Will Riley was a victim of a burglary ten years ago when the home he shared with his wife and young daughter in North London was broken into. Will confronted the burglar who attacked him before the police arrived. A while afterwards he was asked if he would come and meet the man responsible for the burglary - who had since been arrested, found guilty and sentenced to prison for the crime.
Will had never heard of restorative justice (RJ) before then, but agreed to attend the meeting which took place at Pentonville Prison. There, in the presence of a trained facilitator he came face to face with the burglar - Peter Woolf.
Both Will’s and Peter’s enthusiasm for RJ led them to set up the charity - Why Me? to promote the right of victims of crime to have restorative justice with their offender. They both speak out frequently about the benefits to victims and offenders of RJ. Here Will recounts his first meeting with Peter:
‘We went into the room and I saw Peter and he looked pretty pathetic. The explanation he came up with for why he’d burgled and attacked me was that he’d had a miserable life and was looking for money to feed his heroin addiction. We talked about this for a bit and then he referred to the incident using the phrase ‘when we first met’… This absolutely made me see red. I said ‘You make it sound like we came across each other in a cocktail bar’. This opened the floodgates and I told him there and then what terrible harm he had caused me and my family. My daughter had come home from school that day to find her dad covered in blood, then my wife arrived to be told I’d been taken to hospital. After that every time I went home and put my key in the lock I thought someone would be in the house. It happened day after day and it’s not a nice feeling. You feel insecure in your own home and unsure of your ability to protect your family.
‘All this came out like a fire hydrant and I looked over and realised that Peter was listening closely to every detail. You could see he was thinking of all the harm he’d caused people over years of being a repeat offender. He was ashamed of himself and you could see it written on his face. The tough guy veneer seemed to crumble and his bottom lip was quivering.
‘After a while I was asked what I wanted to see happen next. I said I wanted Peter to come off drink and drugs, get whatever education he could during the remainder of his prison sentence and write to me every six months with a report of how he was doing. Peter later told me that he’d expected that I’d want him to be locked up for longer. He was staggered that I actually seemed to care what happened to him.
‘The day of the RJ meeting came and went and then two years later I was told Peter was out of prison and off drugs. He was doing a training course and had really turned round his life. He was saying that the RJ meeting with me had been a real turning point.
‘For my part, I was just so impressed with the RJ process. I had felt completely alienated as a victim. By getting my say and by having a proper meeting with the person who’d done me harm, I got a lot off my chest and set the record straight. Being able to have a face to face talk with my burglar and attacker changed everything - I wasn’t a crime victim any more.’
Visit the ‘Why me’ charity website.