New project on prevention of mobile phone use by drivers led by Keele Criminologists

Today sees the start of a project entitled ‘Innovators and innovations in preventing mobile phone use while driving: sharing and improving practice’ being led by Dr Helen Wells (Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Keele) and Leanne Savigar (PhD student in Criminology at Keele).

The £75,000, 13 month project, which uses a knowledge exchange methodology, will explore the range of current initiatives being implemented across the UK to reduce mobile phone use by drivers – arguably one of the biggest challenges facing the road safety community at the present time. The project will encourage practitioners to engage with academic research to help them design research-informed projects and to plan for meaningful evaluations of them.

You can follow the progress of the project via Twitter @roadspolicing.


Keele postgraduate criminologist contributes to research into autism and policing

Kleio Cossburn, a student on the MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Keele University, has been involved in several publications looking at the ways in which police and other emergency services respond to people with autism.

Prior to joining the MA programme, Kleio was formerly a police officer with Cheshire Constabulary.  She then studied for a Postgraduate Certificate in Autism at Sheffield Hallam University and was subsequently invited to co-found an autism research team.  She also contributed to the development of the National Autism Society’s report ‘Autism: A Guide for Police Officers and Staff‘ which provides background information about autism to police so that they might meet their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.

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Her latest work draws on her knowledge as a former police officer, as well as her own experience of autism, to investigate the appropriateness of police use of controversial ‘spit hoods’ on autistic suspects.  It appears in volume two of the collection ‘Autism and Intellectual Disability in Adults‘ edited by  Dr Damian Milton and Professor Nicola Martin.

Kleio has also contributed, as a co-author, a chapter on first responders and autism for the latest version of the Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders (in press) edited by Professor Fred Volkmar of Yale University.

Keele Criminologist contributes to design of new warning system for drivers using a mobile phone

A new road safety device was launched at the TISPOL (European Traffic Police Network) road safety conference in Manchester last week. The system detects the use of a mobile phone in a passing vehicle, whether that use is for calling, texting or data purposes. The device was developed by the traffic safety systems company Westcotec who are based in Norfolk, with the assistance of Dr Helen Wells, a Criminologist from Keele with a specific interest in roads policing.

Westcotec’s Chris Spinks said “It was a chance meeting with Dr Wells at the National Roads Policing Conference in early 2017 that led to our mobile phone detector system being redesigned and improved to the point where it has now been released to the world. Thanks to her work around driver behaviour – particularly distraction – she was able to help us redesign the pictogram representation of the phone on the sign to ensure it was recognisable to all road users. She also gave us an insight into some of the psychology behind why drivers decide to do what they do. We are hopeful that we can continue to benefit from Dr Wells’ extensive experience and knowledge in her field as we develop other devices into the future”.


Dr Helen Wells with Chris Spinks of Westcotec


The system is built around a sensor capable of detecting vehicles where there are active 2G, 3G and 4G phone signals, plus an LED warning sign which is placed a short distance along the road from where the sensor is located. When the sensor detects that a mobile is being used (other than for Bluetooth communication), it activates a sign showing an illuminated smart phone icon within a bright red circle and diagonal red line. It is hoped that this will deter drivers from engaging in the activity, as holding a conversation via a handheld mobile device has been found to quadruple the likelihood of a driver being involved in an incident, as well as increasing the likelihood of a driver engaging in a range of other unsafe driving behaviours, and is arguably one of the biggest road safety challenges of the present time.

The use of handheld devices has been illegal since 2003, and the recent increase in the penalty for this offence from 3 to 6 points and £100 to £200 represents an important step in educating drivers, but with declining numbers of traffic officers on our roads, we cannot rely on enforcement alone to change driver behaviour. Attempts at educating drivers, such as the Westcotec sign, therefore have an important part to play in tackling this issue.

Added to that, the pace of technological development is fast outstripping both the ability of the 15 year old law to keep pace with the actual nature of the problem, and the ability of the road safety community to offer an effective response. The law refers to ‘driver’, ‘use’ of a ‘handheld’ ‘phone’ – four terms which are arguably a lot less clear now than when the law was drafted. Semi-autonomous cars now complicate the issue of ‘driving’, whilst tapping, speaking to, or even looking at a phone (rather than physically dialling or texting) may now qualify as ‘use’. Google watches and other wearable technologies now routinely have ‘phone-like’ functions, but it is not clear if wearing qualifies as being ‘handheld’. Finally, a ‘phone’ today is more reminiscent of a desk top computer than the calling and texting devices on the market in 2003, suggesting that the time has come to revisit the law relating to this type of activity.

Dr Wells also commented that “handsfree use has been shown to be equally as dangerous as handheld use, yet is legal, so any driver assuming that the law was a good guide to safe behaviour would be encouraged to use an equally unsafe alternative. The Westcotec sign has a simple message about using a mobile in any sense of the word, and therefore reinforces a wider safety message than that being communicated by the law.”
Whilst the device cannot differentiate between driver and passenger use of a mobile phone, Wescotec’s Chris Spinks “The vast majority of activations will relate to drivers, and we don’t see a problem when passengers activate the sign. In fact, it’s all part of the education message that using a phone when driving is not only illegal but very dangerous.”

The first system is due to go live in Norfolk later this month, with several other UK police forces expressing an interest.

Keele Criminologists contribute to new book featuring early career scholars

Two members of the Keele Criminology team have contributed chapters to a new edited collection featuring chapters written by PhD students and early careers academics.  The book ‘Emerging Voices’ is published by the European Group Press, the publishing house of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control – an international network of scholars and activists working towards social justice, state accounCover227.6.2017tability and decarceration.

The chapter by Dr Andrew Henley  (Lecturer in Criminology) is entitled ‘Criminal records and conditional citizenship: towards a critical sociology of post-sentence discrimination’.  It argues for an expansion of critical social research on punishment -which traditionally has focussed on prisons, community punishments and the differential punishment of particular groups of people based on class, race and gender.  In his chapter, Andrew suggests that there is a growing need for scholars of punishment to focus upon the ‘after effects’ of penal sanctions brought about due to criminal records.  He does this by setting out why the possession of a criminal record has serious consequences for the ability of people to enjoy many of the rights and entitlements associated with ‘citizenship’.

The chapter by Hannah Wilkinson (who has recently been appointed as a Teaching Fellow in Criminology) is entitled ‘”What was it all for?”: 21st Century theatres of war and the return to “post-conflict” life’.  It draws upon Hannah’s doctoral research with former military personnel who have served in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq to highlight and discuss a number of apparent gaps in knowledge within the growing body of literature on the ‘criminology of war’.  It also sets out some of the interim findings of her research and introduces the new theoretical concept of ‘combat capital’ which Hannah is developing.

In keeping with the inclusive ethos of the European Group the book is reasonably priced at only £10 and is available to purchase through either the European Group Press website or via Amazon.

New article on the ethics of research narratives

Keele Criminologists past and present produce new article for the Research Ethics journal

Keele Criminologist Dr Tony Kearon, in conjunction with his former PhD student and Keele Criminology alumnus Dr Ian Mahoney (now a Lecturer at Liverpool Hope University), have a new publication in the journal Research Ethics which is now available online. The case study, entitled ‘(De)Constructing Ethical Narratives in Criminological Research’, reflects upon their experiences as a doctoral research student (Mahoney) and supervisor (Kearon) and the manner in which we as criminological researchers construct ethical narratives around the research that we do (research that routinely involves individuals that have committed criminal offences and/or are coming to terms with experiences of criminal victimisation).


Dr Ian Mahoney

The authors focus on the tensions which arise between the ethical review board (ERB) guidelines, procedures and practices that criminological researchers are routinely held to by their institutions and the practical realities of conducting empirical fieldwork that is crime related. They argue that strict adherence to ERB guidelines can be sometimes be problematic and risks causing more harms than it seeks to mitigate.


Dr Tony Kearon

The authors use their experiences of conducting fieldwork to show that researchers should consider the potential harm caused to particularly vulnerable participants and draw attention to the need to refocus away from simply responding to specific disclosures of behaviours by participants towards their wider biographical narratives and future trajectories. In doing so, they argue that we should move away from research ethics based on a narrow, bureaucratic framework and towards moral concerns so as to avoid causing undue harm. This publication marks the first in of a series of intended discussions in which they seek to problematise the relationships between ethics, bureaucratic governance frameworks, the demands of research commissioners, and the challenges that arise while conducting empirical criminological research.

New publication from Keele criminologist in leading journal

The new article from Dr Clare Griffiths explores trust and confidence in the police amongst established residents and Polish migrants


Dr Clare Griffiths

Keele Criminology’s Dr Clare Griffiths has a new publication in the European Journal of Criminology that is now available online. The article, entitled ‘The Disjuncture between Confidence and Cooperation: Police Contact amongst Polish Migrants and Established Residents’, is based on Clare’s PhD research that explored Polish migration and its impacts on social order in a small working class town in the North West of England. The article itself considers the trust and confidence in the local police amongst both the more established residents of the area as well as the incoming Polish migrants, and how this affects actual contact and cooperation with the police. Despite claims that immigrant and minority groups are more often alienated from local institutions and are less likely to express positive evaluations of the police, Clare’s research found that Polish migrants in fact have greater confidence in the local police than do local residents. In an attempt to explain such findings, Dr Griffiths suggests a ‘habitus’ model whereby past histories of police corruption could be entrenched in the minds of Polish migrants helping to shape the more positive perceptions and interactions with the police in their new social setting. A further explanation for such positive attitudes was provided in the form of a general lack of ‘social distance’ between Polish migrants and the local community in the area. One of the key findings from the PhD was such a lack of social distance in the form of ‘civilised relationships’ between Polish migrants and local residents and could therefore extend to perceptions of local institutions such as the police.

Confidence in the police is argued to be a necessary precursor to cooperation. However, the findings in the article suggest that confidence does not necessarily have a direct role to play in police-community cooperation. Although new migrants have confidence in the local police, they remain reluctant to contact them and they report crime incidents less as compared to the local group who have less confidence in the police. This seems mostly due to language difficulties and fear of reprisals from within their own group. Local residents on the other hand have less confidence in the police but are more likely to contact them when needed. Therefore, inhabitants of contemporary diverse neighbourhoods can be simultaneously ‘disenchanted and engaged’ or ‘satisfied and disengaged’. This suggests more complex and nuanced processes exist in diverse and changing neighbourhoods than that previously proposed in a predominantly American context and has important implications for learning about the unique and complex relationships that diverse communities have with the police.

An outstanding week of success for Keele Criminology

It has been an excellent week for the Keele Criminology team.  On Tuesday, we learnt that our Criminology programme was ranked 10th in the UK in the Guardian university league tables for 2018.  This ranking was calculated using factors such as final year students’ satisfaction with their course content, the teaching provided and the quality of feedback offered.  It also considered other important factors such as how students’ individual degree results compare with their entry qualifications, to demonstrate how effective the teaching is, and the percentage of graduates who find graduate-level jobs, or are studying further, within six months of graduation.  This excellent result is a testament to the hard work of academic and administrative staff in the team.

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On Wednesday, Tony Kearon, Helen Wells & Leanne Savigar were invited to the College of Policing to talk about research conducted as part of the Police Knowledge Fund award and other projects involving Keele criminologists and Police partners. The event was part of the High Potential Development Scheme training, and the Criminology team discussed projects including the prevention of child sexual exploitation, neighbourhood policing, roads policing and mental health.

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Tony Kearon addresses a delegate at the College of Policing event

On Thursday, Andy Henley and Helen Wells attended the Staffordshire Youth Commission’s ‘Big Conversation’ event where young people, including five of our undergraduate Criminology students, presented the findings of their survey into young people’s policing and crime priorities. The audience included the Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire and several senior officers.


Nicola Collett and other members of the Staffordshire Youth Commission address the audience at the ‘Big Conversation’ event

The Commission is co-ordinated by Criminology and Criminal Justice MA student Nicola Collett who has recently been awarded a Faculty of Humanities and Social Science studentship at Keele.  This is to conduct doctoral research into the long-term impact of criminal records acquired in childhood.  Her project will be supervised by Mary Corcoran and Andy Henley.

And finally… we also learnt yesterday afternoon that Samantha Weston’s article, ‘Using the “recovery” and “rehabilitation” paradigms to support desistance of substance-involved offenders’, has been selected by the editorial team of the Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice as the Outstanding Paper in the 2017 Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence.  Many congratulations to Sam and her co-authors!