Nicola Sturgeon’s controversial trans laws were in disarray on Thursday night after she was forced to announce that a rapist who claimed to be female would be moved into a male prison.
Isla Bryson, who was this week convicted of raping two women, was initially housed at Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling but has now been transported to the male wing of Edinburgh’s Saughton jail.
Ms Sturgeon announced the move following a huge backlash but repeatedly refused to say whether she considered Bryson, 31 – who was named Adam Graham when committing the rapes and has not legally changed gender – to be a man or a woman.
It comes with the First Minister locked in a battle with the UK Government over her Bill allowing people to self-identify their legal gender by signing a statutory declaration, removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
On Thursday night, critics said the row over Bryson demonstrated the risk posed by the Bill to women’s safety and the inconsistencies in Ms Sturgeon’s position.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: “It’s incredible that Nicola Sturgeon refuses to be drawn on whether she views this double rapist as male or female.
“According to the SNP’s self-ID policy, this vile criminal is female – because that is how they choose to identify. But the First Minister refuses to admit as much because she knows the public would be appalled at a double rapist being referred to as ‘she’.
“The reality is that Nicola Sturgeon wants to make it easier for brutes like this to legally change gender for their own cynical ends. Yet her refusal to answer this question leaves her self-ID policy in total disarray.”
On Thursday night, a government source said the trans rapist case demonstrated the risks posed by the plans, adding: “Women’s worst nightmares are playing out before Sturgeon’s eyes. Yet she continues to insist that opening up women’s spaces to male predators who self-identify as women is risk-free. Scotland’s women are not safe under the SNP.”
It has emerged that the warrant issued by the court after Bryson’s conviction on Tuesday stated that they should be sent to a men-only prison, Glasgow’s notorious Barlinnie jail, but that was overruled by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).
Prison chiefs pointed to SPS guidance stating that trans criminals should be sent to the prison that matches their self-identified gender that they were living in prior to their conviction.
Ms Sturgeon’s official spokesman denied that the Scottish Government had any involvement in the initial decision but said she had intervened to make clear to prison chiefs her opposition to Bryson being housed with female inmates.
However, Mr Ross said the case was becoming “increasingly murky” and that the SPS and the SNP government “need to be fully transparent on who gave the original order to send this rapist to Cornton Vale instead”.
He added: “We need to know why the Scottish Prison Service, which is accountable to SNP ministers, chose to overrule the court’s recommendation that this person ought to be sent to Barlinnie.”
‘Come up with a ploy’
The about-turn came less than 24 hours after Keith Brown, Ms Sturgeon’s Justice Secretary, insisted that Scottish ministers would not interfere and that he would “trust the SPS to deal with this”.
After she announced the change, Ms Sturgeon insisted the decision on whether a male or female prison was appropriate was “not about whether they are trans or not” but rested on the individual being a “rapist and sex offender”.
The First Minister said there was no “automatic right” for trans women to serve their sentences in a female prison even if they have a gender recognition certificate.
But Katie Dolatowski, a 22-year-old trans woman, was held in Cornton Vale last year after breaching a restriction of liberty order. In 2018, Dolatowski sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl in a Kirkcaldy supermarket toilet, and filmed a 12-year-old girl on the toilet at a separate supermarket.
The jury in Bryson’s trial at the High Court in Glasgow was told that Adam Graham was the defendant’s “dead name” and the judge referred to the rapist as Ms Bryson.
Bryson is currently taking hormones and seeking surgery to complete gender reassignment, but only started to transition after appearing in court on rape charges.
Shonna Graham, the rapist’s estranged wife, said she believed her husband had “come up with a ploy” to try to get an easier sentence after being convicted on Tuesday.
Bryson was instead held in a segregated unit at Cornton Vale, but Ms Sturgeon said she agreed with the head of the Rape Crisis Scotland charity that she did not see “how it is possible” for a rapist to serve time in a women’s prison.
She told First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood that an SPS risk assessment was “under way” but that Bryson would “not be incarcerated in Cornton Vale women’s prison”.
Speaking to journalists outside the chamber, Ms Sturgeon insisted she had not given any “formal direction” to the SPS on moving the rapist but it had “arrived at the right decision”.
Asked whether she considered Bryson to be a man or a woman, she said: “Look, I am not getting into an individual.”
Asked about her belief that people should be able to self-identify their gender, she said: “This individual case is not about whether they are trans or not. In this individual case, this is a person who has been convicted of rape. So this individual is a rapist and a sex offender, and that is what is important.”
Her official spokesman later refused again to say whether she believed Bryson was a man or a woman, or whether her support for self-ID would mean the rapist must be considered female.
The spokesman said “this situation has arisen” without the Gender Recognition Reform Bill being in force.
An SPS spokesman said: “Decisions by the SPS as to the most appropriate location to accommodate transgender people are made on an individualised basis, informed by a multi-disciplinary assessment of both risk and need.
“Such decisions seek to protect both the well-being and rights of the individual as well as the welfare and rights of others around them, including staff, in order to achieve an outcome that balances risks and promotes the safety of all, and that is exactly what has happened in this case.”