Nick is well-known for his expertise in crime, security and community safety but also has deep commitment to other policy issues, notably health, bioethics and science (and debunking pseudoscience). In the 1980s and 1990s he also played a pivotal role in road safety. Here are some of the campaign issues he has taken up over many years.Crime prevention and security
Ross conceived the new discipline of Crime Science and inspired and founded the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science at University College London, where he is chairman of the board. He is an Honorary Fellow of UCL and of the (American) Academy of Experimental Criminology, and author of ‘Crime, how to solve it and why so much of what we’re told is wrong‘.
After years presenting a TV show on crime Nick Ross was disappointed at the failure of criminology to stem crime and sought more practical and scientifically robust ways to cut victimisation. He was one of the first to point out that crime began to fall from the 1990s onwards – an issue now generally accepted but which was highly controversial until recently. He was also one of the first to explain why the tide of crime had turned. In 1995 he coined the term Crime Science to mark out a new multidisciplinary and evidence-based focus on crime reduction*.
The Jill Dando Institute at UCL has grown into a major Department of Security and Crime Science, with undergraduate teaching to five-star research status, housing one of the world’s largest secure data labs, helping to improve policing and with the world’s first dedicated crime forecasting centre. Crime Science is now established at several universities around the world.
Ross was also influential in the earliest national adoption of targets to reduce crime and in particular to cut car crime where he led an initiative involving the Department of Transport and the DVLA to reform vehicle registration procedures. In 2000 he gave the Police Foundation Lecture jointly with the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John (now Lord) Stevens, urging an evidence-based approach to crime policy instead of what he described as ‘political wheezes’. He worked with the EC and others to establish a new business-led campaign against crime. He has been a member of several government inquiries on crime, as well as an adviser to Victim Support and to official reviews on crime statistics and of the future of forensics. He is a regular speaker and adviser on crime reduction, terrorism and security, including a keynote addresses to the annual conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers and to successive Cumberland Lodge National Policing Conference. He He authored the crime prevention section of the Government Chief Scientist’s 2015 annual report, summarised by Sir Mark Walport as, “a straightforward way of using inducements to civil behaviour”. He is a Trustee of Crimestoppers.
*Crime science is less concerned with political theory, criminal justice or redemption of people than with demonstrably effective and measurable ways of reducing victimisation. Most epidemics and cuts in crime are explained by changing circumstances in which individuals find themselves rather than by moves to re-engineer people or society, so while Crime Science embraces police training, detection methods and forensic science it finds most leverage in improving security by rethinking products, services or policies so as to design out unnecessary temptations and opportunities for crime.
Through his membership of a consensus conference which helped change breast cancer treatment Nick Ross became progressively more involved with health policy, notably in bioethics and promoting evidence-based medicine and open decision-making about healthcare spending. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and a Life Member of the Royal Society of Medicine.
He championed explicit rationing in the NHS (Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, traces the foundation of NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – to a meeting in Ross’s home in the early 1990s) and was a member of the NHS National Plan Taskforce, of the Clothier Committee which first authorised gene therapy in the UK, and of the subsequent Gene Therapy Advisory Committee which is now part of the National Research Ethics Service. He served for seven years on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, was a member of the Academy of Medical Sciences inquiry into the use of non-human primates in research, and a Director of the Health Quality Service until it merged with Dr Foster.
He currently sits on other medical and ethics boards including that of the Royal College of Physicians and is Chairman of the Wales Cancer Bank Advisory Board. He is President of HealthWatch and is involved in promoting medical research and especially clinical trials (see www.lindalliance.org), challenging orthodox and “alternative” treatments which cannot be shown to be effective, and advancing the cause of accountability and transparency in prioritising healthcare.
He coined the term “fair tests” which has been gaining favour as a straightforward and accessible name for randomised controlled trials. He has chaired many meetings for the BMA, DH and NHS as well as international meetings of specialist clinicians in varied fields such rheumatology, allergology, paediatric endocrinology and health informatics, and was a guest at WISE, the world healthcare leadership forum in Doha.
He is a non-executive director of one of the largest NHS acute hospital Trusts.
Nick Ross is a Trustee of Sense About Science, is a regular speaker at science meetings and was a founder-supporter of the Campbell Collaboration, the international partnership to improve scientific methodology in the social sciences.
He helped to change the climate of science reporting in the early 90s with an influential series of articles critical of media portrayal of science.
He has been a member of the Committee on Public Understanding of Science and of several advisory boards such as the Societal Issues Panel for the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council. He was Guest Director of the Cheltenham Science Festival, the largest public science meeting in the world and has twice been chairman of the Royal Society Science Book Prize.
In 2013 he inspired an initiative called Evidence Matters to promote evidence-based public policy which merged with Sense About Science. In its 2016 report, Missing Evidence by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Stephen Sedley, recommended that government should audit and publish all its research findings.
He compiled ambitious new targets for fire safety similar to those he had earlier convinced ministers to adopt for road safety [links to (and ideally opens) the Road safety tab]. They were adopted by FOBFO (the body that represents the UK’s Fire Organisations) and CFOA (the Chief Fire Officers Association), and won the backing of the Local Government Association, but the government rejected explicit targets.
Ross also campaigned for the introduction of automatic fire suppression (such as sprinklers) to new homes and especially social housing. Scotland and Wales have both since adopted mandatory policies but, despite continued fatalities in tower blocks and in arson attacks, one claiming the lives of six children, Westminster has declined to adopt a formal sprinkler policy for England.
So far he has also failed to achieve a radical new approach which would use existing plumbing to power sprinkler-heads from kitchens and bathrooms, thus radically cutting costs of installation. The design has been thwarted by water regulations which prohibit ‘dead-leg’ pipes needed to feed individual sprinklers, and has been resisted by some in the traditional sprinkler industry who fear being undercut. Nonetheless, in 2013 the first domestic installations costing less than £800 were fitted in Derbyshire.
In the 1980s Nick Ross produced and directed a hugely influential and much-repeated TV inquiry, The biggest Epidemic of Our Times, which was widely credited with transforming public attitudes and public policy. Three decades later a BBC science series described it as the broadcast that ‘would transform road safety’ and which ‘lead to an historic victory in the struggle to save lives’ (Dallas Campbell, A Horizon Guide to Car Crashes, BBC4, 9pm, 21 October 2013).
Ross’s subsequent political campaigning was similarly forceful. According to one commentator the effects of his lobbying were so profound that, “in significant consequence British mortality rates of people under 50 are among the lowest in the world” (Morgan, Adam, “Eating The Big Fish”, Wiley, London, 2009, pp134-136).
The most notable achievement was when roads minister Peter Bottomley formally accepted Ross’s challenge to set challenging government targets to cut fatalities (the first of which was a one-third cut to 4,000 deaths by the year 2000). Others also signed up to the idea of targets including the Institute of Highway Engineers. Ross was invited to chair RoSPA’s National Road Safety Committee. Road deaths plummeted to 3,500 by the turn of the millennium, almost half the average for the previous half century and the lowest since records began. By 2012 fatalities were down to 1,754, the lowest level since records began.
By 2013 fatalities were down to 1,713, the lowest level since records began in 1926. However, the government abandoned targets in 2011 and the steeply downward trend came to a halt. In 2016 Ross met ministers to propose a new targeted approach to be led by IAM RoadSmart, of whom he is vice president.
Ross presented a long-running peak-time series So You Think You’re a Good Driver on BBC One and was for many years President of the London Road Safety Council and a trustee of the Institute of Advanced Motorists
Ross presented a long-running peak-time series So You Think You’re a Good Driver on BBC One and has maintained an interest in road safety. He is a Vice President of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and was for many years President of the London Road Safety Council.
We Shall Overcome – Nick Ross’s award-winning and very personal account of the violence in Northern Ireland.
Nick Ross was a student leader and civil rights campaigner in the late 1960s, reported from the Province through much of the 1970s and continues to have an interest in Northern Ireland affairs.
His autobiographical account of the start of the troubles won a best documentary award and was hailed by the Irish Times as, “The true story told for the first time on television,” through the eyes of Nick Ross, “the well-informed English journalist (nearly an oxymoron when it comes to writing about Ireland).”
Take a look through the broadcasting section to find out more about this, and Nick’s other television and radio work.
In 2002 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast.
He is a Fellow of the World Wildlife Fund, served two terms (2004-2011) as a WWF Ambassador, and is an Honorary Member of Population Matters. In past years Ross worked on conjunction with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on environmental issues in British Overseas Territories.
Nick Ross has long challenged some of the orthodoxies of public service broadcasting. He has chaired meetings between the Ofcom Content Board and broadcasters, organised by the Voice of the Listener & Viewer, and five years before the Burns Inquiry reached similar conclusions he warned that reliance on a licence fee would progressively reduce the BBC’s reach and influence. While electronic media are growing at a colossal rate the BBC’s income would be static at best, leading to relative decline.
Worse still, in order to justify the licence fee, the BBC had to chase ratings much like its commercial rivals. This would put it in increasing conflict with other broadcasters who would lobby to strip it of degrade its output. And while the BBC claims public support for its traditional approach it seemed likely that in a multichannel environment the licence fee would eventually lose public and political support. Accordingly those concerned for the welfare of public service broadcasting must look for new ways of raising revenue, especially subscription, and that the BBC should have a greater focus on areas of market failure. The RSA first published his proposals in 2002.
By 2008 an IpsosMori poll showed (in contrast to the BBC’s own polling) that almost as many Britons opposed the licence fee as supported it, and in 2009 the BBC’s Director General conceded that the licence fee could seem anachronistic and might need to be replaced. In 2013 Roger Mosey, the BBC’s outgoing editorial director, agreed, suggesting that the licence fee might be shared more widely to promote greater quality and diversity.
Ross proposed instead (see Sunday Telegraph, 29 December 2013) that at the next Charter renewal in 2017 the licence fee should be substantially increased and the BBC should be given ten years (up to the following Charter deadline of 2027) to migrate to self-funding. In 2014 Nick Ross presented his approach at Civitas and at an RTS seminar in the House of Commons, and the following year he submitted a radical alternative to the Charter Review consultation. He predicted at the Edinburgh TV Festival that while the BBC would win renewal of its charter it would be a pyrrhic victory leading to further cuts.