Adam Graham / Isla Bryson

Adam Graham / Isla Bryson, a violent male who identifies as a transgender woman, was convicted in January 2023 at the High Court in Glasgow, of the rape of two vulnerable women. Despite not having a Gender Recognition Certificate, media coverage was littered with farcical and offensive references to Bryson, 31, as having raped the women with ‘her penis‘ – this positions a sex offender’s (narcissistic) desire to be referred to as a woman above the experience of the victims who were raped by a violent and predatory man.

During the trial,Bryson’s barrister advanced the extraordinarily offensive and dangerous idea that “if you accept that evidence, that [Bryson] is transitioning, that she [sic] is aiming to continue on that path to becoming female gender, that goes a long way to acquitting her [sic] of these charges.” The barrister also told the court that Bryson was “in no way a predatory male”. There is absolutely no evidence that males who identify as transgender are any less predatory or less likely to commit sexual offences than other men. In fact, going by evidence submitted to parliament (archive) in 2021 by Prof Rosa Freedman, Prof Kathleen Stock, and Prof Alice Sullivan on offending rates calculated from Ministry of Justice data, male prisoners who identify as transgender women appear more likely to be imprisoned for a sexual offence than other male prisoners (59% vs 17%, respectively).

Bryson was remanded into custody prior to sentencing on 28 February 2023 and an almighty public outcry broke out when Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was forced to admit that a convicted double rapist had indeed been sent to HMP Cornton Vale, a women’s prison. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture condemned the move. It soon emerged that Bryson had not started identifying as “Isla Bryson” until 2020, i.e. after being charged with the two counts of rape in 2019 and a long sentence in prison was on the horizon.

This revelation only added to the furore as the Scottish National Party (SNP) had waved away legitimate concerns that abusive, violent men would exploit obvious loopholes in their deeply unpopular Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill to self-identify as transgender women and serve their sentences in women’s prisons. Russell Findlay, shadow justice minister for the Scottish Conservatives, tried to amend the GRR Bill to make it more difficult for sex offenders to legally change their gender, but the amendment was rejected by SNP ministers when forcing it through the Scottish parliament only weeks previously. The GRR Bill has since been blocked by the UK government over its potential impact on equality legislation that applies across Scotland, England and Wales and explicitly protects women’s single sex spaces.

The Daily Telegraph then revealed that the warrant issued by the court after Bryson’s conviction on 24 January stated that the prisoner should be sent to HMP Barlinnie – a men’s prison in Glasgow – but that was overruled by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). Such was the universal condemnation of the decision across the media for several days, that eventually Bryson was moved on 26 January to HMP Edinburgh which houses both male and female prisoners in separate wings. With no indication that the furore was dying down, on Sunday 29 January the Scottish government announced that an “urgent review” of all transgender cases in Scottish prisons is to be carried out, and the movement of all trans prisoners with a history of violence against women will be paused until the review concludes. The announcement followed furious criticism of a recent decision to transfer the unmanageably violent trans-identified male prisoner Andrew Burns/Tiffany Scott to a women’s prison. In the same week, two other Scottish violent male rapists who started identifying as transgender in prison (Albert/Claire Caballero and Jonathon/Charlene Mallon) demanded transfers to the women’s estate.

Following the public backlash regarding Bryson, several senior Labour politicians who have previously ignored/equivocated on the issue managed to publicly condemn a rapist being held in a women’s prison including Yvette Cooper, Anneliese Dodds and David Blunkett – a far cry from when Lisa Nandy was caught on video during the Labour leadership contest saying that trans women should be accommodated in a prison of their choosing. However, earlier in the week, the misogynist member for Brighton Kemptown, Lloyd Russell Moyle, had screamed “bigot” at and then physically intimidated Miriam Cates, Tory MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge in the House of Commons chamber after she spoke out about safeguarding of vulnerable women during a debate on the Government’s decision to use their section 35 powers with regard to the GRR Bill. Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, also heckled and jeered at Miriam Cates and Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury.

Bryson’s estranged wife, mother and first victim all revealed that they are sure he only identified as trans in a bid to avoid the tough conditions in a men’s prison. In fact, Nicola Sturgeon herself said she believes Bryson is “almost certainly” claiming to be transgender as an “easy way out” – thereby revealing the weakness of her previous argument that the GRR Bill will not give predatory men more access to women and her assertion that “most men who want to abuse women don’t feel the need to change their gender to do it.” The Sun also reported that Bryson tried to extort £5,000 from British Telecom for ‘deadnaming’ him on their bill. A woman who was incarcerated with two violent trans-identified males (named only as “Laura” and “Alex”) at HMP Greenock near Glasgow, also spoke out to the Daily Record about the terror both she and other female prisoners felt when having to shower alongside obvious men. “Laura” is most likely the violent male sex offender Laura Miller and “Alex” is almost certainly the convicted male murderer Alex Stewart.

Other disturbing revelations followed; such as the fact that Bryson had enrolled in a beauty course under a female name while awaiting trial, meaning that the course attendees would have no way of knowing their class mate had been charged with two rapes. The course involved both classroom work and practical applications where the otherwise young, female attendees were expected to practice techniques on eachother (e.g. spray tanning) where they may be partially clothed. Attendees said Bryson had been “overpowering” and “disruptive” and was eventually asked to leave the course. Also – unbelievably – while awaiting trial for rape, Bryson tried to join a self-defence programme for female victims of sexual assault, but thankfully staff refused under their robust safeguarding rules.

In the below interview, the righteously furious feminist Julie Bindel severely criticises the SNP policies that have have led to violent male rapists being incarcerated with vulnerable women. Julie and many other women have been beaten, threatened with death, threatened with rape, intimidated, terrorised, ostracised, bullied, vilified, arrested, sacked, deplatformed, and forced out of their jobs and political parties for trying to raise safeguarding concerns and discuss the need to balance women’s and trans people’s rights. Julie, herself, was physically attacked by a trans-identified male, Joe Brennan, in 2019.

Further analysis from Janice Turner in The Times here https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/theres-a-better-way-to-treat-trans-prisoners-cz939bmbk archive

A Sunday Times editorial details here how the Bryson case exposed the Scottish National Party’s flawed thinking underpinning their Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. Another article revealed that support for the party has slumped to its lowest for five years in the latest YouGov poll following the debacle.

The policy collective Murray Blackburn Mackenzie has published revealing analysis here on how the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) undertaken by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) as part of developing its Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment policy consulted only trans groups – and no groups representing women prisoners, let alone female prisoners themselves. The metadata of the document reveals James Morton (then manager of the government-funded Scottish Trans Alliance) was its author. The document also reveals that former SPS senior official, Gordon Pike – a convicted sex offender – is named as an author. The head of the Scottish Prison Service, Teresa Medhurst, has refused to reveal who made the decision to send double rapist Bryson to a women’s prison against the judge’s instruction that he be sent to HMP Barlinnie, the male prison in Glasgow.

Additional insight from criminologist, Professor Jo Phoenix is available here, and also from former prison governor Rhona Hotchkiss who ran HMP Cornton Vale until 2017 here; and from Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, here

*Update March 2023*

Bryson was jailed for eight years with the judge imposing an additional three years under supervision after release, in recognition of Bryson’s high risk of reoffending. In the BBC coverage, Bryson’s estranged wife revealed not only that Bryson had attempted to rape her and stabbed her while they were together, but also that she was angry he had appropriated her surname of Graham in his bid to assume an alias that was not linked to his offending. She said “He took my last name so he could get away with his crimes, the way I see it. I hope he rots in jail. I hope the victims can put this evil person behind them.”

In the weeks following the debacle, various politicians and pundits did everything they could to avoid answering the extremely pertinent question of whether Bryson was a man or woman, knowing that if they answered that Bryson was indeed a man then it revealed the glaring loophole in gender self-ID, namely that abusive men would use it to their advantage to abuse women and girls and gain access to sex-segregated spaces. In addition, as Joanna Cherry, MP points out, refusing to affirm a trans individual in their identity could bring prosecution under Humza Yousaf’s own Hate Crime Bill. So he can ‘misgender’ with impunity, but criminal charges for anyone else daring to state the truth: that Bryson is a man.

See Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, avoiding answering the question here

See Humza Yousaf, candidate for First Minister, avoiding answering the question here

Listen to Iain Anderson, the new chair of Stonewall, avoiding answering the question here (full interview here)

See Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour party, avoiding answering the question here

See Keith Brown, Scotland’s Justice Minister, avoiding answering the question here

See Jenny Gilruth, the Scottish National Party’s transport minister, avoiding answering the question here

See Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scotland Liberal Democrat leader, avoiding answering the question here

See Peter Tatchell, after initially saying he didn’t believe Bryson was trans, hastily backtrack here after receiving predictably testerical pushback from trans activists

Images credits: The Sun, BBC and Mike Gibbons/Spindrift via Daily Mail

Media reports

BBC Isla Bryson: Transgender rapist jailed for eight years https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-64796926 archive

BBC Is Isla Bryson a woman? Nicola Sturgeon’s gender conundrum https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-64590421 archive

BBC Trans prisoners in Scotland to be placed according to birth gender https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-64586523 archive

BBC News Isla Bryson case: Movement of violent transgender prisoners paused https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-64444530  archive

Daily Mail https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11780483/Scottish-Prisons-head-refuses-reveal-decided-send-trans-rapist-Isla-Bryson-womens-jail.html archive

BBC News Jailing of trans rapist Isla Bryson is ‘shambles’, says former prison chief https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-64419533 archive

The Sunday Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/at-last-people-see-the-reality-of-gender-reform-and-dont-like-it-7l0qkwf0p archive

The Sunday Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/snp-trans-fiasco-highlights-the-dangers-of-groupthink-8q0rl290d archive

The Sunday Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/snp-sturgeon-and-independence-fall-in-poll-after-isla-bryson-trans-prisoner-row-5j3pqr7s5 archive

The Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/isla-bryson-case-sturgeon-will-not-ban-trans-stalkers-and-abusers-from-womens-prisons-hrjtxzc87 archive

Sky News https://news.sky.com/story/nicola-sturgeon-says-double-rapist-isla-bryson-almost-certainly-claiming-to-be-transgender-as-easy-way-out-12801554 archive

BBC Transgender rapist Isla Bryson moved to men’s prison https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-64413242 archive

BBC Isla Bryson: What is the transgender prisoners row all about? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-63823420

Daily Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2023/01/26/nicola-sturgeons-trans-law-disarray-rapist-climbdown/ archive

Daily Record https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/ex-prisoner-shaking-fear-sharing-29075541 archive

BBC Jailing of trans rapist Isla Bryson is ‘shambles’, says prison chief https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-64419533 archive

Scottish Sun https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/10156773/trans-double-rape-fiend-isla-bryson-self-defence-blocked/ archive

Daily Mail https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11676069/Estranged-wife-transgender-rapist-Isla-Bryson-warns-never-stop.html archive

Daily Mail https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11680963/Isla-Bryson-enrolled-Ayrshire-College-beauty-course-charged-sex-attacks.html archive

Daily Mail https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11670803/Transgender-woman-guilty-raping-two-women-man.html

Daily Record https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/first-victim-isla-bryson-says-29076906 archive

The Scotsman https://www.scotsman.com/news/crime/isla-bryson-estranged-wife-of-transgender-rapist-says-change-of-gender-was-a-sham-4002324 archive

The Sun https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/21148435/transgender-woman-guilty-rape/ archive

The Sun https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/21200227/trans-double-rapist-isla-bryson-bt-compensation/ archive

Sky News https://news.sky.com/story/vulnerable-trans-woman-accused-of-rape-is-not-predatory-male-glasgow-court-told-12793757 archive