What price a trans woman’s life? In 1997 in London it was £500

January 7, 2009

Another month, another report of another trans woman apparently murdered. The monotonous regularity of these violent hate crimes against trans women doesn’t decrease, does it? I’ve just been reading about a court case currently under way at the Old Bailey here in London. Robyn Browne, a trans woman, was stabbed to death in 1997 and the man accused of her murder (James Hopkins) seems to be claiming that he did it for a fee of £500 (around $750) which he’d been offered by drug dealers in exchange for stealing Ms Browne’s address book. Because apparently she was also a sex worker who was blackmailing her “famous clients”.

As if that wasn’t engrossing enough for any newspaper reader of a tabloid mentality, the story appears to be recounted by a prosecuting lawyer who almost seems to be offering the accused the opportunity to wriggle out of it by means of our old friend, the trans panic defence (see also).

I’ve found at least two news reports on this case; in the Yorkshire Evening Post and in the Yorkshire Post. Both use what I would call a similarly garish style of writing (which, in fairness, may simply reflect the way the details have been conveyed in court) – but the Yorkshire Evening Post seems almost to relish this lurid and still profoundly depressing tale.

Leeds man ‘confessed to murder of transsexual’

A roofer now living in Leeds confessed to the 1997 killing of a pre-op transsexual prostitute in letters to his partner and young son, a court heard on Tuesday.

All the familiar hallmarks of transphobic hate crimes appear variously throughout this one. First, note that it’s nearly twelve years since the murder of Robyn Browne. Twelve years for the case to come to trial. Because why should the law be interested in the violent murder of a sex worker (if that’s what she was, and if it’s even relevant)? And what’s that you say? – she was a “pre-op transsexual” to boot? Oh well, there y’go, a woman with a penis, she was obviously amongst the lowest of the low, her life was absolutely worthless…

Time and again we see these irrelevancies thrown in – what bearing, exactly, does the fact that she was “pre-op” have on the case? Why are cis people so fixated on what’s inside trans women’s underwear?

Moving on:

Miss Browne, who had several famous clients, was stabbed nine times at the flat where she worked.

Again, why this emphasis on her alleged occupation as a sex worker? “Several famous clients”? Talk about tabloid journalism; the hint of salacious gossip. She was the victim of a violent knife crime – why isn’t that enough relevance?

A bloody palm print was found at the scene but the case remained unsolved until a match was found using the police computer database in 2007.

By then Hopkins had started a new life in Leeds with his partner Donna Abbott, the Old Bailey heard.

A week later he wrote her a letter from prison saying: “Sorry for all the s*** this has caused you and your family, but it is something that happened 10 years ago.”

As though the time span somehow mitigates the crime, or makes the murder of Ms Browne less serious. I wonder if her family and friends see it the same way.

[Mr Hopkins] added: “If I see you or someone who knows me well I will tell them the whole story, the truth about 28th February, 2007.”

“It is a lot more straightforward than it looks and if the evidence is really bad against me then the truth will have to come out which might send me down for a long time.”

Do I detect the bells and whistles of a trans panic defence (see also) clanking wearily over the horizon? What could possibly be more ‘straightforward’ than a frenzied attack resulting in multiple stab wounds?

“…if the evidence is really bad against me…” – If? If???

“…then the truth will have to come out which might send me down for a long time.” And this would be a bad thing, how, exactly? If you’ve violently murdered someone by stabbing them multiple times, why shouldn’t you go to prison “for a long time”?

“Did I do it? Well let’s just say I know a lot about it and how it happened. Whether people believe me depends on a few things.”

Mr Hopkins, there are no conditions here, no “it depends”. It’s a straight question – “Did you do it?” – why not just give us a straight answer and let Robyn Browne rest in peace at last?

Hopkins later claimed he had been offered £500 by Yardie gangsters to steal the victim’s address book because it contained the names of famous clients who were being blackmailed.

So now we know: the going rate in 1997 for the life of a trans woman: £500.

Don’t spend it all in one place.

[Mr Hopkins] also told his partner during a prison visit that Miss Browne was stabbed accidentally during a struggle inside the flat.

Accidentally stabbed. Nine times. Some accident…

Now we’re getting to it: the victim-blaming which paves the way for the trans panic defense. If she hadn’t struggled, he wouldn’t have had to kill her, would he? They’re just so obstructive, these worthless, drugged-up, tranny whores. Coming between a real man and his £500 like that, how dare she?

Meanwhile, back at the department of useless information:

Jurors heard Robyn Browne, born James Errol Browne, was HIV positive and was taking female hormones as well as using amphetamines.

The victim lived at a housing association flat at 6b Gosfield Street in Gosfield Street, Marylebone, west London, with another pre-op transsexual called Natasha Brentwood.

She advertised for clients in phone kiosks and newspapers including the Sunday Sport.

Well done! Not only do these three lines deliberately ungender her but simultaneously also ‘out’ another trans woman (Ms Browne’s flatmate Natasha Brentwood). And the rest of it? I cannot see how even one word of that is remotely relevant in any way at all. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing it’s just repeating what was said in court; a fact made even worse given that it seems to have come from the prosecution. Frankly, it smacks of the numerous little details, seemingly innocuous but all adding to an oh-so-subtle character assassination of this… this Other, this trans woman. I might have expected it from a defence lawyer building a trans panic defence, but coming from the prosecution? With friends like these…

And on: HIV positive? – She must have been a bad ‘un. Using amphetamines? – Even worse: a bad ‘un on drugs.

Although, talking about drugs, I’m not sure how mention of the hormones is pertinent under any circumstances; on my planet we call it medication. For some of us, hormones are just one way of making our gender dysphoria a bit more bearable. And as far as I know, in Britain, they’re not categorised as illegal under the terms of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Just another prescribed medication, is all.

Ever onwards ploughs the report, more subtle putdowns: Ms Browne lived in a housing association flat. Not a proper house like ‘normal’ people live in, no. A housing association flat. And she was sharing it – with another pre-op transsexual! Shock horror! How disgusting, all these drug-infested trannies flocking together like that! And pre-op too? That can only mean one thing: both trans women must have had penises! Oh no! What are we going to do? (Cue hand-wringing, pearl-clutching and general running around aimlessly while shrieking loudly).

More irrelevant personal remarks about the deceased:

“Robyn used to receive clients wearing makeup and a shoulder-length black wig.”

Yeah, and? You’ve already told us she’s a trans woman; trust me, it’s not uncommon for trans women to wear makeup and wigs. It’s not uncommon for cis women to do the same, either. So what’s your point?

At last we get to the prosecution’s account of the events of the night, and according to the report, it seems to have been presented in a suitably graphic and tabloid style:

On February 28, 1997, Natasha went out to meet an ex-boyfriend for dinner while Robyn was preparing for work.

She returned at 8pm but got no answer either by knocking on the door to the flat or calling the landline.

Natasha then climbed up and in through the first floor window and found Robyn lying on the bed.

“She realised that Robyn had been stabbed and was not breathing,” said Mr Hilliard.

“It was obvious she had suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest and neck. There was no surviving a knife attack of the kind she had sustained.”

Miss Browne had been stabbed nine times including once to the heart and three times to the neck which cut through the carotid artery.

There was no sign of forced entry to the flat but a drawer had been taken out of the chest of drawers in the bedroom.

Pages were missing from the Filofax belonging to the victim and clothes had been put into a holdall, the court heard.

Missing pages. Anything to do with Mr Hopkins’ pursuit of his promised blood money, I wonder – his £500 bounty?

Police found a palm mark and fingermarks in Robyn Browne’s blood on the door of the flat.

Palm marks were also found on that day’s copies of the Sun newspaper and Loot in a plastic bag on the floor.

Mr Hilliard said: “In 1997 the police were not able to identify who had left the particular palm prints on the newspapers or the palm mark in blood on the victim’s door.”

“The case went unsolved at that time. But years later advances in technology allow palm marks to be checked against the national fingerprint database.”

“You can now search them automatically. That couldn’t be done in 1997.”

“Once it was done it was discovered that it was the defendant Mr Hopkins who had left these marks.”

Hopkins was arrested on June 27, 2007, at his home in Leeds and shook his head when he was asked about the murder.

In interview he gave a prepared statement saying: “To my knowledge I don’t know the person or address referred to by the police.”

No, well, that’ll be your lying deceitful drug-riddled tranny whore for you. No reasonable man could expect honesty from such a creature, could he?

“I met lots of people at different times due to my lifestyle in the late 1990s. I did not stab anyone at this time.”

Which makes me wonder what he meant by this:

“If I see you or someone who knows me well I will tell them the whole story, the truth about 28th February, 2007.”

“It is a lot more straightforward than it looks and if the evidence is really bad against me then the truth will have to come out which might send me down for a long time.”

It certainly begins to seem as if Mr Hopkins isn’t exactly the brightest button in the box: by 2004, he’d moved to Leeds, got a job and moved in with his partner. She asked him about returning to London- and instead of a simple ‘no’, Mr Hopkins said “something had happened in London”, and that he had been on drugs.

Mr Hilliard said: “He said he went looking for the phone book and began ripping the pages from it. A fight started between them, Robyn Browne pulled out a knife and the defendant got a cut to his arm.”

“Somehow the knife cut Robyn in the neck. They ended on the floor, Robyn on top of him, and somehow the knife cut Robyn in the chest area. He said when he left Robyn was still alive.”

That sounds familiar. No? Well, substitute the knife for a scarf, and change the name to Kellie Telesford. I seem to remember Shanniel Hyatt, who was cleared of Kellie Telesford’s murder, claiming that she was “fit and well” when he left her flat…


Mr Hopkins later claimed that the Yardies involved – the ‘drug dealers’ who supposedly paid the £500 – had also been named in relation to the so-called M25 Murders, even though a police check showed that the men convicted of those murders were in prison at the time of Robyn Browne’s killing.

And to bring this part of the proceedings up to date:

Hopkins later wrote another letter to his partner asking her to change her statement and add that one of the Yardies went into the flat.

It read: “You will have to say you were totally confused when you gave the statement…. The main thing to say is I wasn’t alone.”

He then asked her not to let any ‘silly c***s’ read the letter.

Mr Hilliard told jurors: “Oops. Well some silly people have read it, haven’t they?”

Mr Hopkins denies murder and the case, as they say, continues. What a great shame that Robyn Browne isn’t around to give us her side of the story.


(An abridged version of this post is cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia)


ETA: I’ve found two other news reports, one in The Sun tabloid newspaper and one on the BBC London News website.

2 Responses to “What price a trans woman’s life? In 1997 in London it was £500”

  1. […] posted a fairly lengthy unpicking of one of the news reports over at Bird of Paradox, but it makes pretty depressing and potentially triggering reading; a state made worse by the (in […]

  2. yes the monotonous regularity of these hate crimes is so incomprehensible. thanks for highlighting this case, i had not heard about it at all.

    great deconstruction of stupid sensationalist media reporting though! about 90% of those details were completely unnecessary. i mean, she wore make up AND a wig – that is just so damn shocking, i can’t get my head around it!

    RIP Robyn.

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