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Scottish Tories: Government must reveal when it intervened over prison transfers

The call came in the wake of double rapist Isla Bryson being housed in segregation at a female-only jail.

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Russell Findlay in Holyrood

Scotland’s Justice Secretary has been urged to reveal when the Government has stepped in over the placement of prisoners.

The Scottish Tories have urged ministers to be “candid” about their involvement in controversial decisions on where prisoners are housed.

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Keith Brown said in a parliamentary statement if “it is felt that there are exceptional circumstances in a particular case, the approval of ministers will be sought”.

But the Justice Secretary stressed that, despite the possibility of seeking ministerial approval in some cases, the wider placement within the prison estate remains with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

The call comes in the wake of double rapist Isla Bryson, who committed the crimes as Adam Graham, being housed in a segregation unit at Cornton Vale – Scotland’s only all-female prison – before being moved to the male estate after public and political outcry.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stressed there was no “formal direction” given to move Bryson from the female estate and the decision was made by the SPS.

As a result of the Bryson case and reports that Tiffany Scott, who stalked a 13-year-old girl while Andrew Burns, may be moved to the female estate, a pause on the housing of transgender inmates with a history of violence against women was enacted, along with an urgent review of the events of the past week.

Keith Brown in Holyrood
Keith Brown made a statement to Holyrood on the issue on Tuesday (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

On Wednesday, Scottish Tory community safety spokesman Russell Findlay called on Mr Brown to reveal what cases were subject to such ministerial input, saying “lines are blurred” between who makes “contentious decisions”.

“The justice secretary seems to say that the prison service seeks ministerial approval in some cases, while retaining operational control.

“But that seems at odds with the Bryson case, where the SPS apparently decided to send this double rapist to a women’s prison, before Nicola Sturgeon belatedly bowed to public anger to overrule them.

“The public want, and have a right, to know who calls the shots – prison governors or ministers.

“We need to know who is accountable for absurd decisions like sending Bryson to Cornton Vale. It should never have happened.

“SNP ministers must be candid about all the cases in which they had involvement in the decision-making process.”

Mr Findlay’s calls come as Scottish Labour have said unanswered questions remain in the Bryson case.

MSPs Pauline McNeill and Katy Clark asked four questions of the Justice Secretary, asking why it “took so long” for ministerial intervention in the the two cases; if the pause on violent trans prisoners will be made permanent; when an overarching review by the SPS on trans prisoners will be complete; and if the Scottish Government will provide data to Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee about the pattern of offending among prisoners.

Mr Brown has previously said a decision on the pause being made permanent would be made after the overarching SPS review, which he also said would be completed in the coming months.

Ms Clark said the “fiasco” of the past week had been “shocking”, adding: “The rights and the safety of women in prison is of vital importance.

“It is also deeply unfair to many transgender women that these high profile and violent cases have coloured much of the discourse around this important issue.

“The fact is that the SNP Government has done all that it can to hide behind others during this process and have only acted when their hand has been forced.

“We need answers now from Keith Brown on what the way forward will look like, how the rights of women will be protected and how women will be kept safe.”

The Justice Secretary also announced to appear before the Criminal Justice Committee next week, along with SPS chief executive Teresa Medhurst, where they will deliver an update about the urgent review into the Isla Bryson case which is due to report before the end of this week.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the Justice Secretary made clear to Parliament, the management and accommodation of prisoners within the prison estate has been, and will continue to be, an operational matter for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

“This general position is not changed by the interim measure that Ministerial approval will be sought in exceptional circumstances until SPS’s reviews have concluded.”

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