Viewers of Welcome to HMP Belmarsh with Ross Kemp were left moved by the story of the prison’s only transgender prisoner, who was sent to one of Britain’s toughest jails after helping her sick father end his life.
Claire Darbyshire, 39, from Dagenham, was jailed for life with a minimum of four years – the shortest life sentence in legal history – in 2016, after helping MS-sufferer Brian Darbyshire, 66, who she cared for full time, suffocate himself with a plastic bag at the home they shared in Essex.
Speaking to the ITV show’s presenter Ross Kemp, Claire talked about the moment she helped her father die, and admitted it was tough going to the Category A prison in South East London, which holds more than 180 murderers – and she feared abuse and even sexual assault.
And Twitter users quickly expressed their sympathy for the inmate, who is seen leaving the prison at the end of the show after completing her sentence, but has no fixed address to return to.
Speaking about the moment she helped her father die, Claire, whose mother is also deceased, said: ‘He wanted to be suffocated, because that would be easiest so he could have a hand in it and hold the bag.
‘I lay behind him and held the back of the bag. His breathing got quicker and then slower and then one last breath and I knew he’d gone.’
And recalling the moment she was sent to Belmarsh, Claire admitted: ‘At first I found [it]very daunting. It was kind of like, ‘Oh my God I’m the odd one out here. What are the other inmates going to be like, how are they going to treat me as a trans person?’.
Revealing the abuse she has suffered, she revealed: ”It was just stuff like, ‘queer’, ‘tranny’, you get some ‘show us your tits’.’
And addressing the risk of sexual assault, she continued: ‘There was always that in the back of my mind what could happen. The officers can’t always be by your side.’
Glimpses at her life in prison show the guards looking out for her, even bringing her hair colour at one point, as she paints her nails with felt tip.
Speaking in the episode Claire admitted she had built up good relationships with the prison guards, a ‘key’ to surviving inside jail.
Claire received a life sentence in 2016, but was given one of the lowest minimum terms in British legal history – four years – for killing her father, who suffered from MS.
At the time, she said they had made a ‘suicide pact’ as his illness had become intolerable and she did not want to go on without him.
A note written by Darbyshire found near her father’s body said: ‘If it was an animal then you would stop its suffering, but when it comes to a member of your own species, you want to prolong the suffering as long as possible’.
Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC, jailed her for life with a minimum term of four years, saying he accepted that she believed it was an act of mercy.
Reflecting on life following her father’s death with Ross, she said: ‘I was going to commit suicide, I had no reason to live without my dad, but I couldn’t do it. Something I still feel bad about, I should have gone with him.’
A the end of the episode the parole board decided Claire was safe to be released, but Claire shared her stress over not having a hostel to stay in, and being rejected from the female hostel – admitting she felt ‘let down’ by the system.
Taking to Twiter users expressed their sympathy for Claire, and shared their disappointment in the lack of after care.
One viewer tweeted: ‘Clare’s story is such an important example of how the prison system continuously fails and neglects transgender people – does anyone know of any fundraisers going to help her out?’.
One user wrote: This is when the system lets people down. Claire a vulnerable young transgender who was released from prison with nowhere to go. What chance do they stand. A basic fundamental right is a roof over your head. How are people expected to make a fresh start?’.
Another added: ‘Claire might be safer in a Cat-A prison, given how outside world treat transgender people’.
But others praised her treatment, with one writing: ‘Good to see some inmates have accepted Claire for who she is, can’t be easy for her in that sh*** environment’.
Another said: ‘The female hostels have refused Claire for being ‘too male’, and the male hostels have refused her for being ‘too female’.” Can everyone just think about this for a minute until that sinks in please.’
Others argued she shouldn’t have been sentenced at all, writing: So sad that Claire is in prison because she helped her dad end his suffering… we put sick animals down’.
Commending her bravery, one tweeted: ‘Claire’s got some balls being in there’, and other said: ‘OMG as if I’m crying….God bless Claire’.
At the end of the episode it is confirmed that Claire found a place in the male hostel the night of her release, where she is still staying.