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Remembering Jason Ditton

Jason Ditton younger versionIt was with great sadness and a huge sense of loss that we learned of the passing of Jason. He was a brilliant criminologist, with a sharp mind and a kind heart.  He was also our PhD supervisor.  By way of tribute, we wanted to share our memories and experiences of this influential and much loved supervisor and friend.

Jason was my PhD supervisor from 2001-2006 (ish). Not long after I started my research he asked "Did you read the books I sent you?" "ok, now I will assume you know much more than me". He took me to my first conference and introduced me to his colleagues using this as an opener.  He never presumed to be the expert, and that made you feel totally at ease.  Like many of his other students, he fed us (after seminars) and employed us (to teach) when he knew we were struggling. He persuaded the University to give me a bursary, knowing I was unlikely to complete without it.  We had supervision meetings over dinner (he ordered seafood risotto and the house white) and I wondered "am I supposed to take notes?"

On the day of my viva I travelled to Glasgow. Jason took me on a tour of the city. We saw the places he had researched and I listened to the stories he had heard. I will never forget hearing his fake Glaswegian accent 'otherwise the taxis charge you double' he said.  When my viva was over he was the first person I called.

My interest in the drugs field and my attitude to academia is inspired by him and I am extremely thankful for his influence.  And as I attempt to segment all aspects of my writing into multiples of 3, I will think of him.

Dr Liz Austen, Principal Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University.


Jason Ditton was my MA dissertation supervisor and my Ph.D. supervisor from 1999-2003.  He had one of those rare, but infinitely valuable, academic minds that could employ minimal intervention to achieve maximum effect.  He would frequently casually drop in an idea in passing, that would increase the creativity of my work tenfold.  During his supervision of my MA dissertation, which largely consisted of one rushed and spontaneous meeting in a corridor due to my overwhelming fear that if I actually spoke to him he would discover the vast depths of my ignorance, he commented, off the cuff, that my rather clichéd plan to compare the drug policies of Sweden and the Netherlands would benefit greatly from a consideration of them in relation to drug policy at the European Union level.  My academic career to date has been built on the veracity of this statement.

My fear of Jason dissipated throughout my Ph.D. over dinners in the local Italian, a trip to visit him and Furzana at his ‘Scottish Centre for Criminology’, otherwise known as his flat, and my first attempt at sailing on Loch Lomond.  He gave me two great gifts (apart from his choice of the external examiners for my Ph.D.): the first was an ability to believe in myself and my own capabilities, largely through his own unwavering belief in me and insistence that I stand on my own two feet.  The second was to enjoy academic life to the full, but also to realise that there was life to be had outside of academia, and that that was important too.  Throughout my career, as during my studies at the University of Sheffield, Jason has been there for me when I needed him, and he will be much missed.

Dr Caroline Chatwin, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Kent.


Jason was an innovative methodologist and a gifted thinker, well respected by his peers and passionate about 'research impact', long before it was a metric. He was also a brilliant teacher; I watched him bring many classrooms to life with his stories, delivered in his provocative style. As a PhD supervisor, then, he was a superb role model. He was wise, generous and passionate about giving me every opportunity to forge my own distinct professional identity. He instilled in me a strong appreciation of academic freedom and a commitment to using my knowledge and skills to bring about change (however small) in the real world. He pushed me to see the bigger picture, encouraging me to find ways of doing the essential tasks 'efficiently' to make space for the more important things - thinking, innovating, helping people, holidays. It was a privilege to have been his student and I will always be grateful to him for believing in me. He will be sorely missed.

Dr Natasha Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Academic Professional Development, Sheffield Hallam University.


I didn’t know Jason the longest or the best.  I was his PhD student, perhaps his last PhD student, as he retired just before I finished.  And he was hugely influential on both my academic and personal life.  I had come from Canada to the University of Sheffield to complete a Masters in International Criminology.  I had no real knowledge of either the city or the university and had made the move based on the nature of the programme.  Jason taught the module on drugs in late modernity.  It was my favourite module!  It was from this that we started talking about different types of drug use and drug users.  I remember once looking for information on older illegal drug users and having the conversation with Jason about why I couldn’t find any.  He said there was little research in this area because the accepted academic understanding was that older users didn’t exist.  By their 40s and 50s illegal drug users had either ‘matured out’ or died, so the theory went. We talked more about the topic. In the end, Jason said ‘why don’t you come and do a PhD with me on this?’

My PhD application was two hand-written paragraphs on one side of A4.  Those two paragraphs changed the course of my life.  I ended up staying in Sheffield (a city I still call home to this day) and over the course of my PhD studies learned so much about drugs, academia, teaching, writing and life.  A lot of this was thanks to Jason.  He was supportive in so many respects.  We had supervision meetings in restaurants when I was a poor student (he picked up the bill and I got a good meal). He gave me the opportunity to teach some of his classes when I needed the experience to put on my CV (and the money came in handy too). He had a very old school approach to supervision; he pushed me to think, pushed me to be independent, gave me the confidence I needed to be sure of my ideas and trusted that I knew what I was researching and writing.  I also met some of my dearest friends studying for my PhD, including my future husband (he started on the same day in the same department and we now have two beautiful babies).  None of this would have happened without Jason.

He was a kind hearted and genuine gentleman who changed my life for the better and in many ways made it what it is today.  I have a lot to acknowledge him for and a lot to thank him for, and I know I am not the only one.  He will be missed.

Dr Jaime Waters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University.


Jason was a great teacher, supervisor, mentor and friend to whom I owe a huge chunk of my career so far. As my PhD supervisor his style was informal, which suited me down to the ground. We used to teach the same methods class together and most of my supervision was in cigarette-and-coffee breaks in the middle of these sessions - although he was always available for more formal sessions, whether in person or over the phone, if I felt I needed them. He was always genuinely enthusiastic about my research - and about my career after I left Sheffield. He was also always full of good advice - too much to go into here, but three things he said always stuck in my mind (and I pass them on to my own students now - well, at least the first two). 
I remember when he told me to get arrested... not to actively go out and seek this, but that if I was ever in a situation where I was with my research subjects and the police turned up I should absolutely not try and play the 'researcher' card to avoid arrest. Quite the opposite. After all, he said, if you escape arrest when others don't then they are unlikely to want to talk to you again - but if they see you also getting arrested this would encourage greater rapport and trust - and therefore better data.
I also remember him advising me to swear. Not just generally, but specifically when in an interview contact. Start the tape, then drop your pen (or something) and swear as you go to pick it up. A little thing, but again something that would encourage interviewees to relax, to see you less of an authority figure and more as someone they could talk to openly, that they could relax with and be themselves. In a similar vein, he actively encouraged me to grow - and keep - my dreadlocks (which I still have - although they are now in a bag in my study at home rather than on my head...). The point with all of these snippets, of course, was that the best research (at least the best qualitative research) comes from those who can get closest to their research subjects - a dreadlocked swearer with a criminal record finds out so much more. Obviously a double-blind experiment is impossible here, but I have no doubt that he was right.
Dr. Gary Potter, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University Law School.


------  Thank you Jason, from all of your PhD students, for all that you gave us and all that you meant to us  --------




Please also see Jacky Tombs’ obituary in the Herald Scotland (



Dr Jaime Waters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University.

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