When Tania* was robbed on a busy street, her confidence was destroyed. Here, she talks about why she decided to take part in a restorative justice conference with her mugger, and what it gave her back.
“I was on my way to the local shops when I felt what I thought was someone bumping into me. It took me a few seconds to realise that someone had grabbed my handbag and I was dragged, screaming, along the pavement. I tried very hard to hold on to it but I couldn’t and the man took off up a side road. It was broad daylight and so there were quite a lot of people around. A lady who had seen everything contacted the police straight away and several people tried to follow the mugger.
“Next thing I knew there were lots of police cars and they even sent a helicopter up to look for the mugger. One of the police cars took me home. Along the way we tried to locate my iPhone and there was a very scary moment where the police told me that it was in my house – my address was in my handbag and I knew one of my daughters was at home alone. It turned out that the police had mistakenly tracked my iPad, which was at home, but it added massively to my worry and distress at the time.
“They searched for my bag but no trace was ever found. I discovered later that the mugger threw it into a wheelie bin after only being able to get £20 from my purse.
“About a fortnight later the mugger was arrested on a separate drug‑related matter. At the time of his arrest he said that he wanted to confess to my robbery because he had been feeling so guilty about it. The police checked the details against their database and contacted me.
“I prepared a witness impact statement for court. I thought that it was really important that I read that statement personally to have the greatest impact. There are so many things in a handbag, from the things that your insurance company can replace to the irreplaceable things – notes from my daughters as they grew up and little gifts from my Dad who’d passed away in 2008. Those were the things that I’ll never get back. The mugger was sentenced to three years with no grounds for appeal.
“About a month later I was contacted by PC Nick Hughes. Craig, the mugger, had asked to take part in a restorative conference with me. My first reaction was to wonder if he’d get anything out of it – why should I help him get time off his sentence? I soon learned that wouldn’t be the case, but my family were immediately against it – in fact, the vast majority of people I spoke to thought I was mad to even consider it. I spoke with PC Nick at length and he explained everything and gave me time to think about it and decide.
“For me, because of the way the mugging had made me feel, I thought that restorative justice would give me back control. I would be the one making decisions. I would be in charge. That wasn’t something I got from reading the victim impact statement in court. The court process and Craig’s sentence and the court process hadn’t given me back what I had lost.
“Nick prepared me for the meeting, explained what would happen and even picked me up on the day. There was no pressure, it was entirely up to me. Although Craig had initiated the process it was totally my decision. If I wanted to pull out at any point, I knew that I could and that added to the sense of control that the whole process gave back to me. I didn’t feel intimidated, I felt comfortable and in control – far more than I had in court.
“On the day, I felt I was thoroughly prepared, I was nervous but happy I was going to get some answers. I arrived first and Nick did a final check that I wanted to go ahead. It was obvious from Craig’s demeanour and attitude that he felt much more uncomfortable and far, far more stressed than I was. Craig told me he had asked for the meeting because he felt so guilty. He said that he couldn’t get the sound of my screaming out of his head – he woke up with it in the morning and couldn’t stop thinking about it. He said he’d never committed a robbery before and although there was no excuse, his drug addiction was the sole reason for what he’d done. His girlfriend was expecting a baby just after he was sentenced but she refuses to bring the baby to see him in prison so he’s never seen his child.
“I’ll never go back to being the same person I was, with the same outlook on life that I had before this happened. I still feel very uncomfortable with someone coming up behind me and I’m not sure that will change. I became really withdrawn after the robbery, shocked about what had happened to me. But I feel I’ve got my self-confidence back faster since the restorative justice meeting. I’ve got my peace of mind back, my stability. In a strange way, I s admire the courage it took for Craig to meet me. He didn’t have to take part but he did, and I think it made him realise what it feels like to be a victim.
“You make an assumption, rightly or wrongly, about what the person who hurt you is like. He wasn’t what I was expecting and I don’t think I was what he was expecting either. He was very well groomed and if you saw him in the street I don’t think you’d think he was the type of person to be involved in drugs. The person I saw in front of me wasn’t necessarily the ogre that I’d made him out to be in my head.
“Afterwards, I felt relief. I felt like I could draw a line under my experience – that it was now over and I could move on. I would recommend restorative justice to other victims. For me it definitely worked. I would say to anyone, don’t just dismiss it off-hand, give it serious consideration. I think it goes a long way to putting the incident into perspective and starts to give you closure. You see the person for who they are and it gives you back that control over yourself, over what happens to you. Every decision about what happens is yours. You are free to tell them exactly what you think of them, the ball is in your court.
“The offender can apologise and explain but it’s not for them, it’s for you. I’ve told my friends about it and although some of my more elderly relatives still don’t understand it, most people now understand what the process has done and how it has helped me. I feel that restorative justice should be available for everyone. Anything that helps the victim to feel better can only be a good thing, whatever the crime.”
* Tania’s name has been changed.
Restorative Bristol would like to thank PC Nick Hughes, and Tania for sharing her story with us.