Home Office series 2016

The 2016 series ranged widely over topics including police research and the history of police relations with the Home Office, government and police responses to terrorism, organised crime and social disorder, new types of technology in crime and media/public responses, and the history of the police and fire services. 

Police-Home Office relations

Professor Clive Emsley, Emeritus Professor in History, Open University

21 January 2016

Everything changes: Everything stays the same 

It remains a popular statement in Britain that the British Police are the best in the world with very little explanation of what goes in to making ‘the best.’ The justification appears to focus around the police being non-political, non-military (which essentially means no more armament that a baton) and the idea that they police ‘by consent.’ The aim of this presentation was to explore (and challenge) these justifications by a brief examination of them over time looking, amongst other things, at the shifting contexts of police history, the structure of policing, and the reality of operational independence.

The Home Office, Policing & Operational Research, 1960-1990

Dr Ben Taylor, doctorate of King's College London

20 April 2016

What counts as evidence for police policymaking, and how has this changed? This talk looked at the Police Research and Planning Branch – a group of police officers, military scientists and OR practitioners who became influential in Home Office policymaking in the 1960s, and were the precursors both of today’s What Works Centres and the Centre for Applied Science and Technology. It discussed how their work reflected the ideas of a very unusual circle of elite police reformers, and set the templates for research, and its perceived value to policymakers, which persist to this day. In the process, it considered what exactly ‘evidence-based policy’ has meant in the past, and whether this was actually as different from ‘policy-based evidence’ as its advocates would have had us believe. 

Developing the modern fire service: from police brigades to an independent fire service

Dr Shane Ewen, Senior Lecturer in History, Leeds Beckett University

21 June 2016

The fire and rescue service is at a crossroad in its history, much as it was in 1919 when the Home Office first took sole responsibility for it. Then the question facing decision-makers was whether the fire service ought to continue to be integrated with the police as it had been for many decades in some towns and cities, or whether it should continue its transformation into a professional and independent service. Given that the Home Office had recently resumed responsibility for the service, in the light of proposed restructuring and closer working between the emergency services, this paper provided a historical narrative of the fire service’s history up to 1947 when the historical links between the fire and police services were broken. There are some interesting parallels between this period and the challenges facing the fire and rescue service today.

Technology, Crime and Security: from Lock-Picking to Hacking

Dr David Churchill, Lecturer in Criminal Justice in the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, University of Leeds

26 July 2016

For 150 years or so, commentators have plotted the ‘arms race’ between an elite of high-tech criminals and the latest innovations in security provision. This way of thinking about crime and technology is largely at odds with the everyday reality of offending. However, by positing the criminal as an innovator with whom society struggles to keep pace, it poses a challenge for public confidence in policing and crime prevention. This paper explored the genesis of the ‘arms race’ idea in Victorian responses to lock-picking and safe-breaking, and revealed that it continues to structure attitudes towards cybercrime in our own time. Furthermore, by highlighting tensions between this way of thinking about high-tech crime and practical responses to crime in cyberspace, the paper signalled some of the challenges and opportunities inherent in communicating crime prevention policy today

Responses to the 1980-81 collective disorder in England

Dr Simon Peplow, doctorate of the University of Exeter

5 September 2016

Soon after Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory, collective disorder erupted across England, beginning in St Pauls, Bristol in April 1980, spreading to Brixton almost exactly one year later, and then throughout the country in the summer of 1981. These largely spontaneous incidents of hostility were directed against the police, predominantly from the youth of local black communities. Despite repeated calls from local authorities and interest groups, the government focussed their response in terms of issues of law and order, and refused to hold a public inquiry into St Pauls – which became a symbol for black youth around the country: ‘Bristol yesterday, Brixton today’. This paper addressed the background and some of the responses to the collective disorder, including from the police, Home Office, and local and national government. Further to providing historical context for future policy-making, the seminar sought to offer broader understandings for those concerned with issues of public order.

Irish nationalists and the British Government’s response

Dr Michael Hassett, doctorate of the Open University

10 October 2016

How has the British government responded over the decades to the Irish nationalist campaign on the mainland of Britain? This paper elucidated the process which made the government follow a policy of deportation in two periods. It began by looking at initial reaction in the nineteenth century, including the controversial creation of a political police force – the Special Irish Branch. In the 1920s, wartime legislation still in force following the First World War was used to aid the security forces – notably article 14B of the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (DORA), which makes provision for internship without trial. Although there was also provision for  appeal, most Irish detained under this Act found it to be the first step towards deportation and imprisonment in Ireland. Faced with a resurgent campaign in 1939, the government of the day sought the same tactic. With no wartime legislation at its disposal, it introduced the Prevention of Violence Bill aimed at Irish Nationalists. The Act contained three central powers for the Home Secretary to exercise at his discretion: registration, expulsion and prohibition. Despite the reservations of many MPs, the Bill passed through all its stages in two days. In the first month the Government issued ninety-seven Expulsion Orders, twenty two Registration Orders and a further eight Prohibition orders. 

The IRT-affair in the Netherlands

Jack Wever MCM MCrim, Dutch policy advisor and researcher, and current PhD student at the Police Academy of the Netherlands

24 November 2016

In 1993 a press release by the Amsterdam chief of police, mayor and chief public prosecutor set in motion a string of events that became known as the IRT-affair. The IRT, an interregional criminal investigations team, was set up in 1989 to combat organised crime. Its main target was the criminal organisation of Klaas Bruinsma, a.k.a. ‘the vicar’, one of Europe’s biggest drug dealers. Lacking success in its investigations and under pressure to perform, the IRT resorted to methods that would later be labelled ‘dirty’. Looking back: what was the IRT-affair, how did we get there, how can we make sense of it and what can we learn from the experience?   


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