Scottish Prison bosses are at the centre of a new cover-up row after it emerged that they deliberately hid documents on their controversial new trans-prisoner policy.

Correspondence seen by The Herald shows officials openly discussing how to avoid having to release operational guidance through Freedom of Information (FOI).

Campaigners have now called on David Hamilton, the Scottish Information Commissioner, to intervene.

READ MORE: SPS boss defends controverisal new policy on transgender prisoners

The SPS new Policy for the Management of Transgender People in Custody was published at the end of last year.

It was developed following the row over trans rapist, Isla Bryson, who first appeared in court as Adam Graham.

Following conviction, the SPS made the decision to divert Bryson to Cornton Vale, Scotland's only women's prison, rather than the planned destination of HMP Barlinnie, sparking outrage.

The new policy is due to come into force next week.

It initially states that a transgender woman “will not be eligible to be considered for admission or transfer to a women’s prison” if they have been convicted for a raft of crimes, including murder, assault, robbery, abduction, rape, and sexual harassment.

However, it then goes on to say that there is an exception to this rule if the SPS’s Risk Management Team, and subsequently an executive panel, “are satisfied there is compelling evidence that they do not present an unacceptable risk of harm to those in the women's prison.“

Operational guidance, which tells staff how to implement the new policy, has not yet been made public.

Documents obtained by the Murray Blackburn Mackenzie (MBM) independent policy analysis collective through FOI reveal that the prison service brought forward the start of the policy to deliberately avoid disclosing detailed operational guidance.

The email between two colleagues states: “We were originally thinking three months from date of publication but that period is actually 13 weeks rather than 12 weeks and would takes us into tricky FOI territory re the publication of the operational guidance.

“Therefore, to ensure we are compliant with FOI legislation, the policy will 'go live' 12 weeks from date of publication: Tuesday 27th February 2023.”

Under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act, public authorities can refuse to disclose information if they already plan to publish it within the next 12 weeks.

However, they would not be able to apply that exemption if, as originally proposed, the operational guidance was to be published in 13 weeks.

By bringing it forward a week, the SPS would no longer be under any obligation to publish the guidance in 20 working days if an FOI request was made.

READ MORE: Scottish Prison Service trans prisoner policy criticised

In their letter to Mr Hamilton, MBM, said they believed the SPS were using provisions in FOI legislation to “avoid scrutiny and transparency.”

They have asked him to “consider advising the SPS, and public bodies more generally, on whether such an approach falls within both the letter and the spirit of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act.”

Dr Kath Murray from MBM told The Herald: "This is yet another story about secrecy within the Scottish government.

“The SPS failed to consult on a draft of its transgender prisoner policy before publishing the final version.

“It refused to disclose key evidence on which it claims to have based its decision-making.

“Also, it has only published half the story, by withholding the detailed operational guidance needed to understand the policy.

“It now transpires that the SPS engineered the policy commencement date to avoid disclosing this guidance under Freedom of Information law."

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: "We have been open and transparent in publishing this policy, along with several other documents, ahead of its implementation, while also committing to publishing the operational guidance given to staff, once the policy has been implemented.

“We are taking an individualised approach to the admission, placement, and management of transgender people, and will carefully consider a range of factors, including offending history, with a particular focus on violence against women and girls, when assessing risk.

“No transgender women, with a history of violence against women and girls, who presents a risk to women, will be placed in the female estate.”

The Scottish Information Commissioner’s office said he had received the letter and would respond “in due course following consideration of the issues it raises.”