Posted in Master's blog

The criminal justice statistics published in August 2015 state:

“There were 12,000 sexual offence proceedings in the 12 months ending March 2015 and 6,400 convictions over the same period; an increase of 3% on the previous year. Both the volume of proceedings and of convictions over this period are the highest in a decade.

The number of defendants proceeded against for sexual offences, in the 12 months ending March 2015, was 3% higher than in the previous year. In our previous quarterly publication, we reported a 9% increase between the 12 months ending December 2014 and the previous year. The apparent discrepancy between these figures over a three month period is due to the large and sustained increase in the number of defendants proceeded against for sexual offences occurring between the first and second quarters of 2013. The increase in the number of defendants proceeded against is likely to be partly due to the Operation Yewtree investigation, connected to the Jimmy Savile inquiry and the resulting media attention.

The number of convictions for sexual offences increased by 10% between the 12 months ending March 2015 and the previous year. The differences between changes in convictions relative to the change in proceedings may be due to the length of time between the proceeding and conviction of a sexual offence case. Therefore the changes in convictions tend to lag slightly behind the changes in proceedings for sexual offences.”

I have written elsewhere about the implications of this: a growing prison population (more prisoners, serving longer sentences) and a huge number of registered sex offenders in the community. There are now a number of prisons which only hold sex offenders. It’s probably easier to serve your sentence in a prison which only holds those convicted of sex offences than in the ‘vulnerable prisoners’ wing of an ‘ordinary prison’. But it is by no means easy.

I was lucky enough to be invited to chair a fascinating event in Cambridge this week, Living among sex offenders: Identity, safety and relationships in prison, hosted by the Howard League for Penal Reform. The focus was the work of Alice Ievins, who won the Howard League’s Sunley Prize in 2013. She discussed her research for her PhD on sex offender identity – she’s just spent several months in HMP Stafford carrying out lengthy interviews, and observing ‘life’. She discussed important questions of shame, guilt and self-disgust, as well as the interactions between prisoners and between prisoners and staff, suggesting that being labelled a ‘sex offender’, and living with other such offenders, might be painful and even contaminating in ways which aren’t necessarily the case for other types of prisoners.

Two other speakers also helped make this an evening to remember. First, Lynn Saunders, the governor of HMP Whatton, who spoke passionately about what Whatton could achieve. A few decades ago typical sex offenders might have been either a young man convicted of rape (an offence which appeared as much a crime of violence as a sexual offence) or an older child abuser: two different sorts of offender. But now the population is very much more complicated. Much older, of course, and the majority have no contact with their families: hence the innovative palliative care centre in Whatton.

Finally Dr Victoria Lavis, from the University of Bradford spoke about her research in three Yorkshire prisons on equality and diversity issues. She presented a fascinating argument that the Equality Act 2010 with its focus on the nine protected groups has had a ‘singularisation’ impact: it separates out different aspects of personhood. But people are more complicated than this: and they shouldn’t have to prioritise one aspect of their personhood. I shall be exploring intersectionality theory now, to see how it might help us (here in College as much as in a prison?) recognise difference and treat people according to equality of need, not output (no point unlocking all prisoners at the same time, if those with walking difficulties can’t get to the gym before it closes….).

What was the message of the evening? Different for all of us. For me, some more depressing recall stories. A sex offender is taught in prison to tell staff if he thinks he has a challenging situation to confront. So a sex offender on license tells his probation officer that he feels tempted to hang around outside a school play ground. The reward for doing what he has been encouraged to do? It is perceived as a sign of increased, not lowered, risk: so it’s recall to prison, for the rest of his sentence. See my Understanding Recall 2011 report.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Professor David Thompson, a Life Fellow of Fitzwilliam and Emeritus Professor of Modern Church History.

October 1 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of my admission as a Fellow of Fitzwilliam. I am not unique in that – John Coles and Harry Hudson are senior to me, but neither lives in Cambridge. In contrast I visit College most days. The Master kindly asked me to set down some reflections on fifty years.

The changes have been enormous. I joined a Fellowship that was only two years old, though the senior officers of Fitzwilliam House had been there for much longer, since the end of the War or just after. There was a real sense that we wanted, as a College, to be something different, and that we could achieve it. The one thing that nearly all of us had in common was that we had been somewhere else – another college or another university; but we shared a commitment to Fitzwilliam’s original purpose, to be a place that enabled those who could not otherwise afford to come to Cambridge to do so. It was a need that was already changing after the government’s decision to make university grants available to all qualified candidates in 1961; but it was still necessary to be accepted by one of the colleges of the University, which was where Fitzwilliam came in. There was, and remains, a potential clash between that aspiration and one of academic excellence.

As Fellows we also did not know many of the former Fitzwilliam students, whose loyalty and commitment had been important for so long. That was something we had to learn, and at first the relationship could be slightly uncomfortable, if we were thinking of something different. Here the continued development of the Fitzwilliam Society was crucial.

Those of us who were unmarried were surprised but honoured to be offered residential sets in the first part of Stage II of the ‘new buildings’ (as we still called them), when it was opened in 1966. That certainly cemented the link we had with the College, still finding its way after the grant of a Royal Charter that year (a week ahead of Churchill, as we smugly noted) under the new statutes that the Governing Body had laboured over the year before. (Research Fellows were initially exempted from those meetings.)

In 1967 the loss by retirement of Bill Williams as Bursar and by death of Norman Walters as Senior Tutor, coupled with the need to elect a new Master in 1970, slightly earlier than we had expected, brought the Fellowship closer together and left people like Ray Kelly, Leslie Wayper, Basil Herbertson and Jack Street as the main representatives of continuity. It also represented a ‘coming of age’ of the Fellowship and the setting of a new course through the inflation of the 1970s. By this time Fitzwilliam was not the only new College around and the competition to secure teachers with University posts intensified as Fitzwilliam’s resources were still weak. When I was appointed to a University post in 1970 my stipend was £1,000 p.a. before tax (paid quarterly), but I could still buy a house costing £6,000, which my parents and parents-in-law thought was a crazy price!

Only in the 1980s could the College afford to build New Court, after a moderately successful Appeal initiated by Jim Holt, the then Master; and when we secured possession of The Grove, we could proceed with the new Chapel. As Bursar from 1988 to 1993, I had to explain that The Grove entailed a cost as well as a benefit; and the property deals I initiated then only came to full fruition during my successor’s term of office. But I did succeed in persuading the Governing Body to appoint a full-time Bursar, because by then my experience in the wider councils of the University had enabled me to see the direction in which the winds governing higher education were going.

Throughout this time the constant has, of course, been the regularly changing student body. The significance of the fact that one third of the undergraduate body changes every year cannot be under-estimated. Last year’s lectures and supervision bibliographies will never quite do again; and this keeps us on our toes. The admission of women in 1979 was the most significant change; and those of us who had advocated it from 1973 or earlier were delighted. But I realised, while standing in as Director of Studies for a colleague at another college a couple of years ago, how much student problems have changed in fifty years: family break-up, relationship breakdown within college now, and greater exam pressures are all different.

My photographs of what is now Fellows’ Court in 1966 compared with similar ones today symbolise one kind of change. But for me the change in the wider political context of higher education stands out today.


Professor David Thompson at the drinks party to celebrate his 50 years as a Fellow.

Professor David Thompson at the drinks party on 5 October to celebrate 50 years as a Fellow of Fitzwilliam.

About David Thompson

David Thompson is a Life Fellow of Fitzwilliam and Emeritus Professor of Modern Church History. He was elected to a Research Fellowship at Fitzwilliam in 1965, was the first holder of the Leathersellers Fellowship (1966-70) and then a teaching Fellow linked to his posts within the Faculty of Divinity from 1970. As well as being (successively!) Praelector, Tutor, Director of Studies and Bursar, he served on the General Board (1988-92) and University Council (1994-2000). He was also a member of the Churches Committee of the Historic Buildings Council, a School Governor, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church (1996-97) and a QAA assessor in Scotland and England.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Dr Helen Bettinson (History 1982) Development Director.

The last weekend in September is always a special one at Fitzwilliam. This is when members gather for the Reunion of the Fitzwilliam Society, the society consisting of all current and past students of Fitzwilliam, Fellows and friends. The huge popularity of the event makes for a logistical challenge in terms of catering, accommodation and other services, but one which our staff rise to magnificently, from the gardeners to the housekeepers to the cooks, waiters and porters.

After a day spent at lectures, concerts, on the river, on the playing field at Oxford Road, or simply enjoying a wander around the city, alumni and their guests gather together for the culmination of the weekend’s itinerary: the Saturday Dinner. This year the Master drew attention to the extraordinary age-range of Fitzwilliam members packed into Lasdun’s unique dining hall: From current students to those who had arrived at Fitzwilliam House just after the War. Professor Alan Shakespeare, Geoffrey Cole and Dennis Doyle (who matriculated in 1945, 1946 and 1947 respectively) are loyal attendees whose connection to Fitzwilliam stretches back seven decades. For many years Michael Duffett (1952) and his wife Ann have travelled from Australia each September, not only to attend the dinner but so that Michael can row with his friends in the veteran boat – a wonderful example of friendship and stamina. We were delighted, too, to see so many alumni who had matriculated in 2005, 1995, 1975, 1985 and 1955 (the 1965s had their own Golden Reunion in July).

Next week the latest cohort of young men and women will arrive at the College, full of excitement and trepidation, unsure of what lies ahead. Very few will be familiar with Fitzwilliam’s unique history or aware that the thriving community that awaits them stretches back/forward for many decades. It’s my job to break the good news. Just before they go into the Hall for their first formal Fitzwilliam meal, Matriculation Dinner, nervously attired in their new gowns, they will hear a lecture from me on the College’s history. I keep it short, but it’s important that our freshers understand what makes Fitzwilliam what it is, what we are. The senior men who sat in the hall on Saturday night came from a different world, one devastated by war and dislocation. Fitzwilliam was still, technically, a department of the University, with almost no accommodation of its own. The College that our freshers will come to next week would have been unimaginable to their predecessors of 70 years ago. The extraordinary thing, so evident this weekend, is that the esprit de corps forged by the men of Fitzwilliam House, without the advantages of a spacious and welcoming site, persists to this day. Fitz is now a large, successful, ‘mainstream’ college on a beautiful campus. The September Reunion (the Fitzwilliam Society’s 81st) is important not only because it enables men from Fitzwilliam House, who joined in the 1940s and 1950s, to participate in the College as it is today, but also because it means today’s students and recent graduates can look back and see where the College has come from.

I always begin my lecture on Fitzwilliam’s history with my own matriculation photo. As each year passes this looks increasingly like an ancient historical document. But my point is that in the 33 years since it was taken I have remained close to my Fitz friends (and I’m still married to one of them). Fitzwilliam is about intellectual challenge and opportunity, about gaining skills and insight, but it is also about making life-long friendships – a fact that at the age of 18 or 19 is little more than a nice idea, but to the men and women in the dining hall on Saturday night, is priceless.

Dr Helen Bettinson

About Dr Helen Bettinson

Helen read History at Fitzwilliam (1982) and, after a career in television production, rejoined the College in April 2010. Following the retirement of Dr Iain Reid, she became Development Director in October 2011.