THE family of a paranoid schizophrenic who killed himself while in custody have received an apology from the prison service.

Keita Craig, 22, from East Sheen, used his shoelaces to hang himself in Wandsworth Prison on February 1, 2000, after being remanded in custody on robbery charges at Richmond Magistrates' Court.

On Tuesday his grandmother, Erin Pizzey of Twickenham, returned to the prison to receive a letter of apology from prisons minister Paul Goggins, over four years after the tragedy.

"I felt a huge amount of relief," she said afterwards.

It has taken two inquests and an indication by the European Court of Human Rights that there was a case to answer for a settlement to be reached.

"I asked for the apology," says Ms Pizzey, a women's refuge pioneer. "It sets a precedent now so that any family who loses someone like we lost Keita would receive a public apology from the Home Office."

She hopes this will highlight the issue and force the prison service to look at their policies.

Since Keita's death Ms Pizzey and her daughter, Cleo Scott, have been working with Wandsworth Prison to improve conditions and ensure similar deaths don't happen again.

Visiting the prison after Keita's death Ms Pizzey and her family decided to help set up an empty room as a day centre in her grandson's name.

During that time Wandsworth has been identified as one of six prisons piloted as 'safer locals' and has seen investment for the refurbishment of their reception and health care centre.

But Ms Pizzey believes more fundamental changes need to be made within the system.

"If Richmond had a diversionary court he (Keita) would never have had to go to prison and would have found a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

"Prison governors shouldn't be forced to accept people from court diagnosed with mental illness on remand. The health service use prisons as a dumping ground."

Keita, the son of Culture Club bass player Mikey Craig, despite warnings about his mental health, was placed in the prison hospital wing without special observations. His shoe laces, which were confiscated at Richmond magistrates', were returned to him at Wandsworth.

In his letter of apology Mr Goggins said: "he was able to take his own life while in prison custody, in circumstances where greater vigilance and care on the part of his custodians might have saved him"

He added that the government accepts Keita's death violated Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights - his right to life.

Ms Pizzey, whose family also received £20,000 compensation, said she was comforted to see the work staff at Wandsworth had put in since her grandson's death.