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Extreme violence and its aftermath: VictimCARE’s memorable restorative justice moment

Peter Horton, a Lead Restorative Justice Practitioner with our VictimCARE Service in Nottinghamshire, shares a case that's stayed with him.

23 November 2017

Six years ago Eva’s* partner Otto was innocently walking home alone, after a typical evening out with friends, when he was viciously attacked by Dan and his co-accused. Dan punched and then repeatedly stamped on Otto’s head and left him for dead. A distant witness had called an ambulance and the police to the scene. Dan was arrested and Otto was rushed to hospital where he would remain in a coma for six weeks.

Eva recently submitted her and Otto’s Personal Statement to Dan’s parole hearing. Their statement described in detail the devastating, enduring, life changing impact that Dan’s apparently motiveless, callous attack had wreaked. And they questioned whether Dan, who had shown not a flicker of remorse during the court hearings or since, for what appeared to be just another instance of habituated violence, would ever be safe to release from prison.

Eva learned from her Victim Liaison Officer (VLO), shortly after this hearing that Dan had been shocked to learn about the damage he had caused to Otto and Eva’s lives and how he wished he could say sorry. Eva decided that she wanted to meet Dan to see if his remorse was genuine. She wanted him to hear from her what he had done to their lives and she had so many questions! Eva’s VLO referred her to Victim Care’s Restorative Justice Team.

Eva wanted to hear the details of the attack and understand why Dan targeted Otto. She wanted to know what he had thought and felt at following his violence as Otto clung silently to life and Eva lived a nightmare. She wanted to know what had happened and what Dan had done during his six years in prison.

She also planned to tell Dan about her nightmare and Otto’s continuing struggles. She wanted Dan to face up to this, to hear and see his responses. She also hoped that she would hear and see his genuine apology.

Dan was aware of Eva’s requests and hopes and had agreed to do his best to meet them. He hoped that, by participating in RJ, Eva and Otto might get some closure. He felt he had to do it!

Eva and Dan spoke and listened to each other for over an hour. Eva heard Dan’s raw account of his violent attack and what he now recognised were his distorted reasons for this. She heard how at the time and for two years afterwards, Dan had no empathy for his victims. Eva also heard how since that course Dan has undertaken several qualifications, had learned to read well and was trying to rebuild a positive relationship with his young son.

Eva was able to describe to Dan the nightmare of those early days and weeks and the detail of the enduring damage Dan’s violence has caused to Otto and to their relationships and aspirations.

Eva saw the emotional impact on Dan and heard what she felt was his genuine apology and remorse. Eva acknowledged Dan’s willingness to stay away from certain geographical areas so as to avoid any encounters in the future. Dan described several positive goals that he had set himself for when he is finally released. Eva said she would like to know that he keeps on track and they signed an outcome agreement that Dan would inform Eva, initially via the service, when he achieves various goals.

At the closure of the Conference Eva and Dan said that they had found the meeting difficult and emotional at times but positive and worthwhile. Both were doubtful that they would have wanted to participate in the early years following the offence, but were pleased to have had the opportunity to participate at this stage of Dan’s sentence.

For me as a practitioner, this case sums up why restorative justice is such an important offering for victims of crime. Eva had a need to confront Dan about his violence and the unimaginable harm he had caused and she needed to know that he had listened. She also had a set of questions that only Dan could answer. Unlike any other aspect of the criminal Justice System, Restorative justice enabled Eva’s voice to be heard.

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*All names have been changed.