Nick’s campaigns have focused on community safety (notably crime, security and fire prevention); health policy including bioethics; science and debunking pseudoscience; environmental issues; Northern Ireland; and broadcasting policy.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.
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 coined the term Crime Science in 1995 to mark out a new multidisciplinary and evidence-based focus on crime reduction. 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.
Ross 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. He was influential in the earliest national adoption of targets to reduce crime and in particular he campaigned for targets for car crime reduction. He led an initiative involving the Department of Transport and the DVLA to reform vehicle registration procedures so as to limit opportunities for crime, and has urged an evidence-based approach to crime policy instead of a continuing series of untested initiatives and what he describes as ‘political wheezes’. In 2000 he gave the Police Foundation Lecture jointly with the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John (now Lord) Stevens, and has worked with the EC and others to establish a new business-led campaign against crime. He is a regular speaker and adviser on crime reduction, terrorism and security, including most recently the keynote address to the annual conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers. He has been a member of several government inquiries on crime, an adviser to Victim Support, and is a Trustee of Crimestoppers.
Through his membership of a consensus conference which helped change breast cancer treatment Nick Ross has become progressively more involved with health policy, notably in bioethics and promoting evidence-based medicine and open decision-making about healthcare spending.
He 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 two 3-year terms 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.
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 health rationing.
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.
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.
He founded the new discipline of Crime Science at University College London where he is an honorary fellow and visiting professor.
He compiled new and ambitious new targets for fire safety which 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.
He has campaigned for the introduction of automatic fire suppression (such as sprinklers) to new homes and especially social housing; and Scotland and Wales have both since adopted these policies. Recent fatalities in tower blocks and in arson attacks, one claiming the lives of six children, has added momentum to a campaign to persuade Westminster to give more emphasis to sprinklers.
Meanwhile Nick has proposed the development of a radical new approach which would use existing plumbing to power sprinkler-heads and bring the cost of installation in new build to around £600 per dwelling. Discussions continue with the water authorities and others.
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 attidues and public policy. According to at least one commentator, the effects of his lobbying were so profound that, “in significant consequence British mortality rates of people unde 50 are among the lowest in the world” (Morgan, Adam, “Eating The Big Fish”, Wiley, London, 2009, pp134-136).
Ross was invited to become chairman of RoSPA’s National Road Safety Committee and lobbied highway engineers and the government to introduce challenging targets for savings in road casualties (4,000 deaths – down from over 5,500 pa – by the year 2000). The roads minister Peter Bottomley formally accepted Ross’s challenge and new government targets re-energised safety engineering leading to a huge and sustained drop in road casualties.
Ross’s target was met with road deaths plummeting to 3,500 at the turn of the millennium, almost half the average for the previous shalf century and the lowest since records began. The momentum was maintained until 2010.
However, the coalition government has shown little interest in prioritising road safety, preferring to “end the war on motorists”, downgrade speed cameras, cut roads policing and slash road safety budgets. There was an ominous rise in fatalities, up from 1,850 in 2010 to 1,901 in 2011, which, with indifferent politicians at the helm, may prove to be a new trend rather than a blip.
Ross also presented a long-running peak-time series So You Think You’re a Good Driver on BBC One. He is a Vice President of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and 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 and served two terms (2004-2011) as a WWF Ambassador. 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. Five years before the Burns Inquiry reached similar conclusions he warned that in a multichannel environment the licence fee would lose public and political support, that 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 published his proposals in 2002. In 2008 an IpsosMori poll showed 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. Ross has warned that ITV is also vulnerable because of its reliance on advertising, and he championed some of the reforms since adopted by the BBC in reducing its vertical integration. He has chaired meetings between the Ofcom Content Board and broadcasters, organised by the Voice of the Listener & Viewer.