sorley had complained of feeling unwell as early as 8pm on the evening of Monday, June 16. He claims: "It is also known that prison staff were aware of Drew's medical status as a head-injured person and that he had previously been in a coma as a result of meningitis.

"Drew appeared in some distress. He appeared completely disorientated and needed to lean on the walls to steady himself. It was as if he was drunk.

"Drew was by this time lying on the floor of his cell and a prisoner was present when Drew told an officer that he knew what was wrong with him. He told the officer that he had suffered from meningitis in the past and said the last time he had experienced symptoms like this, his family called an ambulance and Drew fell into a coma for three days.

Simpson claimed staff said they would see what they could do, but as the officer walked back to the D wing with the prisoner, it is alleged that the second prisoner was told Drew was "at it", and "he was probably suffering from the flu and was only looking for tablets".

A month before he died, it is alleged Sorley complained to prison authorities and submitted a formal medical complaint claiming he was being denied access to proper medical care.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The justice secretary Kenny McAskill has repeatedly said that we will put public safety, not private profit, at the heart of our coherent prisons policy."

The Crown Office declined to disclose how many FAIs had been held from deaths at Kilmarnock prison, or the total number of FAIs for all prisons in Scotland.

Serco, the private company that runs HMP Kilmarnock, confirmed there is a nurse or qualified paramedic on each night shift.

A spokeswoman said: "We are not in a position to comment on the cause of death. We are waiting for the post mortem results.

"We can confirm that our prison officers have first aid training, but cannot confirm that all the officers working that night had first aid training. A trained nurse was on duty that night. We are running our own internal inquiry into the death of Andrew Sorley."

She refused to confirm or deny any of the details of the incident.