Prisoner had threatened suicide.
On Friday, 13 November 2015, trans woman Vicky Thompson was found dead in her cell at the all-male Armley Prison in Leeds, England, having apparently committed suicide. Her Majesty’s Prison Service (which runs prisons in England and Wales) announced her death six days later, on the evening of Thursday, 19 November, only hours before the start of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“HMP Leeds prisoner Vicky Thompson was found unresponsive on the evening of Friday, 13 November,” said a Prison Service spokesman, “Staff and paramedics attempted resuscitation but she was pronounced dead at 21:10 GMT. As with all deaths in custody there will be an investigation by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman”.
Vicky, who had identified as female since her early teens but had not undergone gender reassignment surgery, had previously been incarcerated in Her Majesty’s Prison Leeds on a 12 month sentence, which had been reduced to a suspended sentence. But when she broke the conditions of that, imprisonment was invoked. According to her boyfriend, Robert Steele, she had received harassment and bullying from the other prisoners, because she dressed as a female. Vicky had said that if she were returned to HMP Leeds, she would commit suicide. Her solicitor, Mohammed Hussain, had told the trial judge that Vicky Thompson was “essentially a woman”, that she was a vulnerable person, and pleaded for her to be placed in a women’s prison. Those pleas fell on deaf ears, and she was returned to HMP Leeds.
Vicky Thompson was only 21 when she took her own life.
I am not just angry today, I am FUCKING LIVID with rage. This girl’s death comes only weeks after the case of trans woman Tara Hudson, whom it took a public campaign to be moved from all-male HMP Bristol to a women’s prison. It is all too obvious that the Prison Service and the British government learned NOTHING from that case, and with tragic consequences.
I do not hold out many hopes for the investigation into Vicky’s death either. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman service will look into it from the perspective of cisgender privilege and no doubt shall decide that it was ‘tragic’ but ‘unavoidable’. When the English judiciary were petitioned to move Tara Hudson to a female prison, they immediately washed their hands of the matter and claimed that it was the responsibility of the Prison Service which prisons offenders should be allocated to. I have no doubt the so-called ‘independent’ ombudsman will reach the same conclusion. This is so much shifting the blame BULLSHIT.
Yes, Her Majesty’s Prison Service, just like the Scottish Prison Service, decide which correctional establishments to place convicted offenders in. However, it is part of the responsibilities of the judiciary to consider particular circumstances of each offender, and where it is deemed necessary to make recommendations to the Prison Service based upon those circumstances. That is precisely why Vicky Thompson’s solicitor underlined her vulnerability and asked for her to be placed in a female prison. The judge, whose name has not been disclosed, cannot claim that they were not made aware of the special circumstances surrounding Vicky, which he completely failed to act upon.
But the judge was not the only person to fail Vicky. Questions also need to be asked as to why the Prison Service managed to fail a vulnerable prisoner, under their very own guidelines, under not one but two circumstances. In the Tara Hudson case, a BBC spokesman told the BBC “It is longstanding policy to place offenders according to their legally recognised gender. There are strict rules in place to ensure transsexual prisoners are managed safely and in accordance with the law.” Vicky Thompson had previously complained of harassment and bullying from other prisoners, which proves that HMP Leeds failed upon that commitment. Secondly, Vicky was a known suicide risk, and yet somehow managed to take her own life. How was this able to happen? Why was a vulnerable prison apparently not on suicide watch? HMP Leeds therefore failed in their duties on that count as well.
As to the first criteria, that of recognised gender, the Prison Service cannot claim to know that Vicky identified as a woman, and if they even attempt that, then they will immediately make liars of themselves, for their statement announcing her death gave her name as “Vicky Thompson” – her chosen female name – and referred to her as “she”. We likewise know that she wore ‘female’ clothing in the prison. So, they have already identified Vicky as female. But then, one only need look at photographs of Vicky to tell she was a woman. Watch out for denials based on all the above in the forthcoming whitewash, sorry, I mean investigation.
It has been announced that the government is to review the criteria under which transgender offenders are jailed. It is not before time, but unless the current Conservative government, which does not have one transgender Member of Parliament, takes strong advice from the transgender community, then I do not hold out much hope for that either.
Certainly, the current criteria surrounding the imprisonment of transgender offenders is an absurdity and a bureaucratic trap, which far too many fall into. The current rules only recognise gender by biological basis and whether or not a prisoner has undergone gender reassignment surgery, and if so, they can prove that.
The rules state that if a transgender prisoner carries a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) or an altered birth certificate, then they shall be placed in a prison according to their recognised gender. Where no GRC is available, gender is determined by birth certificate.
Herein lie the problems. For a start a birth certificate can only be changed if the person has a GRC. Tara Hudson had undergone reassignment but did not carry a GRC. Therefore, as her birth certificate stated she was born male, despite having fully-formed breasts and female genitalia, she was placed in male prison.
GRCs are available, for a fee, only to transgender people who have undergone gender reassignment and lived under their chosen gender for two years or more. This of course requires the release of certain medical records to prove they have undergone reassignment and when. Many transgender people are against GRCs as they see them as governmental intrusion into their private lives and a “trans tax”. If you are cisgender and do not see a problem with GRCs, consider how you would feel if you had to release your medical records and pay to prove your gender. Then (hopefully) you will see how these rules single out one of the most maligned, misunderstood, and vulnerable sections of society, effectively coercing them – and only them – to carry “identity papers”, and pay for that to boot. The GRC is an insult to the transgender community.
Now, let’s look at Vicky Thompson in relation to those rules. She was 21 when she took her life, so given the slow bureaucracy of the English judicial system, we can safely assume she was at least 20 years old when first convicted. Gender reassignment surgery in England is only available for adults over 18 years of age. Before surgery is decided and carried out, there are several steps a transgender person has to go through, including years of psychotherapy, counselling, reviews, then hormonal treatment. In short, Vicky at 20 years old simply would not have had the time to have had the above steps, then undergo gender reassignment surgery and then wait the two years to obtain a GRC. We see here how the GRC rule puts transgender young offenders and older teenagers / early 20s at a distinct disadvantage.
Not that the present government would ever take advice from a slightly-to-the-left-of-Leon-Trotsky genderqueer pansexual like myself, but the recommendations on transgender offenders seems simple enough to me. Gender is not about what may or may not be dangling between your legs. If someone identifies as a woman, dresses like a woman, looks like a woman, and has done for years, they are a woman, and the opposite of all the above for transgender men. If something looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you can be fairly sure it’s not a fucking ostrich. That is the only criteria any prisoner, transgender or cisgender, needs to be categorised by.
Until the government wakes up to that, there are going to be more cases of trangender prisoners placed in the wrong environment, and thereby put in a place of danger both from other prisoners and themselves.
As it is, suicide is a terrible thing for anyone to do. I don’t think it’s the “coward’s way out”. Far from it, I think anyone who takes their own life has to be very brave indeed to take that step. I therefore do not nor cannot condemn a 21 year old girl, driven to despair after everybody in authority ignored her, to end it all.
No, I don’t blame Vicky Thompson for her own death.
I BLAME the staff of HMP Leeds.
I BLAME Her Majesty’s Prison Service.
I BLAME the judge who ignored all advice.
I BLAME the Home Secretary, Theresa May MP.
I BLAME the British Prime Minister, David Cameron MP.
YOU ALL FAILED VICKY THOMPSON. YOU ARE ALL RESPONSIBLE FOR HER DEATH.
GO DOWN YOU MURDERERS. GO DOWN!