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Trans woman who died in all-male prison was ‘let down’ by authorities

A transgender woman who died was in an all-male prison was let down by the prison service, an inquest has found.

21-year-old Vicky Thompson was found dead inside male prison HMP Leeds in November 2015.

Ms Thompson had been living as female for some time, but was sent to a male prison as she had not gone through the bureaucratic legal process to obtain a legal Gender Recognition Certificate.

She had been considered “at risk of self-harm”, and had told prison staff that she would be “carried out in a box”.

Vikki Thompson

But Ms Thompson was found dead in her cell on 13 November, with a ligature around her neck.

Today, the jury at her inquest ruled that she did not intend to take her own life.

The foreman said: “Vikki has been let down by various departments including the NHS, Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, the Prison Service and also by her family.

“Although these departments were individually aware of Vikki’s history, the overall coordination of her mental and health state were lacking in any form of organisational structure.

“During her last stay at HMP Leeds, the management of her treatment and mental state of mind were also lacking in professionalism and inadequate for an individual of such complex issues.”

However, the jury did not find that she should have been sent to a female prison.

The foreman said: “Vikki was remanded to HMP Leeds, a male prison, and we, the jury, feel this was the right one for Vikki.”

After a string of deaths of transgender prisoners, the UK government had promised a review of the way trans people in prisons are dealt with.

The review finished in November 2016, with the Ministry of Justice introducing ‘safeguards’ to ensure that transgender people would not be put at risk in prisons inconsistent with their gender.

In a statement, the lawyer for Ms Thompson’s family said a more radical shift was needed.

Philip Goldberg of Minton Morrill Solicitors said: “When Vikki went into HMP Leeds in October 2015 she told staff that she would ‘come out in a box’.

“Vikki’s case is a deeply tragic one. She is one of three transgender women to die within the male prison estate since November 2015.

“Yes, Vikki was a transgender woman housed in a male prison but like many others in prison her vulnerability did not make her unique. It was the responsibility of HMP Leeds to ensure she was properly looked after and safe.

“The jury heard that Vikki experienced bullying and sexual harassment on E-Wing that caused her to self-harm before she was moved to the Vulnerable Prisoner’s wing. HMP Leeds has the second-highest number of self-inflicted deaths in the UK and an inability to learn from their mistakes.”

He added: “Her death echoes the experiences of other vulnerable prisoners who have died whilst in custody at Leeds. This is yet another Inquest that has identified the serious failings both on the ground and in the management at the prison.

“Vikki’s death has led to a review of the Prison Service Instruction that governs the management of Transgender Prisoners.

“Whilst we welcome the policy reform, what really matters is that prisons protect those prisoners in real terms. This will require a radical shift in prison staff culture and training.”

He added: “Vikki’s mother remains deeply distressed by the loss of her daughter. Yet hopes that if any good is to come of her death, it’s that the Ministry of Justice also undertakes a complete overhaul of HMP Leeds.

“Vikki identified as a woman from a young age and was vulnerable because her complex history of sexual and violent abuse, drug use and mental health problems. Vikki’s vulnerabilities echo many of those experienced by women who find themselves in the criminal justice system.”

Mr Goldberg added: “Can I thank you for respecting Vikki’s mother’s wish for privacy at this upsetting time. Thank you.”

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