Having entered the UK prison system as a transgender woman, the odds were stacked in Karen White’s favour from the start.
No matter that aside from donning a padded bra, wig, dress and heels, the 52-year-old was still, anatomically and legally, a male — not to mention a convicted paedophile on remand for GBH and burglary.
For amid the shifting sands of transgender politics, current prison policy recommends a ‘flexible approach’ towards prisoners.
‘Transgender offenders must be asked their view of the part of the prison estate (male or female) that reflects the gender with which they identify,’ says Prison Service Instruction 17-2016.
Karen White, 52, was moved to HMP New Hall, a women’s prison between Wakefield and Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, where, within days of arriving last year, he sexually assaulted four female inmates
Certainly, it didn’t take long for prison authorities to move White to HMP New Hall, a women’s prison between Wakefield and Huddersfield in West Yorkshire with its own mother-and-baby unit, where, within days of arriving last year, he sexually assaulted four female inmates.
The disastrous decision to move White to a women’s prison, which became public last week after he pleaded guilty to the last of several rape charges for offences committed outside prison, is now under intense scrutiny.
White’s most recent partner has bravely added her voice to the row.
Speaking exclusively to the Mail this week, she laid bare the extent of the convicted sex offender’s manipulation and deceit, uncovering a disturbing and violent past stretching back decades.
She has spoken out on condition of anonymity after suffering violent attacks by White in the past and threats to her life.
Born in July 1966 as Stephen Terence Wood, he was convicted in 2001 for two offences of indecent assault and gross indecency with a child of primary school age, and jailed for 18 months
Her account raises serious questions about how, when his disturbing past was known to prison authorities, White was able to hoodwink officials and get himself transferred to a women’s prison.
‘If anything, he was an occasional cross-dresser,’ reveals the former partner.
‘He usually wore men’s clothes — jeans and T-shirts — and often didn’t shave.
‘He showed no interest in transitioning. It confused me. I didn’t know whether to say ‘him’ or ‘her’ when I spoke to him.’
The woman says White occasionally dressed as a woman, either for nights out at a bar in Huddersfield town centre or if he had meetings with officials in relation to his claims for disability and housing benefits.
While she insists she is not against genuine transgender women prisoners being in female prisons, White, she says, was no such thing.
‘There were no appointments at gender identity clinics or anything like that, which is what you would have expected,’ she says.
‘He didn’t take any hormones or medication.
‘He was very manipulative and very controlling. He was a liar. He could twist anyone around his finger. I’ve seen him do it with authority figures. He played the system.
‘I got the feeling he was running away from something in his past and that changing his name and identity was part of that.’
A close relative told the Mail this week that White’s transgender claims were a lie: ‘It’s as if he’s put on a cloak to disguise himself from what he really is. He’s destroyed everybody’s life that he’s come into contact with.’
Born in July 1966 as Stephen Terence Wood, the son of a Manchester electrician, he was raised by his father after his parents separated when he was a small boy.
He has been estranged from his family for years, ever since they became aware that he had been found guilty of two offences of indecent assault and gross indecency with a child.
White has always been highly secretive about his past.
He told his latest partner his father was a millionaire but that his childhood was abusive, and said he had worked as a holiday camp entertainer.
White’s most recent partner bravely added her voice to the row. Speaking exclusively to the Mail this week she said: ‘He was very manipulative and very controlling. He was a liar. He could twist anyone around his finger. I’ve seen him do it with authority figures. He played the system’
Recent reports suggest he may have worked as a drag artist in Manchester, although he appears to have been a long-term claimant of disability benefit.
And the close relative who spoke to the Mail said he had never held down any job, even though he has an 18-year-old son, who has no contact with him.
Certainly, it seems White could be highly charismatic and flamboyant when he wanted, although he was also quick to anger.
‘He could make you laugh,’ said his ex-partner this week.
‘He knew how to talk to people but he also had a terrible temper and could quickly become violent.’
Most tellingly of all, White’s crimes — with a record stretching back at least two decades — were committed as a man.
He was convicted in 2001 for two offences of indecent assault and gross indecency with a child of primary school age, and jailed for 18 months.
He has also committed acts of severe physical violence against another former partner, her daughter and his own son.
A restraining order banned him from contacting his son until he was 18.
At some point, while in prison for those crimes, he changed his name from Stephen Wood to David Thompson.
And in 2003, not long after coming out of prison, he raped a woman — a crime that would go undetected for more than a decade and came to light only when police began investigating White’s past after the sexual assaults he committed at New Hall.
Around four years ago, while he was calling himself David Thompson, White moved to the large village of Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire, after securing himself a council flat in a social housing complex.
One of the residents, who is a transgender woman, recalls how White was initially aggressive towards her and ‘ruled the block of flats with fear’.
But within a fortnight, he appeared wearing a dress and wig and asked for information about transgender support groups in Manchester.
According to the resident, White was referred to a gender identity clinic in Sheffield but failed to attend three separate appointments: ‘Other than wear a wig and put on women’s clothing, he made no more effort.’
Meanwhile, however, White used his alleged transgender status to control other residents in the block, threatening to report any who dared to stand up to him for transphobia.
On one occasion he called 999 to report a hate crime when an elderly resident in the housing complex referred to him as ‘he’ instead of ‘she’.
On another, he stabbed an elderly male resident, claiming the pensioner had sexually assaulted him.
But White’s arrest for that stabbing and a burglary in 2017 came during a period of heightened sensitivity around transgender issues within UK prisons.
The Ministry of Justice had just updated its policy ‘on the care and management of transgender prisoners’ after the death of two trans prisoners in male prisons.
Ripping up its previous 2011 policy, the new 60-page policy introduced in January 2017 emphasised the right of prisoners to ‘self-identify’ and to be treated ‘according to the gender in which they identify’.
Previously, prisoners requiring such treatment would have needed a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) or to have had a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
But, citing Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the policy states: ‘The primary focus of this policy are offenders who identify as transgender and who have expressed a consistent desire to live permanently in the gender they identify with, which is opposite to the biological sex assigned to them at birth.’
It adds: ‘Whilst a GRC is proof of legal gender, the absence of it does not automatically prevent that prisoner being located in the part of the estate consistent with the gender they identify with.’
Yet even so, the policy adds the caveat that ‘this will be subject to an assessment of all known risk, security and operational factors’.
Decisions on where to place prisoners such as White are initially taken by a local transgender case board made up of prison managers and psychologists, which must be convened within three days of a prisoner being taken into custody.
Prisoners are allowed to make representations in writing or in person to these boards.
The board considers evidence that the individual has been living in the gender they identify with, and considers any risk factors.
If this board’s decision is challenged, a local review board reconsiders the evidence.
Finally, a ‘complex case board’ can be set up to handle cases involving those at risk of causing harm to themselves or others, and for those aged under 21.
It is believed the decision to place White in a women’s prison was made only at the first level, by a local case board.
That board should have taken into account all his previous offending history — but this did not take place in White’s case.
It is clear that the Prison Service is under increasing pressure in dealing with what is, according to its own policy document, ‘a rapidly developing area of policy’.
Trans campaigners argue that anyone who identifies as female is a woman and must be treated as one.
Anyone who does otherwise is ‘transphobic’. In the past, they have dismissed fears that sex offenders may self-identify as female merely to gain access to women’s prisons.
The latest figures showed there were 125 transgender prisoners in England and Wales up to the end of March 2017, an increase from 70 in the previous year.
About 25 of those are thought to be in women’s jails — and media reports suggest six of them are sex offenders.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said last week that prison managers were making decisions about trans offenders ‘in a toxic political environment where some campaigners are pushing very hard on trans rights’.
She added: ‘I am asking them to err on the side of caution, as there is emerging evidence that certain men are jumping on the trans bandwagon to access, and harm, very vulnerable women in prison.’
Certainly, given what was known about White’s past, it should have been clear that he was not someone who should ever have been allowed around women.
Yet hidden away in the Ministry of Justice’s latest prisons policy, PSI 17-2016, is a line that, disturbingly, suggests the same decision could be made again in future.
‘Women offenders who present a high risk of harm to other women are managed safely in the female estate.
‘Transgender women who present similar risks should be managed in a similar way in the female estate.’
There is precedent for this.
In 2009, a male-to-female transgender prisoner with a Gender Recognition Certificate won the legal right to be transferred to a women’s prison even though one of her offences was the attempted rape of a woman.
The Mail understands that the decision to move White back to a male prison was made because the sexual offences he committed against inmates at New Hall were carried out as a man.
Further inquiries by police outside the prison subsequently led to multiple rape charges being made against him.
‘We apologise sincerely for the mistakes which were made in this case,’ said a Prison Service spokeswoman.
‘While we work to manage all prisoners, including those who are transgender, sensitively and in line with the law, we are clear that the safety of all prisoners must be our absolute priority.’
Dr Nicola Williams, from the group Fair Play For Women, says transgender rights are being put before the safeguarding of women prisoners, and that the latest prison policy is open to abuse.
She argues, too, that while the gender identity campaign group was consulted before the latest policy on transgender prisoners was drawn up, no women’s rights groups were consulted.
She adds that questions should be asked about whether any male-bodied person should ever be allowed to be fully integrated within a women’s prison.
‘There is a third option,’ she says — ‘a transgender wing within a male or even a female prison’.
For now, White is being held at HM Prison Leeds, a category B men’s prison, where he is awaiting sentencing on October 11.
He has pleaded guilty to stabbing his neighbour and sexual assaults on two inmates at New Hall, as well as a historic rape in 2003 and two counts of raping another woman in 2016.
The rapes were only discovered when West Yorkshire Police began delving into White’s past after the assaults he committed while at New Hall.
He denied sexually assaulting two other women in the prison and those allegations have been left to lie on file, along with a further rape allegation against his 2016 victim.
‘He’s evil,’ says the close relative who spoke to the Mail this week.
‘To think he is a part of my family really destroys me. He should be locked up for the rest of his life and they should throw away the key.’