Transgender woman should never have been sent to Leeds Prison says grieving partner

The partner of a transgender woman who was found dead in Leeds Prison has said she should never have been placed in a male jail.

Friday, 20th November 2015, 1:25 pm
Vicky Thompson. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

Vicky Thompson, from Keighley, West Yorkshire, was sent to the jail after a conviction at Bradford Crown Court but was found dead a week ago.

Her partner, Robert Steele, said she had been placed on a sex offenders wing.

“People were saying things to her because she was obviously dressing as a female,” Mr Steele told the BBC.

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Vicky Thompson, 21 with boyfriend Robert Steele. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

“She didn’t want to be there. She wanted to be in a female prison.”

Mr Steele said: “She was bright, she was a colourful person. She loved life. She liked going out. She was a happy-go-lucky person. I’m nothing without Vicky. I loved her with all my heart.”

Ms Thompson’s death comes after the case of make-up artist Tara Hudson who was placed in a male prison after an assault conviction in Bath but is understood to have moved to a female jail after a campaign by supporters.

Her solicitor, Mohammed Hussain, said he had advised the judge she was “essentially a woman” and asked for her to be sent to New Hall women’s prison, near Wakefield.

Leeds Prison

He said he also asked for any sentence to be reduced if it was decided Thompson would be sent to an all-male prison.

Mr Hussain described Thompson, who had not undergone gender reassignment surgery, as a vulnerable transgender person.

Tributes have been paid at the gates of the prison by members of the transgender community.

Equalities advocate Alex Kaye spoke of his frustration at Vikki’s situation.

He said: “Any woman would not be happy to be in a male prison regardless of any gender identity history.

“You don’t put a female in a male prison. You don’t put a male in a female prison. Why has this girl had to suffer this?”

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 8.48pm.

“As with all deaths in custody there will be an investigation by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.”

West Yorkshire Police said the death was classed as not suspicious and that the coroner had been informed.

Ms Thompson was sentenced for breach of order at Bradford Crown Court on Wednesday November 11 - two days before she was found dead.

It is believed she initially appeared at Bradford Crown Court earlier this year accused of robbing a 15-year-old girl of her mobile phone on March 11, 2015.

She was also accused of stealing Head & Shoulders products valued at £86 from Victoria House in Market Square, Shipley, and stealing Max Factor products worth £9.99 from a Superdrug, also in Shipley.

She was also charged with attempting to steal toiletries, a bluetooth speaker and jewellery from the mother and daughter.

Following her death, the government has said the number of transgender people in prisons will be recorded and published for the first time.

Prisons Minister Andrew Selous made the announcement during an urgent question in the Commons from Labour’s Wes Streeting (Ilford North) who Mr Steele’s assertion that she should never have been placed in a men’s prison.

Ms Streeting said: “Can I also express my condolences to Vicky Thompson’s family and without making any judgment about the circumstance of her death, simply restate the concern that she was ever in a men’s prison in the first place.

“Can I also, whilst welcoming the minister’s tone, just press him a bit further on statistics, I think it is important that you commit to publishing information about the number of trans people.

“But also given the experience in the United States of the sexual assault of trans prisoners and the way they are treated, could you also look at not just the number but also research the experience of trans people in prison and make that information public too?”

Mr Selous replied: “I’m happy to give you that assurance and I apologise for not having said that to the shadow minister.”

Meanwhile, the Tory minster confirmed a review of current policy for trans prisoners was ongoing, drawing on the experience of transgender people, and that new guidance will soon be issued.

Mr Selous insisted that “decency is at the heart” of the prison system and that he had “every confidence” in Leeds prison governor Steve Robson, who he described as a “humane man” who will have tried to do the right thing.

He said: “Decency for everyone that we have care of in custody is absolutely at the heart of what the National Offender Management Service do.

“I recently visited Leeds prison where this tragic event took place.

“I have every confidence in the governor Steve Robson, he is a governor of whom we can all be proud, he’s a decent, humane man who I am absolutely sure will have tried very hard to do the right thing.”

The urgent question was asked by shadow equalities minister Cat Smith, who warned that the issue of where transgender people are placed in prison will only grow.

The Labour frontbencher said: “At a a time when both the prison population is increasing, overcrowding in cells is on the rise and the number of individuals who are coming forward for gender reassignment surgery is also increasing, the issue of placement of transgender prisoners on the prison estate is one which only looks to increase.

“You have touched on the issue in your speech but could you confirm whether the National Offender Management Service will begin to record the number of trans people who are in custody in prisons and will you commit to making these figures public?”