Sat 1 May 2021 — 10 min

In May 2020, news reports about a murder in a women’s refuge led to users on the forum Mumsnet to develop a fascination with the case, driven by a suspicion that the killer might be trans based on extremely flimsy evidence. In February 2021, the claim that the killer was really male was repeated on twitter by Yardley MP Jess Phillips in a twitter thread discussing single-sex services for women. The tweet making the claim was deleted soon after being posted. However the deletion renewed interest in the conspiracy theory across multiple platforms. Since then, screenshots of Phillips’ tweet have been being cited and referred to as a source, continuing the spread of false information about the identity of the killer.

Between April and May 2020, a woman by the name of Phoenix Netts was murdered1. Two people were arrested and charged. Gareeca Conita Gordon, was charged with the murder. Mahesh Sorathiya, a Wolverhampton Taxi driver, was initially accused of assisting Gordon by having transported Gordon and the suitcases she used to move the victim’s body. The charges against Sorathiya have since been dropped2. Whilst some early reporting 1 stated a woman had been charged with murder, later reports did not mention any gender3. However, one report from Herald Magazine in May 2020 used ‘his’ to refer to Gordon 4. This otherwise insignificant error in a small news outlet was subsequently amplified by groups seeking validation for their prejudices that the killer could not possibly be a cis woman, and was cited as justification for the suspicion.

Shortly after the story broke, Mumsnet users began discussing the case in a thread5. Users on Mumsnet entertained doubt that the accused is female and discussed suspicions around whether Gordon will go to a men’s prison or a women’s prison. Mumsnet users also mentioned Stonewall, referencing a conspiracy that LGBT lobby groups have significant control over the media.

Over the next few days, Twitter users engaged in similar speculation6, demanding to see photos of the accused 7, and referencing that they read 'somewhere' that Gordon was misgendered 8. Speculation and demand for photographs of the accused flared up again in August 2020 when the West Midlands Police twitter account announced that two people had appeared in court connected with the murder9. In November, the charge against Sorathiya was dropped and the case proceeded against Gordon only10.

On February 28th, Labour MP for Yardley and Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, tweeted that a man is facing trial for the murder11 in a thread about the importance of sex segregated specialist women’s refuges. The tweet was deleted after around 12 hours (according to Politwoops11). Phillip’s original tweet mentioned the case in the context of discussing sex-segregation of shelters, despite the fact that neither the killer nor the victim were housed in a 'refuge', but rather a 'House of Multiple Occupancy' (i.e. a shared house / flat). The case was brought up specifically to motivate a direction on policy, despite that the case would not have been impacted by any form of sex or gender segregation.

Phillips has over 430k followers who would have been exposed to this false information in her tweet, and the tweet itself had been retweeted 24 times at the time it was archived. For the avoidance of doubt, one of Phillip’s followers commented clarifying to Maya Forstater that Phillips appears to be 'confirming' that Gordon is male12. Another Twitter user went on to simply repeat the false claim that Gordon is a man in response to queries following Phillips’ tweet13. In replies to Phillips’ original tweet alone, Trans Safety network observed several hundred responses, many of them from anti-trans accounts demanding an explanation of why Phillips had deleted the tweet, and reposting screenshots of it.

The mention of the case and subsequent deletion of the tweet prompted a second wave of interest in the story with a much louder presence on Twitter. Followers of Phillips repeated the false claim that the killer was transgender14,15. One Twitter user referenced the tweet as evidence that Gordon is a trans woman16.

Other twitter users pointed out the deletion and used that as a prompt for further speculation17

Well-known anti-trans campaigner Graham Linehan and commenters on his Substack discussed the deletion, and speculation ensued about the reasons for the deletion being related to Gordon’s gender identity18.

Other Twitter users attempted to bring the story to the attention of Baroness Nicholson and Lord Philip Hunt19.

By this point, the misinformation that Gordon was a trans woman appeared to be widespread, and was cited in conversation as fact 20,21. Some users even referring directly to Jess Philips’ tweet as evidence for the theory22, while others have brought up the theory as though it were fact in conversation threads with MP Stella Creasey23.

As of last week Twitter users continued to pillory the news media and claim that Gordon was a trans woman24, although on April 21st, it was reported that Gordon had entered a guilty plea, and news articles featuring photographs of her were published25.

The publication of this news story revived the discussion, with users on Ovarit and Mumsnet re-engaging with the story26,27, particularly the topic of Jess Phillip’s deleted tweet. The deleted tweet is referred to in another Ovarit thread where Ovarit users use the tweet as evidence Gordon is transgender during a discussion as to whether Phillips holds transphobic “gender critical” views28. A second Mumsnet thread was created and deleted the same day29 with only screenshots remaining. The discussion involved further speculation about what prison Gordon should be sent to, and Jess Philips tweet and deletion are again referenced with suspicion.

At some point between April 21st and April 22nd, the original Mumsnet thread was also deleted. However, a third thread was created on April 22nd30, continuing to try and gain more information. The claim was repeated again on April 23rd by a Twitter user replying to US President Joe Biden in direct response to a Tweet in which he states that nobody should be denied shelter because of their gender identity31. The twitter user, referencing the case as Phillips did, as being relevant to or instructive on policy regarding shelters.

This is the second time this year32 that conspiracy theories circulating on social media have been given weight through repetition by politicians or political figures in the UK. Phillips has offered no explanation for why her tweet initially suggested that a man was on trial for the murder, nor any rationale for deleting the tweet. This silence has left a vacuum that transphobic conspiracy theorists seem eager to rush into and fill with a narrative that the details of the murder are being covered up. Whether it is happening in private groups or public forums, misinformation is reaching the top levels of British politics and being given extra legitimacy through repetition and reluctance to challenge it. In this case, the misinformation is being propagated by those who wish to motivate a transphobic agenda.