A 21-year-old transgender woman has been found dead in a male-only Leeds prison, after she reportedly told friends she would commit suicide if sent to the all-male jail.
Vicky Thompson was serving a 12-month term at HMP Leeds after breaching a suspended sentence.
According to the BBC, her solicitor, Mohammed Hussain had previously advised the judge she was “essentially a woman” and asked for her to be sent to New Hall women’s prison, near Wakefield.
Hussain described Thompson, who had not undergone gender reassignment surgery, as a “vulnerable” transgender woman.
Speaking with the BBC, Thompson’s partner, Robert Steele, said he had spoken to her a day before booking a visit to the prison before her death.
“She didn’t like it in there because people were saying things to her because she was dressing as a female,” he said.
Thompson was so distraught at being jailed with male prisoners she told her friends she would commit suicide if that were to occur.
Nevertheless, she was handed a 12-month jail term in August in an all male prison, suspended for 24 months but breached the terms of her sentence and was later remanded at Bradford Crown Court.
Thompson was found unresponsive in the Leeds prison last Friday evening and pronounced dead by paramedics.
A Prison Service spokesperson 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.”
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) guidelines states that all prisoners should be placed according to their gender “as recognised by UK law”, which is usually as stated on their birth certificate.
If a trans person obtains a gender recognition certificate (GRC), a new birth certificate will have been issued. However, obtaining a GRC is a long, costly and complex procedure.
MoJ guidelines regarding trans prisoners have been recently severely criticised in case of trans woman Tara Hudson who sent in an all male prison, and was eventually moved to a female jail after a massive campaign.
Commenting on the case, James Morton, Scottish Transgender Alliance Manager, told KaleidoScot: “It’s with great sadness that we heard of Vicky’s death in custody. While we don’t know the full circumstances of her death, we do know that by placing transitioned trans women in male prisons the English Prison Service is systematically failing to show any humanity or adequate care for the safety and human rights of trans women in custody.
“This must not be allowed to continue. Legislation and policies around gender recognition need urgently improved so that trans people’s human rights do not depend on our ability to navigate a needlessly confusing and difficult tribunal gender recognition panel process.
“The rights of all trans people deserve equal recognition. The improvements we are campaigning for will come too late for Vicky, but have the potential to help protect the lives of others like her.”
Lib Dems leader Tim Farron and Cat Smith, Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, called for urgent revision to UK jail guidelines regarding trans prisoners, with Smith to raise it as an “urgent question” in the Commons.
— Cat Smith (@CatSmithMP) November 20, 2015
We must reform the law urgently. BBC News – Transgender woman Vicky Thompson found dead at Armley jail https://t.co/DzbGEc2RXi
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) November 19, 2015
The news of Thompson’s death has been released just ahead of today’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day where we honour trans people who have died due to social injustice and prejudice.