Lionel Wray Fox: [Heath 1904–1913]

Lionel Wray Fox was born on in Halifax, the son of Samuel Fox, a boilermakers' draughtsman, and Minnie Wray. He was one of five brothers educated at Heath Grammar School, Halifax, which he left to go to Hertford College, Oxford, but he joined the army on the outbreak of war in 1914. He served with the 9th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, going to France in ; he attained the rank of Captain, received the Military Cross and the Belgian Croix De Guerre and was mentioned in dispatches.

He joined the Home Office in 1919 and served as secretary of the Prison Commission from 1925 to 1934; he wrote The Modern English Prison (1934) in which he stressed the importance of being open about what goes on in the prison system and argued that the only way to resolve the conflict between deterrence and reform inherent in Gladstone’s 1895 reforms:

lies fundamentally not in the severity of the punishment, but in certainty of detection and punishment.

In 1934 he became deputy receiver to the Metropolitan Police District serving as acting receiver from 1941–42. In 1942 he was appointed Chairman of the Prison Commission, a post in which he served until his retirement in 1960.

In this capacity he

For all this, he stressed that reform must come from within.

He wrote The English Prison and Borstal Systems (1952) and the White Paper Penal Practice in a Changing Society published by the Home Office in 1959 contained many of his ideas.

From 1952 to 1960 he was Chairman or the UN Consultative Group for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders and in 1958 Chairman of the UN Ad Hoc Committee or Experts on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders. Manuel López-Rey wrote of him:

As a Chairman ... he had invariably studied in advance the documents prepared for the items on the agenda. He was patient, able to give the right answer at the right moment and courteously but firmly kept the matter under discussion within its terms of reference ...


[he] was always in favour of a realistic approach which would enable governments and authorities to carry out the recommendations of suggestions made. ... Between theory and practice he was mostly in favour of the latter — not as a question of principle but as the result of weighing carefully the advantages and disadvantages involved. In this respect his position vis-á-vis indeterminate sentences is illustrative; he was never convinced that its theoretical advantages outweigh its practical disadvantages. ... Briefly, he brought a sense of proportion to the United Nations meetings that greatly contributed to their success.

He was also Chairman of the Council of Europe Committee on Crime Problems. He was knighted in 1953.

A serous illness prevented him from presiding at the Second United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders: London, 8-19 August 1960 but he was elected Honorary President of the event.

He was to take up a post at the Institute of Criminology in Cambridge after his retirement but his illness prevented this and he died the following year.

At his memorial service in Wormwood Scrubs Prison in November 1961, R.A. Butler said:

We remember today Sir Lionel Fox, a charitable and single-minded man. He succeeded to a great tradition, he enhanced it and passed it on embellished to the present generation.

Following his death Manuel López-Rey and Charles Germain edited Studies in Penology, dedicated to the memory of Sir Lionel Fox, C.B., M.C. by the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation which was published in 1964 and from which most of the information in this obituary is drawn.

There is a photograph of Lionel Fox on the National Portrait Gallery website.

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