Laura’s house was burgled while she and her family were asleep in their beds. She was very angry about her house being invaded and the amount of time it took to make insurance claims. Meeting the perpetrator allowed her to get her feelings out and tell him the terrible impact of his actions.
“As my husband, Richard and I sat there listening to JK – the man who had burgled us just a year before – we got more and more incensed. He just didn’t care how devastated he had made us feel. We were sitting in a Restorative Justice Conference taking place in Pentonville prison, North London, and he simply hadn’t got a clue. He just wasn’t bothered.
Feelings of anger
He actually said he really couldn’t remember breaking into our flat in the middle of that May night, as he was high on drugs. It seemed to us he was almost trying to convince us to feel sympathy for him, like HE was a victim! When he’d finished giving his story, we were furious. And then it was our turn.
“The facilitators asked us what we remembered of what had happened that terrible night. I felt a sudden rush of emotion, and I just remember ranting and crying – I’m not sure I actually said anything. But I glimpsed JK’s face – he looked truly horrified by my outburst.
The horror of being burgled
“It was one night in May the previous year, about 3 am. I was asleep, as was our new baby in his cot near our bed. Suddenly I woke up to hear my husband Richard whispering in my ear “we’ve been burgled …”. I grabbed the phone and called the police, and so began many hours and then days immersed in the aftermath of the crime.
“I simply couldn’t believe it. When we’d first moved to this apartment I instantly felt so much safer than in our previous place. Not only was this a better neighbourhood, but we were enclosed in a terrace, you’d have to break into our neighbours’ place first to get to us! The worst emotion of all was that we felt we’d been powerless, as new parents, to protect our little son.
“JK stole all Richard’s precious, hard-earned equipment, without which he simply could not work. He’d also rummaged through our coats, taking wallets, keys, and even my beloved vintage bag from our little boy’s push-chair, full of things I needed so much: precious baby pictures, my diary, my phone with all my friends’ personal details. We were simply devastated.
“That summer was just awful; processing the insurance claim was an utter nightmare. Every day and night we were scared he might come back. Then every time we went away we spent the whole time worried about what might face us on our return, as he’d taken my diary with all our plans clearly scheduled. Our holiday was ruined.
“In the autumn, the police arrested JK, and charged him with a string of offences including our break-in. My husband had played a key role in this capture, but not before he had gone through unbelievable stress. The first incident occurred when he was telephoned at work by someone with an American accent claiming to be in possession of his lap-top, and offering to sell it back to him. Although initially suspicious, Richard elicited a description of the man who had sold the American the lap-top, and even persuaded him to contact the police!
“Then separately, Richard found some of his stolen items for sale on E-Bay. He was sure they were his, as they had unique markings, which he could see clearly in the photographs on the web-site. He immediately informed the police, who had to e-mail E-Bay to alert them, as no other communication was possible. Meanwhile Richard tried to contact all the other bidders to tell them he believed the articles were stolen goods. Eventually through this route, the police were able to trace our equipment, and not only catch JK but also several accomplices. But of my lost sentimental ‘treasures’, there was sadly no further trace.
One year on
“So here we were, one year later, angry victims of a crime, facing the criminal. As the carefully-facilitated dialogue continued, we asked JK about himself, and his background. Gradually this very unusual encounter began to feel more and more like a normal situation, after all if someone is troubled it’s a natural human emotion to want to help. JK’s story was of a man now in his mid-forties (but looking older than that, and far from well) who, in the recession of 25 years ago, had lost his job in his home area of Merseyside, and to keep his wife and small daughter, had started couriering small amounts of drugs, eventually becoming an addict himself. His life rapidly spiralled downhill, he lost touch with his family, moved away from his home roots, got into trouble and inevitably into the cycle of imprisonment.
“We knew we had to try and propose something for JK which could prevent anyone else suffering the agony we’d been through. An RJ Conference always culminates in an Outcome Agreement, and JK’s Agreement had seven commitments, which we all suggested and he signed up to. One was that he’d keep us updated on his progress by writing us a letter, which indeed he duly did, a few months later. We also suggested he tackle his drugs, try and get qualifications, get re-united with his now grown-up daughter. And of course, give up thieving – for good.
A weight off the shoulders
“Even though this meeting was a few years ago, I remember it very clearly. One moment stands out particularly. Richard was talking about our old Mazda car, which we’d desperately relied on to visit my family when my father was very ill. JK had taken our car-keys and had tried to drive off in the car –but without success.
“As Richard spoke about it, JK looked at him and said “Oh yes that’s the one that had the immobiliser, I had to call a taxi to get away …”. That’s when we knew that this man could indeed remember breaking into our property, our home. And that moment of his honesty we will never forget. He did acknowledge he had been the burglar.
“We left the prison feeling like a weight had come off our shoulders, I actually found myself smiling on the journey back, as the two of us held hands, going home to our son.