The power of Restorative Justice – a victim of crime’s perspective

Restorative Justice (RJ) helps victims of crime move on with their lives by giving them the opportunity to meet the offender. Here we tell the touching story of how it helped one distraught victim come to terms with what had happened. The real names of those involved have been changed.

It’s a crime many might consider low-level and commonplace but when Helen’s handbag was stolen from her car it had a devastating effect.

It contained irreplaceable pictures of her late husband, the only contact details for a long-standing friend and her driving licence, which left her afraid in her own home.

But five months later, 62-year-old Helen was given an opportunity that changed everything.

Through Restorative Justice, she met the thief who had caused all the upset and anxiety and the meeting helped her to a better place.

The meeting was voluntary for both parties and in a safe environment with a trained practitioner to direct proceedings.

Helen explained to prolific 35-year-old thief William, from Peterborough, that on the night of the crime in February this year, she was dropping off flowers to a friend who had helped her out at a charity event she had organised the night before.

The event was to celebrate a charity she and others had set up some years ago for victims of severe burns but was now closing after a number of the founders had died. The charity was close to Helen’s heart, as her daughter had suffered severe burns, but with only her and another founder, who had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, remaining, the hard decision was made to shut it down.

After dropping the flowers off at the friend’s house in Peterborough she went back to her car and the bag was gone. Incredulous, Helen went back to the filling station she had been to earlier thinking maybe she had left the bag there but after sitting for an hour going through CCTV, it showed she had left with her bag so she called the police.

She then listed to William the things that had been in the bag and were now lost, among them: more than £400, which was part of the money raised in the raffle at the charity event; perfume (a gift from a friend); reading glasses; birthday money vouchers; her driving licence (which had given her sleepless nights for a week and resulted in her buying a new home alarm system); her only address book, which was the contact for her friends, and the photos of her late husband.

Helen was visibly emotional as she explained that everything else could be replaced apart from these pictures.

William also broke down in tears and apologised for what he had done.

He had been with his ex-girlfriend at the time and had taken the handbag after noticing Helen’s car was unlocked. He spent the money on drugs for them both and gave the perfume to the ex-girlfriend.

The bag is now lost but William, who was caught by police and admitted the offence in March this year, said he would search the streets in a bid to retrieve it.

Helen said it was good to look William in the eye at the conference and have the opportunity to speak to and help him.

She said: “It was quite a shock and I had a sickening feeling when it first happened. It took a while to sink in and it didn’t help having so much in my bag that I didn’t realise I had.

“I’m afraid I still carry as much in my bag but I have now made a list for the future: we women have no idea what we carry in our handbags.”

Anyone who would like to inquire about RJ should call 0800 7816818 or email restorativejustice@cambs.pnn.police.uk

There is also more information, including online videos and the different models of RJ, on the force website at Restorative Justice

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