Myths and Facts about Restorative Justice

Myth 4: Restorative Justice is not suitable for all cases, it is only appropriate for minor offences.

Fact: Restorative Justice (RJ) has proven to be very appropriate for capital offences as it has been for minor offences. For minor offences, RJ has provided alternatives to custodial sentences and for capital offences, it has been used in conjunction with the mainstream Justice system to achieve great results.

This myth is another common misconception of what Restorative Justice entails. Some persons including legal practitioners perceive RJ to be only effective in minor offences whereas it can be used for any crime. In more developed criminal justice systems, RJ has been successfully deployed in cases of assault, rape, and murder and for these offences that carry capital punishments, the restorative justice process is usually done in conjunction with the mainstream justice system before, during or after the sentencing of the offender.

A restorative process brings together the victim, the offender and most times, the community to repair the harm caused. After a crime has been committed, RJ ensures that in the next steps that follow, the harm is repaired and the offender never considers committing any other crime in the future.

In a story culled from Restorative Justice Council, Restorative Justice was used in a murder case to help Nick who had spent 16 years learning to live with the murder of his twin brother, Simonn to stop feeling like a victim but participate in the process that made the offender pledge not to allow his actions cause any other family the loss of a loved one.

In Nicks words;

“I grew up in Cumbria, in the Lake District, with my mother, father and my two brothers. Richard is the eldest. Simon, my twin, and I were born three years after him. Simon and I were identical, and we were always very close. As kids, we enjoyed a very happy upbringing in rural Cumbria. Our passion together was supporting our beloved football team, Carlisle United.

Simon and I went to different universities, and after I graduated I moved to work down in the South East. Richard and Simon stayed in the North, working in our dad’s printing business in Birkenhead. Simon was a very happy-go-lucky person, always living life to the full. While I settled down fairly early, he stayed single and enjoyed going out with his friends and having fun, but we still saw each other regularly.

Simon and I celebrated our thirtieth birthday together at the beginning of August 1998 with a lovely family party. A few weeks later my wife Julie and I were going to Cumbria to visit some friends for the Bank Holiday, and we stopped in to see my parents on the way. Simon, who lived close by, wasn’t there as he’d already made plans, but he said he’d see us later during the weekend.

We were in Cumbria, driving when I got a call from my dad on my mobile phone. He insisted I pull over and call him back from a call box. The strange irony is that we were just outside the hospital where Simon and I were born when Dad said: ‘Simon’s been murdered – you need to come home.’

It’s hard to describe what happened next – for several days, we were like zombies. We knew very little other than the fact that Simon had been beaten up and drowned and the police were conducting a murder investigation. We were taken to the pond where Simon drowned, and I went on TV to appeal for information.

A few days later, the police still didn’t have any leads, so I took part in reconstruction for local TV channels. About ten days after Simon’s death the story had reached the national media and I was about to go on Crimewatch when I got a call from the police to say they’d caught his killers.

We were relieved that the two people responsible had been caught. We were also incredibly angry, and we didn’t want them to be free and live normal lives. We wanted to see justice being done. I remember thinking that they didn’t deserve to be referred to as human beings, whoever they were.

Over the weeks that followed, we were able to piece together some of what had happened to Simon. He had gone to a nightclub with his friends. It was a good night, by all accounts, but at some point, he lost contact with his friends. CCTV showed him leaving the club alone, and we know that he was meant to be staying with a friend who lived nearby. He set off towards his friend’s house but didn’t know where he was going. Then he bumped into the two young men who would eventually murder him.

Both of the men responsible for Simon’s death were previous offenders who were quite well known in the area. One of them had been released from a Young Offenders Institution that morning. They had met up earlier that day and had been drinking and smoking cannabis. Simon had been drinking quite heavily himself that night, so he probably wasn’t fully appreciative of the danger he might be putting himself in when they walked him to a local park.

In the park, the two men saw an opportunity to rob Simon and started to attack him. Simon, being Simon, wouldn’t have fought back – neither of us was like that. He had no money on him, only his cash card, so they beat him to try and get the PIN. They stamped on him and kicked him unconscious. I remember seeing him in the mortuary afterwards and his head was black and blue.

They then threw Simon in the pond next to where they’d attacked him. He drowned. He was found the next morning by a man walking his dog. For the next few hours, Simon was an unidentified missing person, because he had no ID on him. Eventually, on Sunday afternoon, his flatmate raised the alarm because Simon hadn’t come home. My dad phoned the police and was asked to come and identify the body they’d found in the pond. Dad has never wanted to talk about that – he was utterly devastated, as was my mum. We all were.

The trial took almost a year to come to court. It was very nerve-racking, but as a family, we wanted to be there for Simon and see justice being done. The trial was extremely upsetting in many respects. When the pathologist was talking about Simon’s injuries, he described the trauma from sustained kicks and blows to his head. My mum had to run out of the courtroom – she couldn’t bear to listen to it.

Both of the accused pled not guilty, but the verdict was unanimous. One of the offenders was 19 at the time, and he received a life sentence of at least 12 years. The other, who was 16, was sent to prison for at least 10 years. I remember the emotion and tears when the foreman of the jury announced the guilty verdict for both.
We felt fortunate that they had both been caught and sentenced because many murder cases never reach that stage. They were going to prison, and we tried to get back to normality and move on. The early years were very tough, and I had a lot of counselling. My mum suffered from alcoholism for a number of years as a result of the pain of losing Simon. She’s recovered now, but she’s very lucky to be alive. My mum and dad now try to live their lives as fully as possible in memory of Simon.

The Victim Liaison service kept us informed as the offenders passed through the prison system, and in 2012 we started attending their parole hearings, where we were able to read out our victim impact statements. It was the first time since the trial that we were able to see Simon’s killers and describe to their faces the impacts of their actions on us as a family, and it was a very powerful experience.

Reading my impact statement in front of one of the offenders – Craig – would become a key factor in my decision to take part in restorative justice. My mum had been in just before me and read out her statement. We never read each other’s statements, but I know hers was very moving because when I walked in Craig was in tears. He was visibly shaken, and when I read my statement I looked him straight in the eye for the first time and told him how hurt I was.

At that point, Craig was an inmate at HMP Grendon, where he’d heard a talk by the father of a murder victim about restorative justice. It had a big impact on him, and he had already put in a request for us to meet him in a restorative justice conference. I knew nothing about restorative justice at this point – in the 16 years the prisoners had been in jail, I’d never heard of it.

Seeing Craig’s emotions when I read out my statement made me think that he was beginning to understand what he’d done and feel remorse, but he wasn’t allowed to speak while I was in the parole hearing. When he had been sentenced all those years ago, to us he was just a 16-year-old low-life on Merseyside – he had no real understanding of the enormity of what he’d done. Although he was the younger of the two, we saw him as the more intelligent and felt he was the ringleader.

That day in the parole hearing, I saw someone completely different – a grown-up man who was trying to recover. He’d spent the best part of his life in jail, and for all those years I’d imagined him to be an evil monster. I realised then that I wanted to meet and talk to him, and I came out that day determined to explore restorative justice.

In August 2014 our victim liaison officer put me in touch with Mandy and Jenny, two restorative justice facilitators, and we went through a series of preparation exercises over several months. Those meetings were to explore what I wanted to get out of the proposed conference with the offender and to prepare both me and Craig. Mandy and Jenny also talked to me about the potential impact of the meeting – I was likely to get information that I might never be able to share with my parents because it would be too upsetting for them. My parents didn’t want to be a part of the meeting with Craig but were very supportive of me doing it.

I also met up with Ray Donovan, who had been through restorative justice with the three men who killed his son Christopher. Ray mentored me through the process and having the support of someone who truly understood what I was about to go through was valuable.

My wife was very much involved in the preparation for the conference, and she was there on the day to support me. She had never really got to know Simon because we were married soon before he died, and we’d only been going out together for about a year. She never had the chance to understand our relationship as twin brothers. That was a loss and something she needed to express to Craig. I prepared a lot of questions for Craig, and I had a file of photos and newspaper cuttings to show him. By the time the meeting came round, I was thoroughly prepared, thanks to the time Mandy and Jenny had spent with me.

I was nervous that morning. It was the first time I’d been in a high-security prison, and there was a complicated security process to go through. Once we were in, we were shown into the prison chapel, where the meeting would take place. There was a circle of chairs, and a small, screened-off area in case I needed time out. We had already decided where everyone would sit, and how the meeting would begin.
When Mandy asked if I was ready I felt tears welling up – I was very emotional. But I got myself together and Craig was brought into the room. I’d seen him just a few months before at his parole hearing, but he hadn’t been allowed to speak then, so I hadn’t heard his voice. Mandy began the meeting by inviting Craig to talk about what had happened and how he came to meet Simon on that day. It only took a minute or two before the conversation started flowing easily.

I started talking about my background, Simon, and everything that led up to that day. I showed Craig pictures of Simon’s grave and some newspaper clippings. I also showed him photos of our 30th birthday, just three weeks before Simon died. The pictures had a big impact on Craig, and he spent a lot of time reflecting on them – we learned after the meeting that the pictures of Simon helped bring home the impact of what he’d done to our family.

I wanted to get answers to some of the details around Simon’s death, and I was prepared to go very deep even if it was going to be painful. I also wanted to hear Craig express how sorry he was, and I felt that he had wanted to express that after seeing him at the probation hearing. I made it very clear to Craig that the meeting was not about me forgiving him – I can never forgive him. It was about me getting answers to many questions about Simon’s death, unknowns that I had reflected on over the last 16 years. I went into the meeting with a very exploratory mindset and a lot of questions, but want to let it flow whichever way it went.

Mandy’s role as the facilitator was very important, and she prompted and probed and led the meeting well. Finally, we got to the point where I said: ‘Craig, tell me how you killed Simon’. He looked me straight in the eye, and took me, step by step, through what had happened that night. He’d done a lot of work while he was in prison on accepting the enormity of what he’d done, so he was ready for the conversation we had.

Craig was embarrassed and ashamed, but he was very matter of fact and honest. He talked about Simon crying, and begging them to stop beating him. He said at one point: ‘I can’t use the word ‘sorry’ to make up for what I’ve done – it’s hollow, and it’s got no meaning. I was an evil person when I killed your brother, and I can’t take that away.’

I also got a deep insight into Craig’s background, which helped me to understand how damaged as a person he’d been when he killed Simon. It wasn’t an excuse, but it helped partly to explain why he’d come to be where he was that night. He said to me: ‘I was just so angry – it wasn’t Simon I was kicking, it could have been anybody. I was taking my anger out on him, and we went really hard into him. I was damaged, taking my anger out on society.’ He gave me a lot of insight into why he was such a nasty person, and the years of prison and the therapy he’s had have helped him to realise that. He showed great remorse that day for the hurt he had caused our family.

Mandy, Jenny and I realised afterwards that if there was one thing we could have improved, it was the end of the meeting. We hadn’t thought about it enough beforehand, and one of the things we maybe should have done was to have a longer period of silence at the end, to reflect on the enormity of what had been said. That would have allowed us to think about whether there was anything else which we wanted to say.

When I walked out of the prison I was on a high – I felt like I wanted to go straight into another meeting with Craig. It was exhausting, though, and I went through a whole load of mixed emotions in the next few days. Mandy, Jenny, and I held several debrief meetings in the weeks that followed to explore my thoughts and feelings, and they did the same with Craig.

Looking back now, it was an amazing experience. I’ve seen a side of the man who murdered my brother that’s shown me he’s a recovering person, who is genuinely sorry. I consider myself lucky because there are a lot of very serious offences that never get to this point of reconciliation. To get the connection I had with Craig takes a lot of time and also a willingness to have an open mind – for me the circumstances were right and we synchronized. It could have possibly happened sooner if we’d known about restorative justice earlier.

Restorative justice is a very powerful thing to do. It gives you some closure, some answers. It fills gaps that you may wonder about for your whole life. And it gives you a chance to tell your side of the story and tell the offender the impact of what they’ve done. Craig said to Mandy and Jenny after the meeting: ‘I didn’t know many of the things Nick told me – I had no idea.’

I don’t feel like a victim anymore. I am just a human being who has experienced, and now lives with, the impact of a serious crime on my family. Restorative justice I feel allows you to ‘close’ and lose the victim tag. The hurt will never go away of course, but I’ve shown the courage to step up, face and talk to the offender – it’s an incredible piece of closure.

In recent years as the killers of my brother started to go through the release process, I’ve wrestled with the question of whether they deserve a second chance. In many senses, the justice system answers this question for you in moving the prisoners through the system to the ultimate release. Restorative justice helped me understand that all people can make a serious mistake in their life and be given a second chance – even murderers, even the murderers of my twin brother. Craig will be out one day soon and will be given the chance to rebuild his life, and we as a family have to accept that he will be given a chance to hopefully give something back to society when he comes out.

I’ve always thought in recent years that I wanted something positive to come out of Simon’s death, and the starting point for that was telling Craig that he had a chance to do something good with his life when he gets released from prison. I said to him: ‘If you can prevent just one family going through what we’ve been through, then that’s a success.’ I hope that sharing my story might help other people by encouraging them to take part in restorative justice and benefit from it as much as I have.”

Restorative justice is about seeking answers. It is a step in the recovery process. It can be a chance to explain to offenders the impact of their actions. We see how Restorative Justice helped Nick talk about the hurt he felt for years and ultimately drove his healing Process while holding the offender accountable for his action.

It is important to iterate that Restorative Justice can be used for minor offences as well as for capital offences and it can be done at any stage of the proceeding, even after sentencing. It can be done before initiating a Court process, after sentencing, or even after the court case is over.

Restorative justice considers all parties involved. It aims to meet the needs of victims as it considers the effects of the criminal act on the victim while it also assists the offender in identifying the root causes and contributing factors behind their criminal acts so they learn to act differently and avoid recidivism.

Story credit: Restorative Justice Council

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