Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William (Bill) Clifford (1918–1986)

by Stephen Garton

This article was published:

William (Bill) Clifford (1918-1986), criminologist, was born on 6 October 1918 at Bradford, Yorkshire, England, son of Thomas Clifford, printer’s labourer, and his wife Elizabeth Hilda, née Humphreys. Educated at St Bede’s Grammar School, Bradford, he found work as a gas inspector. On 17 May 1940 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. Posted to the RAF Police, he was sent to the Middle East in March 1941. At the Chapel of the English School of the Immaculate Conception, Cairo, on 22 July 1944 he married Margaret Mary Sillitto, a sergeant in the Auxiliary Territorial Service; their only child was stillborn.

Returning to England in 1945, Clifford was discharged from the air force on 19 July 1946. He joined the Birkenhead Police Force, Cheshire, but finding his inclination more towards prevention and reform, transferred to the probation service, training recruits at Wallington, Surrey. At night he studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science (B.Sc. (Econ.), 1952) and the University of London (LL B, 1957; LL M, 1963).

In 1952 Clifford became the British colonial service’s director of social development in Cyprus, charged with bringing Cypriots closer to administrative independence. He promoted ethnic integration policies and founded Greek and Turkish children’s homes around the island. Transferred to Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) in 1958 as director of social welfare and probation services (later commissioner of social affairs), he worked for greater racial integration and in 1962 became the founding principal of the Oppenheimer College of Social Service, the first multiracial college in central Africa. In 1964 he moved to the United Nations, organising refugee services in the Congo (Zaïre). He went to Japan in 1966 as a senior adviser to the UN Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.

From 1968 Clifford was in New York as UN director of social defence. He was executive secretary for the Fourth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders at Kyoto, Japan, in 1970. Made head of the UN’s crime prevention and criminal justice services, he was also an adjunct professor in criminology at New York University. He wrote numerous articles and influential monographs on prisoner rights, preventive criminology and crime control, including An Introduction to African Criminology (1974), Crime Control in Japan (1976) and Planning Crime Prevention (1976). In 1974 he accepted an invitation to become the first permanent director of the newly established Australian Institute of Criminology.

Clifford arrived in Canberra in 1975 with a determination to ensure that Australia did not succumb to the racial tensions of the United States of America, which he believed underpinned rising crime rates. An energetic researcher and enthusiastic reformer, he noted the high rate of imprisonment of Aborigines and sought to train Aboriginal social workers. Clifford believed in prisoner rights, opposed the death penalty and pioneered fields such as white-collar criminology and victimology. He argued forcefully that crime was sociological, a product of social and economic disadvantage rather than individual pathology.

A tall, heavy-set, balding, red-haired, fresh-faced man, Bill Clifford was challenged by the public-service culture of the institute, possible police corruption and the perennial conflicts between the States and the Commonwealth. He was vice-president (1978-80) of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences. In 1980 he founded the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators. He retired in August 1983 and next year advised on law and order in Papua New Guinea. Survived by his wife, he died of ischaemic heart disease on 6 June 1986 at Royal Canberra Hospital and was buried with Catholic rites in Gungahlin cemetery. In 2002 his wife had his body moved to the mausoleum at Woden cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Institute of Criminology, Annual Report, 1975­83
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 49, no 2, 1975, p 106, vol 57, no 11, p 655, vol 60, no 9, p 538
  • Canberra Times, 15 Oct 1974, p 3, 23 Jan 1975, p 3, 10 June 1986, p 10
  • Sun (Sydney), 31 Oct 1974, p 24
  • Australian Institute of Criminology, Reporter, June 1986, p 1
  • Reform (Sydney), Oct 1986, p 217
  • Clifford papers, series M3548 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Stephen Garton, 'Clifford, William (Bill) (1918–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 October, 1918
Bradford, Yorkshire, England


6 June, 1986 (aged 67)
Acton, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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