I studied English Language and Literature as an undergraduate in Sheffield and then trained to be an English teacher in the London Institute of Education. There I became interested in the work of Basil Bernstein on the relationship between class, language ability and educational achievement. In order to pursue this interest I trained as a linguist at University College London under Michael Halliday and then went on to the University of Birmingham to undertake doctoral research with John Sinclair. I spent the next 37 years there, before moving to Aston in 2004, to become the first professor of Forensic Linguistics in the world.
I am probably best known for my work on the analysis of spoken and written discourse and the books An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Advances in Written Text Analysis. However, since the late 1980s I have become increasingly involved with forensic applications of linguistics. I was the Foundation President of the International Association of Forensic Linguists and the founding editor of the journal Forensic Linguistics, the International Journal of Speech Language and the Law. For the past 20 years I have acted as an expert witness in forensic linguistics and have been commissioned to prepare reports for both Prosecution and Defence in over 200 civil and criminal cases. I have given evidence on author identification in the Court of Appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, as well as in lower courts in England, Germany, Hong Kong, Northern Ireland and Scotland.Among my high profile cases are the Birmingham Six Appeal, the Bridgwater Four Appeal and the Ronald Bolden trial, at the conclusion of which, in 1989, the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad was disbanded. I have also worked with the Metropolitan, the Scottish, the South Wales and the Military police on internal investigations.
I have taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in forensic linguistics and language and the law for over fifteen years in Britain and abroad and have supervised seven doctoral students in these areas.