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Pleading Not Guilty in a Time of Transition: The Case of Isla Bryson

Updated: Feb 14, 2023


Isla Bryson


'Bryson admitted having sex with both women three years apart, in 2016 and 2019. “I would never hurt a woman” Isla said following the verdict.


[The Judge] urged the jury to find the accused guilty of both charges.'


Stories don't get much more vogue than that of Isla Bryson. What is forgotten in this rape suspect's tale of transitioning while waiting for trial is that he/she claimed the sex was consensual, pleaded not guilty, and said 'I would never hurt a woman' following the verdict.


We can't know what was talked about in the jury room – a situation that is itself badly in need of change – but we can be more sure about the cultural politics that would have surrounded the discussion.


There is a suspicion of people convicted of sex offences being seen as transitioning for an easier life inside, or being able to move to a women's prison, but prisons are much more complicated than the public realise. As in the community, diversity inside is tolerated, grumbled about, and eventually accepted. Isla would have no easier time at a woman's prison than a men's, and arguably quite the opposite, due to the nature of 'their' alleged offences.


While the nation combusts in a post-Gervaisian orgy of I-told-you-so's, the fact remains that due process seems to have been almost forgotten in the desire to condemn the transitioning process by other means (not to mention the person transitioning). A violent, premeditated, horrific rape in the manner or Wayne Cousins this was by all accounts not; the complainants were people Bryson had met online, he had enrolled on a beauty therapy course, and the trial a relatively mundane he said/she said affair.


Originally a male named Adam Graham, Bryson has claimed to have known s/he was transgender since the age of four, but did not decide to begin the process of transitioning until 29. At the time of the trial s/he was undergoing hormone treatment and seeking surgery to complete gender reassignment.


It was as Graham that Bryson committed (what were found to be) rapes seven and three years later in the Glasgow and Clydebank areas. Isla initially appeared in court as Graham, but began undergoing gender reassignment therapy before trial. In 2021, and while awaiting trial, she also enrolled as a woman on the course where the majority of her fellow students were female. The course featured a combination of theory and practical work. There is no data for nor suggestion of Isla having targetted these women.


Following a six-day trial in Glasgow, Bryson was convicted on 24 January 2023. At the time of her conviction s/he was believed to be the first transgender woman in Scotland to be convicted of rape. Judge Scott warned Bryson s/he faced a "significant custodial sentence".


In a show of evident candour Bryson admitted having sex with both women three years apart, in 2016 and 2019. The 31-year-old gave evidence in her own defence during the trial, claiming s/he had consensual sex with the women.


The jury, however, didn’t believe her version of events, and returned a guilty verdict. In his closing speech to the jury, Prosecutor John Keenen KC branded Bryson’s claims of consent as “unreliable" as he urged the jury to find the accused guilty of both charges. He said Bryson’s account “was in stark contrast” to the detailed version of events given by both complainants, aged 30 and 34.


The Judge said: “When you examine the accused’s version of events, it’s lacking any real details of how these supposed sexual encounters actually occurred.”


He went on to say Bryson’s testimony in the witness box was “long and rambling” while both women gave the court “credible” accounts.


Whatever your view of transgender people or attempts to do time in a women's prison, there are still 1400 wrongful convictions per year according to the CPS. Isla Bryson pleaded not guilty and stood trial in a time of 'believe the victims'. Under these circumstances, the jury at False Allegations Watch (FAW) is still out.


By Sean Bw Parker


Please let us know if you think that there is a mistake in this article, explaining what you think is wrong and why. We will correct any errors as soon as possible.


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