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Brianna Ghey: The transgender girl murdered by two teenagers

A vigil for Brianna Ghey
Image: A vigil for Brianna Ghey | jory mundy / Alamy Stock Photo

Content warning: This article contains transphobic themes and offensive language that some readers might find distressing. For help and support, please visit our Advice and Support webpage.

Brianna Ghey, a vibrant 16-year-old transgender girl hailing from Birchwood in Cheshire, was widely known as a ‘beacon of positivity’. She played a crucial role as a supportive figure and adviser for younger transgender girls, primarily within the online community, where she boasted a significant TikTok following.

On TikTok, Brianna was a familiar presence, sharing videos of herself lip-syncing to songs and showcasing various outfits to her audience of over 31,000 followers. Her online presence contributed to creating a space of encouragement and visibility for the transgender community.

In her journey of self-discovery and transition, Brianna received unwavering support from her parents. Her mother, Esther, fondly shared: ‘She was fearless in embracing her true self. Identifying as a female and wearing girls' school uniform were natural expressions for her - no obstacle stood in her way.’

Despite her positive outlook, Brianna faced challenges, including transphobic harassment and bullying, as reported by her friends. These struggles extended to her school life, although Birchwood Community High School denied receiving allegations of transphobia.

On the afternoon of 11th February 2023, Kathryn and Andrew Vize were walking with their dogs in Linear Park, Warrington. During their walk along a path, they discovered the lifeless body of a girl lying face down in the mud. A teenage girl and boy were crouched over her, but upon noticing Kathryn and Andrew, they fled the scene. Acting swiftly, the couple contacted the police, expressing their concern: ‘Somebody has been attacked. We've seen the attackers run away, well, I think they are the attackers.’

In response to the call, police and paramedics arrived at the location. The victim was identified as Brianna Ghey, and she was surrounded by a pool of her own blood. She had suffered 28 stab wounds to her head, neck, back, and chest. Despite the paramedics' best efforts, Brianna was declared dead. Adjacent to her body, forensic experts discovered an unopened bottle of Dr Pepper, which was subsequently collected as evidence in the ongoing investigation.

A murder investigation was initiated, spearheaded by Detective Chief Superintendent Mike Evans, who appealed to the public for assistance. He stated: ‘We are also keen to speak to anyone who was in the park from around 1:30pm until 4:00pm yesterday or anyone who may have seen Brianna in the hours leading up to her death. We would ask people and businesses within the local community to check any CCTV or dashcam footage for anything that may aid our investigation.’

A specific appeal was directed towards the two teenagers who fled from the scene, urging them to come forward with information.

Initial concerns emerged that Brianna may have been targeted due to her transgender identity. However, Cheshire Police promptly refuted this notion, asserting that there was no evidence to suggest the murder was a hate crime. As the investigative process unfolded, Brianna's family issued a heartfelt tribute, expressing: ‘Brianna was a much-loved daughter, granddaughter, and baby sister. She was a larger-than-life character who would leave a lasting impression on all that met her. Brianna was beautiful, witty, and hilarious. Brianna was strong, fearless, and one of a kind.’

Detectives initiated the process of retracing Brianna's final known movements, discovering from her mother, Esther, that she had sent her a text before 1pm that afternoon. In the message, Brianna mentioned meeting up with a teenage girl identified publicly during only as ‘Girl X’ during the trial but who was later later named as Scarlett Jenkinson. Additional information came from Rachel Powell, Esther's son's partner, who recounted driving in Culcheth that afternoon and witnessing Brianna walking on the pavement with two other teenagers - a boy and a girl. This observation was substantiated by multiple individuals in Linear Park, who reported seeing the trio of teenagers that afternoon.

Armed with the knowledge that Brianna was meeting up with Jenkinson and was seen in the company of a teenage girl and boy shortly before her murder, detectives reached out to Jenkinson. She acknowledged being with Brianna that afternoon but asserted that Brianna had left her and her friend, identified as ‘Boy Y’ during the trial and later named as Eddie Ratcliffe to ‘meet some random man in Manchester’. However, when questioned, Ratcliffe contradicted Jenkinson's account. He stated that he turned away to go to the toilet on a tree, and when he turned back around, he saw Jenkinson stabbing Brianna.

That evening, Jenkinson and Ratcliffe were arrested in connection with Brianna’s murder. Following their arrests, a GoFundMe page was set up in memory of Brianna. In less than 24 hours, the fund surged to over £60,000, fuelled by the widespread coverage of Brianna's tragic murder in headlines and across social media. The raised funds were intended to cover Brianna's funeral expenses, with the surplus designated to support her grieving family. Ultimately, the campaign surpassed £100,000. Meanwhile, tributes resonated across the United Kingdom, including a poignant ‘moment of reflection’ observed during a meeting of the council's cabinet at Warrington's Town Hall.

On 15th February, Jenkinson and Ratcliffe were formally charged with Brianna’s murder. During the court hearing at Chester Magistrates’ Court, Prosecutor Leanne Gallagher characterised Brianna's murder as ‘extremely brutal and punishing’. In a notable shift, Cheshire Police revised their earlier stance and announced that they were, indeed, investigating whether Brianna’s murder could be categorised as a hate crime. The court directed the two teenagers to stand trial jointly, initially proposing a trial date of July 2023, which was later rescheduled to November. Both Jenkinson and Ratcliffe pleaded not guilty to the charges levelled against them.

Ahead of the trial, a national cry for the public identification of Jenkinson and Ratcliffe echoed across the country. However, legal restrictions under section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1993 prevented the reporting of any details that could lead to their identification in connection with court proceedings. This encompassed their names, images, addresses, schools, or any other potentially revealing information. Although there exists a provision for courts to lift these restrictions under specific circumstances, it was announced that Jenkinson and Ratcliffe would remain anonymous, a decision that was subsequently overturned and the pair were named on 2nd February 2024 at their sentencing. Despite this, individuals on social media continued to attempt to identify them, highlighting the challenges in enforcing legal restrictions in the digital age.

By 27th November 2023, a jury comprising seven men and five women had been selected, marking the commencement of the trial. The presiding judge, Mrs Justice Yip, informed the jury that Boy Y had been diagnosed with autism since being remanded in custody, accompanied by ‘high levels of anxiety’ and severely limited verbal communication. Additionally, she disclosed that Jenkinson had been diagnosed with ‘traits of autism and ADHD’, alongside anxiety. Due to these conditions, the judge explained that the defendants might not be physically present in court each day but would participate through a video link.

In her opening statements, prosecutor Deanna Heer informed the jury that Jenkinson and Ratcliffe had orchestrated the murder of Brianna over the course of several weeks, if not months. They eventually lured Brianna to Linear Park under the pretence of engaging in drug use. Prosecutor Heer revealed that the defendants had initially intended to kill Brianna two weeks prior, but their plan was thwarted when she cancelled at the last minute.

The prosecutor confidently said: ‘The prosecution case is that whoever delivered the fatal blows, both defendants are equally guilty. Acting together, they planned and executed their plan to kill her.’

She revealed that the defendants had turned on one another, each blaming the other for physically murdering Brianna. She further disclosed that Jenkinson and Ratcliffe had known each other since they were 11 and that they were ‘close friends’ who ‘trusted each other’. The majority of the evidence against them had come from their text messages to one another in the lead-up, and aftermath of the murder.

In November 2022, Jenkinson first encountered Brianna and soon developed an infatuation with her, expressing to Boy Y that she was ‘obsessed’. Describing Brianna as ‘really different’, Jenkinson later conveyed her feelings to Ratcliffe in December, stating: ‘I’m obsessed over someone I know but don’t have feelings for them… She’s called Brianna… I don’t know how to explain. Also, she has a d*** lol.’ During their conversations, Ratcliffe occasionally referred to Brianna as ‘it’ and used other transphobic language to talk about her. In response, Jenkinson said that Brianna sounded ‘just like a girl and looked really pretty’.

However, by January 2023, Jenkinson's fascination with Brianna took a dark turn, as she began discussing plans to kill her with an overdose of pills. She confided in Ratcliffe, asserting that Brianna's existing struggles with depression would make the act less suspicious. Concurrently, Jenkinson immersed herself in disturbing online content, watching gruesome videos and engaging in discussions with Ratcliffe about harming various individuals. The prosecution disclosed the existence of a list containing five names, with Brianna ultimately becoming the chosen target. Ratcliffe callously remarked: ‘I want to see if it will scream like a man or a girl.’

As they solidified their decision to target Brianna as their victim, Jenkinson and Ratcliffe began meticulously planning the execution. In the weeks leading up to the murder, Jenkinson tried to end Brianna's life through overdose attempts involving pills and ibuprofen gel, but these efforts only resulted in making her ill.

Ultimately, they settled on the method of stabbing Brianna to death. Jenkinson communicated the chilling details to Boy Y via text, instructing him: ‘Meet me at the wooden posts in Linear at 12, we'll go over the plan again, and I'll show you where I'm killing her, and then we both walk to the library to meet her.’ She further directed him, saying: ‘Grab onto Brianna, slit her throat, when she starts to fall stab her in the back, then pass me the knife. I want to stab her at least once even if she's dead, just coz it's fun, lol.’

Throughout the trial, the jury was informed of the movements of Brianna, Jenkinson, and Ratcliffe on the day of the murder. The plan involved luring Brianna under the guise of using cocaine in the park. Around 12:45pm, doorbell footage captured Brianna leaving her home. Brianna, communicating with her mother, informed her of her departure, stating: ‘I'm leaving to go see Jenkinson, dogs are locked up.’ Subsequent footage showed Brianna walking to the bus stop, where she waited for 20 to 30 minutes before boarding the bus.

Brianna appeared to be nervous about the meet-up, messaging a friend on Snapchat: ‘I’m so anxious. I’m at the bus.’ Around the same time, Jenkinson had texted Ratcliffe telling him: ‘Plan is going perfect. She is 100% coming today.’ Afterwards, Ratcliffe got a lift from his mother to Culcheth, where he met up with Jenkinson. Both of them went to a Sainsbury’s store before they made their way to a bus stop where they met up with Brianna, who was unaware that Ratcliffe was carrying a 13cm hunting knife that he had purchased around six weeks earlier.

The prosecution presented various evidence against the two teenagers, highlighting that Jenkinson’s DNA was discovered on the cap of the unopened bottle of Dr Pepper found beside Brianna’s body. Brianna’s blood-stained mobile phone was found down a drain in an area where Jenkinson and Ratcliffe were spotted on dashcam footage, while further footage captured Ratcliffe wiping his hands, which appeared to have blood on them. In Jenkinson’s bedroom, detectives also found a methodical plan on how she and Ratcliffe would kill Brianna, which was titled: ‘Saturday 11th February 2023. Victim: Brianna Ghey.’

When Ratcliffe’s bedroom was searched, detectives recovered clothing and a pair of trainers that were stained with Brianna’s blood. A knife discovered in his wardrobe was said to have been ‘capable of causing all the wounds’ suffered by Brianna. It also contained Brianna’s blood, while the handle contained Ratcliffe’s DNA.

Both Jenkinson and Ratcliffe had separate defence cases, with Richard Pratt defending Jenkisnon and Richard Littler defending Ratcliffe. Each defendant placed the blame of Brianna’s murder on the other one. Ratcliffe claimed Jenkinson had told him to bring a knife to the park because she had a ‘plan to stab Brianna’ whereas Jenkinson admitted she lured Brianna to the park, but said that it was only part of a ‘fantasy’.

After three weeks of testimony, the jury was sent off to deliberate. After less than five hours of deliberation, they returned with a verdict, finding both Jenkinson and Ratcliffe guilty of the murder of Brianna Ghey. Judge Yip thanked the jury for their service telling them: ‘You probably didn’t anticipate sitting on a case as emotionally difficult as this one.’ She then turned to the defendants and told them she needed to impose a life sentence, but needed to decide the minimum amount they must serve before being considered for release.

The following day, the judge ruled that the anonymity orders that protected the identities of Jenkinson and Ratcliffe were going to be lifted, and they were going to be publicly identified at their sentencing hearing, scheduled for 2nd February at Manchester Crown Court.