Professor Nigel Walker CBE, D.Litt

Credit: Cambridge University
The Centre for Criminology records with great appreciation and gratitude the contributions to its development made by Nigel Walker who died aged 97 in Edinburgh on 13 September 2014. Professor Walker, as he became when he succeeded Sir Leon Radzinowicz as Wolfson Professor of Criminology and Director of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge in 1973, had begun his academic career in criminology at the age of 44 when he succeeded Dr Max Grünhut, the first University Reader in Criminology at Oxford in 1961.

With a background in classics at Christ Church (where he had won the prestigious Chancellor’s Prize for Latin Verse) and service as a young officer in the Lovat Scouts in the Second World War, he had subsequently gained considerable practical experience of issues related to crime and punishment during a 11-year very varied career as a senior civil servant in the Scottish Office. At first he was in the Department of Health, then private secretary to Lord Home (later Prime Minister Sir Alex Douglas- Home) and subsequently at the Scottish Home Department where he worked in several divisions: those responsible for juvenile delinquency, for sentencing of adults, for supervision of released lifers, for the prerogative of mercy, and for mental health. He had still found time to complete an external PhD on the Freudian Concept of the Unconscious at Edinburgh University and publish A Short History of Psychotherapy (1957). Nevertheless he was anxious to escape what he saw as the ‘grim’ prospect of another 25 years as a civil servant.

His opportunity came in 1959 when he was elected by Nuffield College Oxford to a Gwilym Gibbon one-year Fellowship for civil servants on sabbatical leave. While there he completed an excellent comparative study of the morale of desk-workers in the civil service and in private companies (Morale in the Civil Service was published by Edinburgh University Press in 1961). He also made a very favourable impression on Herbert Hart through his contribution to one of Hart’s seminars on Punishment, which turned to his advantage.

The following year Max Grünhut retired, and attempts to abolish the Readership (the only established post in criminology) had to be firmly resisted. In his interesting memoir, enigmatically entitled A Man Without Loyalties (2003), Walker very modestly describes his appointment to the post, along with a fellowship of Nuffield College, as a stroke of luck, indeed ‘an undeserved appointment’. He recognised that the favoured candidate in academic circles had – and in his opinion rightly - been Terence Morris but, when one considers his own background, the choice was not as odd as it might first have appeared. Nigel Walker brought to the post vigour (he was a keen mountaineer), a logical mind, independent judgement, a talent for clear exposition and determination to make his mark. Max Grünhut had already obtained grants from the Home Office which had enabled him to establish the nucleus of a research team, with Sarah McCabe in the lead, but his group had no institutional standing in the University.

Nigel Walker made sure that he was soon on top of his new subject, which he characterised as ‘penology’ rather than ‘criminology’. His well-researched and lucidly prepared lectures in ‘Criminal Law and Penology (‘Crim and Pen’) to law and social studies students formed the basis of his impressive textbook Crime and Punishment in Britain (1965). He introduced a teaching ‘first’ – the establishment of a student-prisoner seminar in Oxford prison, which remained a very popular and rewarding part of the ‘Crim and Pen’ course until the prison closed in 1996. Meanwhile he had embarked on an ambitious research project, the first fruit of which was the much admired history, Volume 1 of Crime and Insanity in Britain (1968), for which he was awarded the LL.D. This was followed by a second impressive volume (1973), written jointly with Sarah McCabe, which analysed the subsequent conduct of a large sample of offenders released from hospital orders.

In 1966, in recognition of the inter-dependence of the development of teaching and research he had established, with some setting-up funds from the Nuffield Foundation, and with the support of the Home Office, a small Penal Research Unit (known as the PRU), with Sarah McCabe as the senior research officer. This small Unit became a department of the University in 1971 under the auspices of both the Law and Social Studies faculties. It soon established a reputation for pioneering research, most notably that on ‘shadow juries’ and on policing. It was on this base that Roger Hood, his successor to the Readership in 1973, was able to develop the Centre for Criminological Research.
The name may have changed, but Nigel Walker proudly and rightly noted from time to time that he had been the father of the Oxford Centre for Criminology when he established the PRU 48 years ago.

See Nigel Walker Obituary in The Guardian, 15 October 2014.