Exposing the secrets of UK assassins

Liam Brolan

When MA Criminology student Liam Brolan heard the programme’s director, Professor David Wilson, discussing research into contract killing he asked if he could get involved. Professor Wilson agreed and Liam soon found himself working as a research assistant, helping leading criminologists carry out the first ever study into British hit men.

Liam worked alongside Professor Wilson, Dr Liz Yardley and Visiting Professor Donal MacIntyre on the research, which was published in The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice in January and attracted media attention from the likes of The New York Times, The Guardian, Sunday Mail and The Observer. Professor Wilson also spoke about the study on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed programme.

The researchers established a new typology to identify four different classes of hit man, described as the Novice, the Dilettante, the Journeyman and the Master, and it is hoped that the study will be used in law enforcement. Liam’s contribution was to build a database of articles from national and local newspapers from across Britain. This enabled the team to piece together a list of cases that could be defined as contract killings.

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“We discovered some pretty interesting information. The youngest hit man that we found was 15 years old. He was paid just £200 to kill his victim. We classed him as a Novice, which is a younger type of hit man with little or no experience of contract killing, but being a Novice doesn’t mean he’s not effective. The only thing that prevented him from being a Master hit man was the fact that he got caught,” explained Liam.

“The typology is now there for people to challenge; it’s to give a framework for debate.”

Liam’s name appeared alongside the names of the academics when the study was published, acknowledging his contribution.

His plan for the future is to remain in academia, going on to complete a PhD in criminology.

“It just fascinates me. The sheer breadth of topics you can study in criminology is phenomenal. The staff here are brilliant. David Wilson is a well-respected, high-profile criminologist and I’m learning from the best, so I’m very lucky.”

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