NICOLA Sturgeon has effectively referred to the double-rapist Isla Bryson as a woman, sowing more confusion in the row over transgender prisoners.

After days of refusing to say if Bryson, who raped while known as Adam Graham, was a man or a woman, the First Minister today referred to them by a series of female pronouns.

“She regards herself as a woman,” Ms Sturgeon said of Bryson.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said Ms Sturgeon's confusion over the issue looked "ridiculous".

At FMQs last week, Ms Sturgeon went out of her way to avoid assigning a gender to Bryson, carefully referring to them as “an individual” and “a rapist”.

She was accused of being too afraid to come down one way or another in case it antagonised supporters of trans rights, including her Green party allies in government.

However at a Scottish Government press conference today, Ms Sturgeon referred to Bryson as “her”, before hastily correcting it “the person”.

Asked about the “Freudian slip” and whether she did indeed regard Bryson as a woman, Ms Sturgeon tried to avoid the question, but used more female pronouns in the process.

She said: “Don’t read anything into… What I’m trying to do is address the issues rather than take it into... headline-generating. I’m trying to rationally deal with the issues that arise here, and that’s what I’ll continue to try to do.”

Asked again why she had referred to Bryson as her, Ms Sturgeon said: “I can’t remember.

“What I’m saying is, Isla Bryson calls herself a woman. 

“But what I'm trying to say is, in the context of the prison service, that is not the relevant factor her. The relevant factor is the crime that the individual has committed and has been convicted of.”

Pressed again, Ms Sturgeon said: “She regards herself as a woman.  I regard the individual as a rapist.

"What matters is the individual was convicted of rape, and that is what we’re talking about here, and that is what I will continue to focus on.”

The comments raise questions about why Bryson, who was originally sent to women’s prison at Cornton Vale before being moved to HMP Edinburgh, is now in a male jail.

Bryson was found guilty of raping one woman in Clydebank in 2016 and another in Glasgow in 2019 at the High Court in Glasgow last month.

The 31-year-old began only identifying as a woman after being charged, and has not legally changed gender, although they are taking hormones and requesting surgery.

Despite the Scottish Court Service expecting Bryson to be transferred to Barlinnie, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) moved him to the women’s jail at Cornton Vale instead.

After a public outcry, Nicola Sturgeon made her opposition known to the SPS, which moved Bryson to HMP Edinburgh.

The case has lead to an almighty row for the SNP and Ms Sturgeon because of its relation to the recent controversial Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood.

MSPs passed the legislation to make obtaining a gender recognition certificate quicker and easier just before Christmas, but the UK Government intervened to halt it using an unprecedented Section 35 order, which the Scottish Government has said it will contest.

Although the Bill is not currently law, the SPS has adopted its central premise, allowing people to self-identify as a new gender, rather than it being verified by doctors. 

Having previously championed this principle, Ms Sturgeon appeared to undermine it at FMQs last week when she said she did not have the information needed to judge whether Bryson was genuine, despite Justice Secretary Keith Brown saying the matter should be taken at “face value”.

Ms Sturgeon also said she thought Bryson was “almost certainly” being untruthful about his gender in order to manipulate the system for an easier life.

Scottish Conservative equalities spokesperson Rachael Hamilton MSP said: “Nicola Sturgeon has betrayed her true feelings by referring to a double rapist as she.

“It was a telling slip but hardly a surprising one given how the First Minister has tied herself in knots over this issue and repeatedly U-turned.

“Last week Nicola Sturgeon refused to say whether she considered a double rapist to be a man or a woman, despite her justice secretary happily accepting Adam Graham was female the previous day.

“After once again dodging this simple question, she let slip her true position – one which the vast majority of the public will be dismayed at.

“Her whole self-id policy has turned into a mess entirely of her own making.

“By following the SNP’s current policy, Nicola Sturgeon has to believe Adam Graham is a woman – because he says he is – no matter how absurd that notion is. It is also a total insult to his victims and puts women’s safety at risk, once he is out of prison.

“The First Minister’s refusal to giving a firm commitment to publish the review into this case, by passing the buck to the Scottish Prison Service, is unacceptable.

“She cannot just hope this goes away and think the public will forget that a double rapist was, disgracefully, sent to a woman’s prison in the first place.

“That review must be published immediately and in full by the SNP Government in the interests of transparency and accountability. Otherwise, the public will conclude Nicola Sturgeon has something to hide.”