Francis Graham-Harrison

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The Independent Online

Francis Laurence Theodore Graham-Harrison, civil servant: born London 30 October 1914; Private Secretary to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State 1941-43; Assistant Private Secretary to the Prime Minister 1946-49; Secretary to Royal Commission on Capital Punishment 1949-53; Assistant Secretary, Home Office 1953-57, Assistant Under-Secretary of State 1957-63, Deputy Under-Secretary of State 1963-74; CB 1962; married 1941 Carol Stewart (one son, three daughters); died London 7 December 2001.

Francis Graham-Harrison was a civil servant of rare intellectual distinction whose career lay mainly in those parts of the Home Office which deal with crime and penal policy.

He was born into a public-service tradition; his father, Sir William Graham-Harrison, became First Parliamentary Counsel. Francis Graham-Harrison benefited from great educational advantages: top scholar at Eton, then a scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took a First in Classical Mods and Greats. No doubt an academic career of distinction was open to him.

However, like many of the intellectually gifted of his generation he chose instead the path into Whitehall, in those days a demanding Finals-type exam, and entered the Home Office in 1938. He must have stood out from early days, for in 1946 he was selected to join the small team of Private Secretaries at 10 Downing Street. Of this I have traced no record (sadly: what might a one-line Attleean assessment have been?).

Mayol was back in the Home Office in 1949 but soon after was appointed Secretary to the (Gowers) Royal Commission on Capital Punishment – a heavyweight body which produced a report containing a wealth of information and analysis of the capital punishment question, though its terms of reference in effect precluded a recommendation for or against abolition.

This was a formative period in Graham-Harrison's career, calling fully into play his enviable skills of analysis and clear and accurate drafting. One cannot improve on the commission's own verdict on his performance: he, they recorded,

has done much more for us than perform the ordinary duties of a secretary with unfailing efficiency and imaginative helpfulness. He has been at pains to acquire a mastery over the subject-matter that has enabled him to make an indispensable contribution in drafting the Report; it owes much to the rare quality of his mind.

Back in the office there followed a spell on police administration and then, in 1957, promotion to Assistant Under-Secretary of State in charge of a newly enlarged Criminal Department. This coincided with the arrival as Home Secretary of R.A. (later Lord) Butler, who saw it as one of his priorities to promote a more forward-looking and systematic approach to the many aspects of the crime problem – a notable theme of his 1959 White Paper Penal Practice in a Changing Society. In this he was ably and sympathetically supported by Graham-Harrison, whom Butler once described, in the House of Lords, as "the cleverest man in the Home Office".

Among Graham-Harrison's particular contributions during this period was work to establish criminological research as an integral element in the approach to criminal and penal policy. Within the Home Office a Research Unit was developed; externally Graham-Harrison played an important part in the birth of the first Chair and Institute of Criminology in Cambridge University with the late Sir Leon Radzinowicz as first Wolfson Professor and Director. The saga of the choice of Cambridge for this initiative, and the various obstacles that had to be overcome, is well told in Radzinowicz's Adventures in Criminology (1999), which contains warm tributes to Graham-Harrison. But this, significant as it was, was but one element of the duties of a post with a huge variety of work ranging from broad policy to individual cases requiring the meticulous weighing of evidence.

In 1963 further promotion, to Deputy Under-Secretary of State, for a time took Graham-Harrison away from criminal justice to other areas of Home Office activity – police, the fire service and civil emergencies (civil defence being at that time still a major preoccupation). But he was back, before retirement in 1974, to a post which included the criminal justice area so familiar to him, at a time of renewed emphasis on developing credible alternative penal sanctions to imprisonment and a synoptic approach to criminal policy.

This dry account of posts held and work done does not give much flavour of the man. Those who worked with and for him were conscious, first, of a formidable intellect exhibiting itself in quickness of thought, encyclopaedic knowledge, and meticulous attention to detail – not least in the careful choice of words. With this went, in a phrase from Radzinowicz which many colleagues would endorse, "exceptional integrity, fairness, loyalty and a kind of rare hesitancy which made his whole personality so very attractive and challenging".

The "hesitancy", it must be acknowledged, showed itself in a certain reluctance in the speedy and decisive despatch of business. This, together with a temperamental bias towards the cerebral, may serve to explain why, with all his gifts, Graham-Harrison did not quite reach the pinnacles of Whitehall.

Even in the office he was no narrow bureaucrat. There were constant reminders of the breadth of his interests – the London Library books jostling with the heaped files on the side table, the invitations to private viewings on the mantelpiece, above all the range and sparkle of conversation.

Retirement afforded him fresh opportunities to pursue cultural and other interests. Music was a passion and, still more, the visual arts – he was a Trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1975 to 1982. He was a governor of the Thomas Coram Foundation and a Trustee of Barnardo's.

He enjoyed 60 years of happy married life; his wife Carol valiantly supported him in his long final illness.

By Michael Moriarty