David Wilson (criminologist)

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David Wilson

MA (Hons), PhD (Cantab)
Born (1957-04-23) 23 April 1957 (age 62)
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
Selwyn College, Cambridge
Cambridge Institute of Criminology
OccupationPrison Governor (Former)
University Professor
Years active1984 – present
EmployerBirmingham City University[3]

David Wilson (born 23 April 1957) is a British professor of criminology at Birmingham City University.[3] A former prison governor, he is known for his work as a criminologist specialising in serial killers[1][4] through his work with various British police forces, academic publications, books, and media appearances.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Born in Sauchie, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, he was raised on a dairy farm outside Carluke, South Lanarkshire, Scotland.[1] Wilson studied at the University of Glasgow (1975–79), Selwyn College, Cambridge, and at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, where he gained a PhD in 1983. He was awarded the St Andrew's Scholarship of New York, 1979–80. and became a National Teaching Fellow in 2012.[3]


Her Majesty's Prison Service[edit]

Recruited direct from Cambridge, he joined Her Majesty's Prison Service as an Assistant Governor at HMP Wormwood Scrubs in 1984. It is said by some that at the age of 29 he became the youngest governor in the country.[4] In fact he was the Assistant Governor in charge of Finnamore Wood camp, a small annexe to HM YOI Huntercombe.[1] He then worked at HMP Grendon where he ran the sex offenders' treatment programme, HMP Woodhill, and HMYOI Finnamore Wood.[5]

Whilst at HMP Woodhill, Wilson helped to design and managed the two units for the twelve most disruptive prisoners in the country. This experience brought him into contact with some of the most notorious offenders of the last 30 years, including Charles Bronson and Dennis Nilsen.[1][5]

Latterly he was Head of Prison Officer and Operational Training in the Prison Service, on whose behalf he made official visits to Northern Ireland and the United States. It was after he returned from a trip to advise on penal reform in Albania on behalf of the Council of Europe, and how much better the prisons were there, that he resigned from Her Majesty's Prison Service in protest at prison conditions.[5] In 2001 he completed a report of the 4200 Muslim prisoners in British jails and his review concluded there were no examples of extremist recruiting.http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1730141.stm

Professor of Criminology[edit]

After a short time with the Prison Reform Trust, he joined University of Central England in Birmingham (now Birmingham City University), and was given a professorship in 2000.[2][4][6] A member of the British Society of Criminology, his research works covers all aspects of prisons and imprisonment, murder and serial murder.[3]

Wilson has advised various police forces as a criminologist, and in 2006 was involved in the investigation of the Ipswich serial murders, which led to the successful arrest and prosecution of Steve Wright.[2] Wilson has also approached convicted murderer Peter Tobin to discuss the Bible John killings, but has not yet secured a meeting with Tobin.[2] He was named top public criminologist by the Times Higher Education Supplement in both 2008 and 2009.[3][not in citation given]

Wilson has acted as: Vice-Chairman of the Howard League for Penal Reform (1998-2014); Vice-President of New Bridge; former Chairman of the Forum on Prisoner Education (2000-2006); former Chairman of the Commission on English Prisons Today, whose president was Cherie Blair; and is now Chair of the Friends of Grendon Prison (ongoing). In 2012, he was made a National Teaching Fellow of England and Wales.[3]

In 2017, he acted as Moderator on the Dean Strang and Jerry Buting Making a Murderer Tour in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Newcastle.


Wilson has published widely on the criminal justice system generally and prisons specifically, and was the Editor of the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice (2000-2015) - one of the premier criminology journals in the UK, and is the author of at least 15 books.[4] Further details of Wilson's publications can be found on his Amazon Author page.


Wilson appears regularly on television and radio, both as a commentator about the criminal justice system and as a presenter.[7] He is a regular contributor to the press and writes mostly for The Guardian[8] and the Daily Mail. On television he presented four series of The Crime Squad for BBC1, and also Leave No Trace and Too Young to Die? about the plight of young people on death row in the USA. On BBC2 he presented Who Killed Ivan the Terrible? and was an expert on the game show Identity. On Channel 5 he co-presented Banged Up, which was nominated for a Royal Television Society award. Wilson developed and presented two series of Killers Behind Bars: The Untold Story,[4][6][9][10] which was developed initially from the stand point of an academic look at criminal profiling to counter that shown in fictional series such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.[5] In 2016, he presented the critically acclaimed Interview with a Murderer on Channel 4, about the murder of Carl Bridgewater. This documentary won the Broadcast Award and the Royal Television Society Award in 2017.

Wilson also gives public lectures which he announces via his Twitter account and delivers lectures for schools through the company CrimiKnowledge. In 2016 the TV Drama Dark Angel attributed his book Mary Ann Cotton: Britain's First Female Serial Killer as its inspiration.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Wilson is married to Anne, a practising lawyer.[1] The couple live in Buckinghamshire with their two children, Hugo and Fleur.[1]

Publications (Books)[edit]

  • Alex Alexandrowicz & David Wilson (1999). The Longest Injustice: The Strange Story of Alex Alexandrowicz. Winchester: Waterside Press.
  • David Wilson & Anne Reuss (2000). Prison(er) Education: Stories of Change and Transformation. Winchester: Waterside Press.
  • David Wilson & Sean O'Sullivan (2004). Images of Incarceration: Representations of Prison in Film and Television Drama. Hook: Waterside Press.
  • David Wilson (2007). Serial Killers: Hunting Britons and Their Victims 1960-2006. Hook: Waterside Press.
  • Paul Harrison & David Wilson (2008). Hunting Evil: Inside the Ipswich Serial Murders. London: Sphere.
  • David Wilson & Paul Harrison (2010). The Lost British Serial Killer: Closing the case on Peter Tobin and Bible John.
  • David Wilson (2011). A History of British Serial Killing. London: Sphere.
  • David Wilson (2011). Looking for Laura: Public Criminology and Hot News. Hook: Waterside Press.
  • David Wilson (2012). Mary Ann Cotton: Britain's First Female Serial Killer. Hook: Waterside Press.
  • David Wilson (2014). Pain and Retribution: A Short History of British Prisons, 1066 to the Present. London: Reaktion.
  • David Wilson (2015). Female Serial Killers in Social Context. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • David Wilson; Elizabeth Yardley & Adam Lynes (2015). Serial Killers and the Phenomenon of Serial Murder: A Student Textbook. Hook: Waterside Press.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Barry McDonald (19 October 2009). "The anatomy of the serial killer". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e "A life of crime: Professor David Wilson — trying to understand why serial killers kill". The Scotsman. 4 July 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "David Wilson". Birmingham City University. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e Leo McKinstry (11 June 2012). "I'm the real-life Cracker". Daily Express. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Ally Swadling (11 November 2012). "Interview with Professor David Wilson". University of York. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  6. ^ a b Nick McCarthy (14 March 2013). "Killers Behind Bars: Birmingham criminologist links convicted murderers to unsolved cases gone cold". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  7. ^ "David Wilson". Curtis Brown. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  8. ^ "David Wilson". London: The Guardian. 20 March 2008. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  9. ^ "Killers Behind Bars returns to our TV screens". Birmingham City University. 7 March 2013. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  10. ^ "Killers Behind Bars". Channel 5. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  11. ^ "Joanne Froggatt to star in new ITV drama Dark Angel". "ITV Press Centre". Retrieved 1 November 2016.

External links[edit]