Transgender woman found dead in all-male prison

Vicky Thompson, 21, told friends she would kill herself if sent to Armley prison in Leeds, where she was pronounced dead

A transgender woman has been found dead in an all-male prison after telling friends she would kill herself if sent there.

Vicky Thompson, 21, was being held at Armley, a category B men’s prison in Leeds, where she was pronounced dead last Friday, it was announced on Thursday.

The news has been greeted with anger on Twitter with campaigners and MPs expressing their dismay. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has called for the law to be reformed urgently while Labour’s Cat Smith, the shadow minister for women and equalities, described the news of Thompson’s death as “devastating”.

We must reform the law urgently. BBC News - Transgender woman Vicky Thompson found dead at Armley jail

— Tim Farron (@timfarron) November 19, 2015

Devastating news of death of 21 year old trans woman Vicky Thompson who died in a men's prison on Friday #RIPVicky

— Cat Smith (@CatSmithMP) November 19, 2015

Smith asked Michael Gove, the justice secretary, for clarification on the procedures for transgender prisoners in parliament on 3 November following the widespread attention Tara Hudson’s case attracted after transgender activists successfully campaigned to have her relocated from a men’s prison.

She said: “Given that I raised it quite recently with the Tara Hudson case, it’s devastating the issue has come back again so quickly but with tragic circumstances. The reality is that sending women into men’s prison to serve sentences would shatter even the strongest person.

“The guidelines [on where to send transgender prisoners] are either not being implemented properly or they are not fit for purpose and I intend to find out which it is,” she added.

“It must have been terrifying to be driven into a men’s prison after living her whole adult life as a woman. But we’ll never get to hear Vicky’s testimony of what it was like in there for her.”

Thompson, who had been handed a 12-month jail term in August, suspended for 24 months, was remanded in custody at Bradford crown court after breaching the terms of the sentence. She had been born male but identified as a woman from her mid-teens. She asked the judge presiding over the case to send her to New Hall women’s prison near Wakefield, but her request was denied.

Her solicitor, Mohammed Hussain, described Thompson, who had not undergone gender reassignment surgery, as a vulnerable transgender woman and told the judge she was “essentially a woman”. An investigation has been launched into her death.

According to Ministry of Justice guidelines, all prisoners should be placed according to their gender “as recognised by UK law”, which is usually as stated on their birth certificate. If they have obtained a gender recognition certificate, a new birth certificate will have been issued.

However, the rules also say some transgender people will be “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process” that they could be placed “in the estate of their acquired gender, even if the law does not yet recognise they are of their acquired gender”.

In addition, a case conference must be convened and a multi-disciplinary risk assessment should be carried out to determine how best to manage a transgender prisoner’s location.

Thompson’s boyfriend, Robert Steele, said he had spoken to her a day before she died. “She didn’t like it in there because people were saying things to her because she was dressing as a female,” he told the BBC.

A spokesperson for the prison service said: “HMP Leeds prisoner Vicky Thompson was found unresponsive on the evening of Friday 13 November.

“Staff and paramedics attempted resuscitation but she was pronounced dead at 20:48 GMT. As with all deaths in custody there will be an investigation by the independent prisons and probation ombudsman”.

West Yorkshire police said Thompson’s death was not being treated as suspicious.

The public reaction on Twitter has been largely angry with some blaming the Ministry of Justice for her death.

MoJ directly responsible for Vicky Thompson's death. Disgusting. #restinpower

— Slow Pulse Buoy (@nanayasleeps) November 19, 2015

So why did the @MoJGovUK put Tara Hudson, Vicky Thompson in male prisons? Because they didnt have a GRC? It does NOT prove a trans identity!

— Lisa Severn (@lisasevern) November 19, 2015

Others pointed out that the news of Thompson’s death has been announced during Transgender Awareness Week.

In the midst of Transgender Awareness Week, Vicky Thompson is found dead in a men's prison. She was 21 years old. Fuck this world.

— Anna Madeleine (@annamadeleine) November 19, 2015


Nicola Slawson

The GuardianTramp

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