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Saturday 21 April 2018

Professor Brian Williams: A Tribute

Brian Williams was co-editor of the BJCJ since its inception in the spring of 2002. It marked the enhancement of a cooperative partnership between Sheffield Hallam and De Montfort and, for me, a personal partnership stretching back over 25 years. Brian's CV mirrors my own and I have found myself sharing platforms, debating issues, working as colleagues, arguing on matters of principle and interpretation and generally enjoying the combative and deeply intelligent style of discussion at which Brian excelled. It is profoundly sad for the world of criminology and community justice that we have to say good bye to Brian following his untimely death in March 2007.


Brian gained an English degree at Lampeter in the early 70s. This may explain why Brian was such an avid and meticulous proof reader and rarely did an article pass his scrutiny without a myriad of grammatical errors to correct. His attention to detail was praiseworthy. Following many graduates of the time Brian chose social work and probation in particular to help find a place for radical critique and where principles of justice, fairness and equity could be prominent in his daily work. Always a radical and a keen trade unionist Brian became active in Napo and soon made his name as a trenchant commentator on the world of probation. It was not surprising that Brian continued his intellectual journey through an MPhil, then a MEd culminating in his PhD being awarded at Keele in 1997. Spells as both a probation officer and as a lecturer confirmed that Brain would contribute both as a practitioner and as an academic and this led to a joint appointment at Sheffield University and South Yorkshire Probation in 1990.


Here Brian and I renewed acquaintances and began working together to produce a joint programme of probation training through the DipSW. He was never short of argument and ideas and often through debate, disagreement and eventual compromise we helped shaped a good programme of training and brought two university departments together to do this – not an easy achievement! Brian first published in Critical Social Policy (vol 18) in  1987 with what became his usual candour in an article entitled ‘The 'Coercive Tilt' in Probation Practice: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’. This began an academic output which has been prolific, focused, challenging and inspiring in equal measure. His first book Work with Prisoners, (Venture Press; 1991) was followed by one on Bail Information (1992) and we collaborated in a series of conferences and linked publications in the early 1990s editing -Probation Practice After the Criminal Justice Act 1991. In 1995 he attempted the difficult but essential task of defining probation values and his edited volume (Probation Values Venture Press, Birmingham, 1995) became a classic in the field much used and quoted by students on training courses.  By this time Brian had moved to Keele but was quickly tempted, with Hazel Kemshall, to join an ambitious department in De Montfort. He quickly established his reputation moving from Senior Research Fellow to Reader to Professor of Community Justice and Victimology by 2002. Their combined research output has been excellent and they respectively established themselves as international contributors to risk management and, in Brain’s case, victimology. His latest research for the Department for International Development was an engagement in Restorative Justice in Russia jointly with CCJSU and Centre for Social Action.


Brian has remained focused on community justice in its broadest sense whilst increasingly pursuing a restorative justice and victim-centred research agenda in his writings. Publications in this area have flowed, an edited volume in 2002 (Reparation and Victim-Focused Social Work, Research Highlights 42, Jessica Kingsley, London, 2002) and most recently Victims of Crime and Community Justice, Jessica Kingsley, London 2005).


Brian never simply became an academic concerned about his own outputs but remained a committed teacher, student mentor, including a growing reputation as a doctoral supervisor, active researcher and constant participant in trade union and professional association affairs which reflects his formidable appetite for work motivated by a deep commitment to help others. His active support of the Community Justice Centre in Liverpool, his participation in British Society of Criminology Executive since 2002, his editorial roles in a range of journals including Journal of Adult Protection, Community Safety Journal and Practice and his contribution as a founding editor with Julian Broadhead of Prison Writing, amongst many other achievements, demonstrates the breadth and depth of his contribution.


Brian was simply at the top of his field. I shall miss his phenomenal networking skills. Whenever a name came up which we might pursue for an article or a contact Brian would reach for his trusty diary and find a phone number, address or email or all three. He rarely disappointed in this respect. He could be tough-minded and certainly articulated his principles strongly and with candour but with a concern for social justice and improving the world of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, a mission which was truly inspiring. I shall miss his insights and encouragement with the journal and his friendship and I know many many more reading this will miss his many contributions to their own intellectual, personal and professional lives. Most of all he will be missed by his wife and three young children with whom he had found such a profound happiness.


Professor Paul Senior; Co-Editor, BJCJ

August 2007