SCOTLAND’S prison chief clashed with a Tory MSP as a Holyrood committee heard evidence on new guidance for transgender prisoners.

Teresa Medhurst, the Scottish Prison Service’s (SPS) chief executive, said she was “confused” by Tory MSP Russell Findlay’s line of questioning as he probed the housing of trans prisoners on the female estate.

Medhurst insisted it would be “highly, highly unlikely” that violent trans inmates would be housed in women’s prisons.

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The SPS confirmed in December last year that transgender prisoners with a history of violence against women will be placed in the male estate until they are assessed by officials.

MSPs on the Criminal Justice Committee met in Holyrood on Thursday afternoon to probe Medhurst and Justice Secretary Angela Constance on the new policy and its implementation.

Findlay, regional MSP for West Scotland, probed Medhurst on whether the prison service would allow a trans woman to transfer to the female estate if they requested to do so.

It comes after the case of Isla Bryson, a transgender prisoner convicted of rape, who was initially housed in the female estate in segregation, before being moved to a male prison.

Findlay asked: “Can you confirm that under this new policy…if the rapist Isla Bryson, or indeed any other male-bodied sex criminal, asked for a transfer to a women’s prison, it could happen?”

“Sorry, I’m a bit confused by your question Mr Findlay…” Medhurst replied.

The Tory MSP continued: “Well under the new policy, if someone like Isla Bryson, or any other male-bodied sex criminal if you don’t want to talk about individuals, sought a transfer to the women’s estate - it could happen?”

Medhurst insisted that anyone who has “committed a crime of a sexual nature and who presents a risk to women will not be transferred to the women’s estate”.

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In response, Findlay continued to probe, asking: “Ok the presents a risk to women part of it - if it's deemed that someone like Isla Bryson or another male-bodied sex criminal is deemed not to present a risk due to an SPS assessment, they could go to the female estate?”

Medhurst responded: “I would be struggling to understand in what circumstances somebody who has been committed of a sex offence would not be deemed a risk to women.”

Findlay then asked if a “male-bodied criminal” with a general history of violence could move to the female estate, if they requested to do so.

“It would depend on the circumstances of that individual case, what that violence was related to, what risks were identified and it would again have to go through,” Medhurst replied.

The National:

“Anyone who has committed an act of serious violence goes through a very rigorous assessment process, both in relation to their management plan and their placement, and that applies regardless of whether or not they are a transgender individual or not.”

Findlay claimed the answer to his question was that they could “in theory”.

A visibly annoyed Medhurst replied: “Highly, highly unlikely Mr Findlay.”

Earlier, Medhurst told MSPs that the new policy would be implemented on February 26 this year, with further evidence published by SPS to back up their change in procedure.

She added that there had been “unprecedented interest” in the policy around transgender prisoners in Scotland.