Sussex Police have apologised after the Home Secretary accused it of "playing identity politics and denying biology” around sexual offences committed by a transgender woman years before transitioning.
The force had insisted it would not “tolerate any hateful comments” about gender identity “regardless of crimes committed” and advised a Twitter user who said she was exercising her gender critical views to familiarise herself with what is regarded as hate on its website.
Some hours later it said a comment made on its official Twitter account had been “inconsistent with our usual style of engagement”, and that it had since been deleted.
The force said it recognised the “rights of the public to express themselves freely within the boundaries of the law”.
Responding to the initial tweet, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the force should “focus on catching criminals not policing pronouns” after Sally Ann Dixon, of Swanmore Avenue, Havant, Hants, was jailed for 20 years having been convicted of 30 indecent assaults.
The force said the crimes, against five girls and two boys, took place between 1989 to 1996, when Dixon was known as John Stephen Dixon.
The 58-year-old, sentenced at Lewes Crown Court on September 8, later transitioned to female in 2004, Sussex Police said.
Some people on Twitter objected to the force referring to Dixon in the headline of its press release as a “Woman convicted of historic offences against children in Sussex”.
Responding to the remarks, Sussex Police initially tweeted that it does not “tolerate any hateful comments towards their gender identity regardless of crimes committed”.
“This is irrelevant to the crime that has been committed and investigated,” it added.
In response, Ms Braverman tweeted: “@Sussex_police have done well to put a dangerous criminal behind bars.
“But they’ve got it wrong by playing identity politics and denying biology. Focus on catching criminals not policing pronouns.”
Karen Ingala Smith, who founded Femicide Census, an organisation which provides information on women who have been killed by men in the UK, argued that “the sex of the perpetrator certainly is not irrelevant in crimes of sexual violence against children, for example rates of perpetration differ hugely by sex”.
She added: “Moreover, if crimes committed by males are recorded as crimes by females then policy based on crime data will be hopeless.”
Frances Crook, former chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, now co-convenor of the Commission on Political Power, said 15,000 men are in prison convicted of sex crimes, compared to around 100 women.
She said allocating even a small number of male crimes to women would “skew the figures”.
Sussex Police has since confirmed the offences by Dixon were recorded as having been committed by a man.
Responding to one Twitter user who said she was exercising her gender critical views, Sussex Police said she could familiarise herself with what is regarded as hate on its website, adding: “If you have gender critical views you wish to express this can be done on other platforms or your own page, not targeted at an individual.”
The direction prompted SNP MP Joanna Cherry to tweet at the force: “I think you could do with familiarising yourselves with the right to #FreeSpeech under #ECHR & the #HumanRightsAct & the protection for gender critical beliefs afforded under the Equality Act.
“You have no locus to compel women’s speech.”
In a statement released on Tuesday evening, Sussex Police said: “We reported factually on the findings of the court which heard that, at the time of the offences, Dixon was living as a man, John Stephen Dixon.
“The relevant offences were recorded as being committed by a male.
“An earlier reply to a comment on Twitter was inconsistent with our usual style of engagement; we apologise for this and have removed the comment.
“We recognise the rights of the public to express themselves freely within the boundaries of the law.”
Ms Braverman thanked the force for “their swift apology & retraction”.
She added: “The best police officers focus on solving crimes and supporting victims. Not political correctness.”
Ms Cherry also welcomed the apology, saying it was the job of the police to “uphold the law not to police the #FreeSpeech of feminists or indeed anyone else for that matter”.
Dixon, who will be subject to a sexual harm prevention order indefinitely, was also found not guilty of four indecent assaults.
Detective Constable Amy Pooley of the Sussex Police complex abuse unit, said Dixon had come to know their victims through family connections “and used that trusted access to systematically abuse each of them for sexual gratification, in some cases for several months at a time”.
A victim came forward to police in 2019 and the officer said the case shows “we will always follow up such reports, no matter how long ago the events are said to have happened, to support victims and to see if we can achieve justice for them wherever the evidence justifies that”.