Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

On Saturday 5th November 2016, Vamba Sherif visited Fitzwilliam to discuss his book ‘Land of My Fathers’ as part of the ongoing ‘In Conversation with the Master’ series.

This guest blog is by Dabi Olu-Odugbemi (Law 2016).

At the time of the launch, I was halfway through the book and already so captivated by it that I was eager to meet the author himself and pick his brains about his motivation for writing the book. Vamba turned out to be a really intriguing man with a fascinating story. As a young boy, he had lived a privileged life, growing up with a love for books that later sparked his desire to write. Although born in Liberia, he and his family moved to Kuwait when he was still very young and became entangled in the first Gulf War, forcing them to seek asylum in the Netherlands. While studying law there, Vamba decided to try his hand at writing, and the result of this experimentation was ‘Land of My Fathers’, a novel about war and friendship that resonates with the country of Liberia to this day.

Land of my Fathers

Land of My Fathers

‘Land of My Fathers’ centres around three main characters from completely different backgrounds who end up becoming inextricably linked by their desire for peace in a land consumed by the chaos of war. The novel begins with the story of Edward Richards, a man originally born into slavery, who travels to Liberia in the hopes of creating a home for himself and his lover, as well as spreading the gospel to the local tribes. In Liberia, he meets Halay, a remarkable man with a penchant for peace so strong that he is willing to sacrifice his life to ensure that is protected. Halay’s sacrifice is supposed to be an ultimate one that will ensure Liberians never suffer the famines and deaths that come from war; yet a century later, Halay’s and Edward’s descendants find themselves caught up in a war that threatens to destroy everything.

Vamba explained that his inspiration stemmed from the desire to understand why a country could possibly want to wage war on itself. After hearing Vamba’s story, however, it is very difficult not to draw parallels between the novel’s characters and Vamba himself. There is a key theme concerning the prevention of war that resonates through the entire book and it is clear that this comes from Vamba himself. Vamba also discussed the links between members of his family and characters in the novel, for example, Vamba’s brother read the novel and felt as though Edward’s story was his story.


Nicky Padfield and Vamba Sherif credit Alex Cicale -1

Master, Nicky Padfield talking to Vamba Sherif











The book itself ended on an open-ended note, and that left me asking myself a number of questions. I contemplated the post-colonial nature of various African countries as well as the effect that the slave trade had on them. It left me wondering whether the cracks in the foundations of countries such as Liberia can ever fully be mended or whether such countries simply have to start anew. Finally, it made me consider that aspect of human nature that seeks to block out or fight that which it cannot relate to because it is different. Throughout the novel, I was struck by the tensions between the various groups of characters and how many of their problems stemmed from the fact that they did not try to understand each other, but instead sought to impose their way of life on each other. How much easier things would be if there was more tolerance and appreciation of others, in place of animosity and violence.


Land of my Fathers’ was first published in Dutch in 1999, and was published in English in November 2016 by Hope Road Publishing.

Publisher’s description
The proud Republic of Liberia was founded in the nineteenth century with the triumphant return of freed slaves from America to Africa. Once back “home,” however, these Americo-Liberians had to integrate into the resident tribes—who did not necessarily want or welcome them. Against a background of French and British colonialists busily carving up Mother Africa, while local tribes were still unashamedly trading in slaves, the vulnerable newcomers felt trapped and out of place. Where men should have stood shoulder to shoulder, they turned on each other instead.

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi is a first year Law student at Fitzwilliam College.

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi

Dabi Olu-Odugbemi








Posted in Master's blog

Yesterday’s ‘riots’ are a misery –  most of all for the prisoners themselves and for the committed staff who work in the prison. About 60 prisoners have been removed with no notice to other prisons and the sense of insecurity and uncertainty on the wings must be ghastly. Somewhere between 150 and 230 prisoners were involved – at the end of a long Sunday, which are of course particularly challenging days for prisoners: very little to do, little ‘regime’ and many hours of ‘lock down’.

Only last week the Minister of Justice published a White Paper called Prison Safety and Reform.  Society as well as staff, prisoners and their families deserve the promised overhaul. There are many (often somewhat vague) promises in the White Paper. They are going to put power into the hands of those working on the frontline in order to “sweep away” the current centralised system. While setting detailed policies and standards from the top is important to improve conditions in prisons, it has indeed become overly bureaucratic, thus sapping the initiative of staff and stifling innovation. Of course prisons have to be safe before they can be rehabilitative.  And what they need now is loads more committed staff and good facilities.

The White Paper promises that independent scrutiny and the monitoring of prison inspections will be strengthened.  Let’s see what happens. All prisons have an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) which have struggled for years (forever?) to get their concerns heard.  The 2015-16 report of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of Bedford prison is soon to be published. But last year’s is on the web.  It paints a picture of a crumbling Victorian prison, where much needed upgrading has been deferred time and again. “There has been an alarming increase in the number of prisoners considered to be at risk of harming themselves, in the number of violent encounters between prisoners, and in the incidence of officers employing control and restraint techniques to deal with difficult prisoners. It is the Board’s position that, despite being central aims of the prison, resettlement and rehabilitation have been comprehensively overshadowed by containment. Inadequate time and resources have been available for the kind of positive engagement with prisoners that can address offending behaviour”. The IMB discuss chronic staff shortages, overcrowding, the dangers of new synthetic drugs and the systematic erosion of local management authority, amongst many other things. The Board’s overall evaluation of the staff response to some very difficult impositions, and to unsustainable levels of unremitting stress, is one of praise for their resilience, professionalism and essential decency. The Report asked hard-hitting questions of Ministers and of the National Offender Management Service.

I should declare an interest. My husband Christopher (Engineering, 1968) is on the IMB of Bedford Prison, and indeed he chairs the National Association of Members of IMBs. They have tried hard to get their voices heard. They fight to find and recruit more volunteers to join their Board. How much support, respect and encouragement have they had from the Ministry of Justice?  Let’s hope the new regime in the Ministry of Justice is genuinely prepared to improve the regimes in prison.  And can I encourage all readers of this blog to find people to join their local IMB?

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 Master's blog

I see I haven’t blogged for months, and must get back into the habit.  The months rush by.  What have I been doing?  College life goes on for Fellows into July as we worry about exam results and other important matters.  I was also fortunate enough to go again to Singapore for a week in July, talking at the Third Criminal Conference organised by the Singapore Academy of Law.  I spoke on white collar crime and corporate offenders.  In what sense are white collar crimes different from other crimes?  Certainly corporate offenders are different from human offenders.  I discussed the need for ethical compliance strategies as much as criminal law, and explored new (controversial) ways of dealing with corporate offenders, such as Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs).  It was also an opportunity to pursue our plans for a Lee Kuan Yew Fitzwilliam Fund.

I spent the rest of the summer on a fascinating project for the Parole Board, investigating the barriers to release for indeterminate-sentence prisoners.  In June 2016 there were still 4,000 IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) prisoners in prison, even though the sentence was abolished in 2012.  It was abolished as a sentence available to judges: but that does not mean that it doesn’t remain a reality for those still serving it.  The Parole Board has to decide whether to release life sentence prisoners based on a test which provides that they must be satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the person should be confined.  Over the past 6 years the IPP release rate has increased from 12% to 38%. The number of IPPs released increased to 747 in 2015-2016 (figures include recalled IPPs).  Based on current release rates, the Parole Board estimates that the number of IPPs in prison will be in the region of 2,000 by 2020.  But once released, they are hardly free – the number of prisoners recalled to prison increases as the release rate goes up….

So that kept me very busy over the summer, sitting in on hearings held by video links: three-way videos from the Parole Board both linking to the prison where the prisoner is with his (my sample was all men) lawyer and Offender Supervisor, whilst his Offender Manager (probation officer) is usually in her office.  There’s lot to write about…

I went round the world swiftly with the Middle Temple (where I am a Bencher) in September: a few days judging moots at Pepperdine School of Law, and alumni events in Santa Monica and San Francisco, followed by an Amity Visit of the Middle Temple back in Singapore which explored recent developments in law and practice in the UK and Singapore. This time I discussed another subject dear to my heart, joint enterprise liability following the decision of the Supreme Court in Jogee [2016] UKSC 8.

Santa Monica Fitz Dinner-Josh Young

Fitzwilliam alumni gathering in Santa Monica











I came home just in time for the alumni week-end and the beginning of term round of meetings.  We are now half way through term.  I think the College is calm (famous last words) despite the slight delay in the completion of the marvellous B and C staircase.  My parole report is with the Parole Board, but I have a heavy teaching load (only 27 lectures over 8 weeks, since you ask, but I’m still supervising three different undergraduate papers as well).

And last week I had my first ever visit to Japan – for three nights.  It was a wonderful experience.  The Bursar and I joined the splendid celebrations of the 60th Anniversary of the Tsuzuki Gakuen Group.  The relationship between our two institutions now goes back 20 years and has given the College its splendid auditorium and generations of students a chance to spend a year living and studying in Japan.  It was so interesting to enjoy reunions with two distinct groups of alumni: our recent graduates studying hard in Fukuoka (and two other Fitz alumni, including Sebastian Dakin (Oriental Studies 1990), who has been working for Tsuzuki Gakuen for many years) and a wider group, across the ages, in Tokyo.

Ruby Jack's Tokyo IMG_0193

With Fitzwilliam alumni at Ruby Jack’s in Tokyo












Now back to a stream of jolly pancake parties with freshers and a host of amazing extra-curricular activities.  But I must get back to blogging.

I enjoy your comments!


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.