Home Office series 2017

History & Policy continues its work with the Home Office to deliver policy-relevant seminars. The following H&P historians presented their research to provide long-term perspectives on current policies and debates of interest to the Home Office. 

Foreign Fighters and the State in Historical Perspective: Risks and Countermeasures 

Dr Nir Arielli, Associate Professor of International History, University of Leeds

16 January 2017

In contemporary debates concerning international affairs foreign war volunteers (or ‘foreign fighters’) are frequently seen as a problem. World leaders from different countries, who often disagree on many issues, share a concern about the dangers posed by returning, radicalized veterans of foreign conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War. This paper placed the phenomenon of foreign war volunteers in historical perspective. It showed how Britain and other states tried to contend with nineteenth and twentieth century foreign volunteers, primarily through legislation. Such legislation tended to serve diplomatic needs more than to stem the flow of volunteers effectively. The paper’s second objective was to assess whether the experience of voluntarily fighting in a conflict abroad is more likely to lead to disillusionment or to radicalization. Finally, the paper suggested a new method of categorizing foreign volunteers according to how members of each category position themselves in relation to their home state. This method serves to clarify which groups have historically proved dangerous to their home state and which have not.  

Motor Bandits

Professor Alyson Brown, Professor of History, Edge Hill University

27 February 2017

The arrival of the motor car in twentieth century Britain led to concerns about traffic, but also to concerns about new types of crime which this technology might make possible. Around 1930, the press was carrying many stories about 'motor bandits', criminals who were using cars and firearms to operate with relative impunity, owing to their technological edge over the police. But to what extent did this media phenomenon reflect a genuine shift in the ways that crimes were committed?  

A Policeman in Every Home? Burglary, the 999 system, a Police-Public Relationships in Historical and Comparative Contexts

Dr Eloise Moss, Lecturer in Modern British History, University of Manchester

3 April 2017

Over the course of the twentieth century, tensions between police and public have built over what criminologist Sarah Manwaring-White calls ‘the rise of the techno-police,’ i.e., technologically-driven forms of policing that have been perceived to erode face-to-face encounters with the ‘bobby on the beat.’ These tensions have been particularly felt in poor and minority ethnic communities, historically more used to being the subjects of police surveillance and regulation than having their interests defended by it. As recently as 2013, the ONS’s Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) noted that in these groups, public faith in police remains at a low ebb, despite a number of initiatives to restore good relations. This paper examined the history of commercial and policing technologies, including burglary alarms and the 999 emergency system, to analyse how structural inequalities of access to police grew out of these systems and continue to have a legacy today. It also examined the role of the media and insurance companies in continuing to perpetuate exclusionary visions of access to police services via advertising and television programmes such as ‘999-What’s Your Emergency?,’ again demonstrating how their appeals to overwhelmingly white, middle-class citizens in these genres were entrenched historically. Finally, it referred to the international contours of these issues, taking a comparative perspective on the 911 system in America and its racial politics.

When the Elders of Zion relocated in Eurabia 

Dr Reza Zia-Ebrahimi, Lecturer in Twentieth Century Middle Eastern History, King’s College London

8 May 2017

This talk's objective was two-fold. First, to argue that antisemitism and Islamophobia display similar dynamics in representing their target population as a different and antagonistic race (a process referred to as “racialisation”). Second, to suggest that conspiracy theories of the “world Jewish conspiracy” type or their Islamophobic equivalent “Islamisation of Europe” type, are powerful enablers of racialisation, something that the literature has so far neglected. In pursuing these two interrelated objectives, the talk offered a textual comparison between two conspiracy theories featuring Jews and Muslims. The first is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903), the notorious forgery claiming to be the minutes of a meeting of Jewish leaders planning to take over Europe and the world. This text is largely considered to be at the very heart of modern-day antisemitism and an essential ingredient of the ideational context of the Holocaust. The second is Eurabia: The Euro-Arab axis (2005), a pamphlet by polemicist Bat Ye’or, claiming to have uncovered another ominous conspiracy, that of Muslims to turn Europe into Eurabia, a dystopic land where jihad and Sharia Law rule and where non-Muslims live in a state of subjection. The paper argued that despite some differences in format, the two texts display strikingly similar internal dynamics in their attempt to racialise Jews and Muslims as the ultimate “other” determined to destroy “us”. This process is referred to as conspiratorial racialisation.

Regulating drinking through pricing interventions: a historical perspective

Dr Henry Yeomans, Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Leeds

21 June 2017

Discourse on alcohol policy in several countries has recently become dominated by discussions of pricing. Advocates for action on pricing have consistently argued that higher drinks prices reduce crime and other social problems, and specifically claimed that a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks would be the most effective means through which governments could achieve these ends. Interestingly, proposals for a minimum unit price are frequently depicted as radical and new. However, this presentation will explore how other means of legally intervening in alcohol pricing have long been used to shape public drinking habits. Touching on diverse topics, such as Georgian attempts to stem the ‘gin craze’ or Victorian efforts to promote beer-drinking, it will draw upon findings from a wider historical study of alcohol pricing interventions in England and Wales. Particular attention will be paid to the historical development of alcohol excise duties as a tool through which governments can seek to regulate drinking in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ultimately, the presentation will provide an empirically-based typology of the main forms of government interventions in alcohol pricing. By facilitating the comparison of minimum unit pricing with various historical interventions in alcohol pricing, this typology will help perform the important task of placing current policy proposals into historical context. In doing so, it will also provide a platform from which the future of alcohol policy can be reflected upon. 

Grenfell: the lessons of the Blitz

Dr Henry Irving, Senior Lecturer in Public History, Leeds Beckett University

5 September 2017

The Blitz placed ordinary people on the front line of the Second World War. The Nazi bombing campaign claimed the lives of 43,000 civilians and made 2.25 million people temporarily homeless. It also led to a breakdown of trust between survivors, national, and local government. This talk showed that Britain’s disorganised response to the Blitz provides valuable lessons for those responsible for the aftermath of the Grenfell tower fire. After giving a general overview of the Blitz, the talk considered the reasons why Britain’s response to the Blitz failed to cope with the numbers needing help. It then considered how the government responded to criticism during 1940-41. It was argued that the lessons of its response (relating to leadership, funding commitments, communication, and an appreciation of individual circumstances) are as important today as they were then. 

The challenge of the 1960s and the Home Office’s response to social change

Professor Louise Jackson, Professor of Modern Social History, University of Edinburgh

18 October 2017

This seminar, H&P's first trial of a general "period overview" format, provided an introduction to some of the key social changes of the 1960s and their implications for the policy areas of crime and policing. Areas covered included: moral regulation and youth culture, fear of crime, abolition of the capital sentence, and the modernisation of police structures. 

New technologies in policing in the 20th century - three case studies

27 November 2017

‘Scientific aids’ to policing and detection in the 1930s

Professor Alison Adam, Professor of Science, Technology and Society, Sheffield Hallam University

As part of a drive to develop scientific policing and detection in the UK, the Home Office set up a network of regional forensic science laboratories in England and Wales in the 1930s. This innovation virtually created the role of the forensic scientist and was important in delineating professional activities of the police officer, detective and scientist. Alongside the development of laboratories the push to adopt ‘scientific aids’ was significant in developing a scientific approach to the management of crime scenes.  

‘The House of Murder’: the Christie investigation and the emergence of the forensic ‘team’ in postwar England

Professor Ian Burney, Director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester

This talk used the notorious case of the serial murderer John Reginald Halliday Christie (1953) to explore the contours of English homicide investigation at mid-century. Crucial to the Christie story is the way that forensic pathology and forensic science operated in a relationship of mutual dependence. At this time there were conscious efforts to forge a new culture of “team-driven” forensic investigation as a corrective to a prior model based on individual “virtuosity”. Murder investigation was shaped by new approaches to the crime scene and by developments in lab-based analysis of crime scene objects, which reconfigured the relationship between bodies, spaces, and traces. Led by the pathologist Francis Camps, the investigation transformed Christie’s home at 10 Rillington Place into a macabre excavation site, the stage for a prolonged, meticulous, and intensely public search for evidence. However, it is not the story told by Camps’s team that we now understand as the truth of the crimes at Rillington Place. Forensic “truths” are not necessarily independent and self-sufficient entities, but can be outcomes of engagement with a broader politics of knowledge.  

The curious case of the adoption of Photo-FIT 

Professor Paul Lawrence, Head of History, Open University

The Photo-FIT system, launched in 1970, allowed police operators to work with witnesses to produce composite, photorealistic depictions of suspects. A collaboration between the Home Office, police forces, the inventor (Jacques Penry) and Waddingtons (the manufacturer), Photo-FIT was rapidly adopted in the UK and abroad. But initial trials of Photo-FIT (both pre-and post-launch) were disappointing and the system had no ‘scientific’ basis whatsoever. So why was Photo-FIT adopted at all and what lessons can we draw from this about the procurement of new technologies?


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