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Keeping up with…Professor Fiona Brookman

Fiona Brookman is both a graduate and Professor of Criminology at the University of South Wales. She has over 20 years of experience in teaching and research in the fields of homicide, violence and major crime investigation.

Keeping up with…Professor Fiona Brookman

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Fiona Brookman is both a graduate and Professor of Criminology at the University of South Wales. She has over 20 years of experience in teaching and research in the fields of homicide, violence and major crime investigation.

I left school with just a few ‘O’ levels. I had always wanted to be a primary school teacher but with few qualifications, I decided instead to go to Pontypridd Technical College with my best friend, and train to be a medical secretary.  Later, when I was working as a secretary, I studied A level Psychology in night classes and subsequently enrolled (aged 22) onto a Behavioural Sciences degree programme at what is now the University of South Wales (then the Polytechnic of Wales).  I loved it, especially the last year when I took a criminology option.  I was hooked and so went on to study for an MSc and then PhD in Criminology, at Cardiff University.  

I’ve had an exciting career. I have interviewed murderers and other violent offenders (e.g. street robbers) as well as burglars and victims of burglary and shadowed homicide detectives as they search for, and interview, suspects and witnesses, and attended murder trials and post-mortems.  I have followed detectives through their SIO training in the UK and spent time just ‘hanging out’ with detectives on both sides of the Atlantic – getting to know how they think and what makes them work extraordinary hours to bring killers to justice. Some things stay with you for a long time.  For example, I will never forget the time I spent with detectives in the dead of night in America pursing a murder suspect with a blood hound, or the time I attended the courthouse where a brave female witness to a homicide was being interviewed for the first time by the prosecutor and detectives about what she knew – even though she was putting her own life in danger by helping the police.     

I was inspired by my lecturer David Smith, the first person to introduce me to criminology.  His first lecture was about the ‘dark figure’ of crime – that is, the crime that we don’t know about because it isn’t reported to the police by the public or recorded by the police.  The ‘official’ criminal statistics are flawed and tell us a partial picture about crime because many people will not report crime for various reasons (e.g. fear, embarrassment, dislike or distrust of the police or maybe even because they are not aware that a crime has occurred – e.g. in the case of fraud or even sexual abuse).

I love what I do. It is diverse and of course crime is ever evolving.  For example, because of significant advances in digital technology, the way that detectives investigate crime has changed.  The mobile phone is one good example.   Amongst the first things that detectives now do when investigating a homicide is to interrogate the mobile phone of the victim and this often leads to the killer or at least others who are connected to the killer.  Similarly,  suspects’ social media accounts are all excellent avenues for clues and information for detectives.  Now we also have smart watches, satnavs in cars, and digital doorbells with cameras – all of which are tracking our movements and can help detectives to track down criminals or key witnesses.

I am proud that insights from my research are helping to improve homicide investigative practice.  For example, findings from my PhD on the nature and circumstances of homicide were reproduced in the British Murder Manual (MIM, 2006) and I am currently working with a number of Home Office and police working groups to improve how they use digital evidence – especially CCTV footage – when investigating homicide.  Last year I attended the Prime Minister’s Youth Violence Summit and gave evidence to the Youth Select Committee on knife crime making recommendations at bother events to help to reduce knife crime and homicide.  

As a result of my research and recommendations, a young person now sits, for the first time, on the Home Office National Security Implementation Group on Serious Violence.  Including the voice of young people who have direct experience and understanding of youth and gang violence in their communities is important if we are to develop meaningful strategies to tackle violence and homicide.

Find out more about Criminology at the University of South Wales