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Trans rapist prison case ‘must not lead to blanket rule’, says campaign group

<span>Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA</span>
Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

The case of Isla Bryson, the transgender double rapist who was initially sent to a female prison, must not result in a blanket ban on trans women serving their sentences in women’s facilities, the campaign group Scottish Trans has said.

A blanket rule about where trans prisoners are accommodated would be wrong and could put individual trans prisoners at significant risk, said Vic Valentine, manager of Scottish Trans, but added: “It is our view that anyone who has committed sexually violent crimes, and who poses a risk to women, should not be housed with women on the female estate.”

There has been speculation that an outright ban on transgender sex offenders being placed in women’s facilities may be imminent after Nicola Sturgeon strongly aligned herself with comments by Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, who said: “I don’t see how it is possible to have a rapist within a female prison.”

However Sturgeon also stressed that it was important “that we do not even inadvertently suggest that somehow trans women pose an inherent threat to women”. She added: “Predatory men, as has always been the case, are the risk to women.”

Asked about Yvette Cooper’s suggestion of a similar prohibition on trans sex offenders on the Newsagents podcast on Friday, Sturgeon said “the danger of any blanket approach is you end up having a different effect to the one you want, because you catch cases that should be dealt with in a different way”.

But she added that, alongside individualised risk assessment, “there should be a presumption that somebody who is convicted for rape is not in a woman’s prison”.

Related: Why Scotland’s gender reform bill is sparking concern over trans prisoner policies

Valentine said the Scottish Prison Service policy on transgender prisoners “has generated the result it should” in the case of Bryson, who was held in Cornton Vale women’s prison for assessment after being convicted of two rapes on Tuesday, then moved to a male prison, HMP Edinburgh, on Thursday afternoon.

“It is right that this should be decided on an individualised risk assessment basis,” Valentine said.

“For example, a trans woman transitioned for 20 years, who is in prison for a non-violent offence like financial fraud, might pose no risk to other women in custody, but be at significant risk herself if accommodated on the male estate.”

After Sturgeon announced Bryson’s move at first minister’s questions on Thursday, her spokesperson revealed that she had made a rare intervention during a meeting involving the justice secretary, Keith Brown, and the Prison Service.

In England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice is shortly to implement policy changes that will prevent “transgender women with male genitalia, or those who have been convicted of a sexual offence” being accommodated in women’s prisons.

In Scotland, current policy is that any transgender person who is admitted into custody – as Bryson was on Tuesday – is admitted into the establishment that matches their identified gender that they were living in within the community.

But the guidelines, developed with the Scottish Trans Alliance in 2014, do not give an automatic right for transgender prisoners to be accommodated according to their acquired gender, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis subject to risk assessments.

A long-awaited review of the policy is expected in the coming months.

The statement from the campaign group comes as it emerged that the Scottish Prison Service vetoed an initial decision by the court service to take Bryson to Barlinnie, a men’s prison, on Tuesday after the offender was remanded in custody to await sentencing at the end of February.

Bryson first appeared in court in 2019 as Adam Graham and was known to both victims by that name.

The jury heard Bryson raped two women – one in Clydebank in 2016 and one in Drumchapel, Glasgow, in 2019 – after meeting them online. Prosecutors described Bryson as “preying” on vulnerable women.