Fraud victim praises restorative justice during International Restorative Justice Week
A man who underwent restorative justice with a former employee who stole £150,000 from his company has praised the process which helped him to feel “that justice had worked”.
This week marks International Restorative Justice Week which sees events take place all over the globe from 19-26 November to raise awareness and promote the benefits of restorative justice (RJ).
In Sussex, the award-winning Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership was established by the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner in September 2014. It is made up of more than 20 agencies which have an interest and commitment to deliver restorative services to victims and offenders of crime, including the National Probation Service, Her Majesty’s Prison Service, Sussex Police and Victim Support.
“Restorative justice is a powerful and effective process which gives the victim the chance to explain to the offender the impact that their crime has had on them,” says Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne.
“As PCC, I remain fully committed to giving all victims the right to access restorative justice if they want it.
“I'm immensely proud of the work of our award-winning Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership which has helped hundreds of victims in Sussex to restore their faith, not just in the justice system, but in society as a whole.”
The man, who will be referred to as X, was defrauded of £150,000 over four years by a woman hired as an office manager. Y was sentenced last year to three years’ imprisonment and the pair had a restorative justice conference in November 2016, made possible by Sussex Police, Victim Support and Sussex Pathways through the Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership, at the prison where she was six months into serving her sentence.
Here, in his words, X describes his experience:
“Our interaction with the restorative justice process was led by me; some colleagues thought they might want to also engage in restorative justice, but the crime was against the company and I am the owner.
“The RJ team and I had several meetings; in the end, there were another three or four meetings with the RJ facilitators and they had four or five interactions with Y in prison, including discussions via the prison staff to ensure that she was willing and what she was willing to talk about, as well as making sure I was prepared for the different kind of interaction. We had literally only been working together for 4.5 years and then had two HR meetings after the discovery of the thefts, witnessed by HR specialists and very formal, and then the court procedures. So we had had no other direct personal contact and yet it had been extremely emotional for me. During the unpicking of this, I had got to that point where I was so numb with conflicting emotions that I was tearlessly crying almost every day. You’re just kind of cried out but you don’t stop crying when you discover the next thing…
“I did lots of research and tried to prepare myself, read some academic papers, books and so on to understand her psychology and why she did it. But in the end, the RJ facilitators told me I also had to treat the emotional impact of this and try not to be totally in control during the restorative justice conference, in command, removed…. but instead to use the opportunity, if you want, to say it how it is.
“The conference lasted three hours: it was very emotionally charged but I still in the end exercised a degree of restraint because I wanted to get through so much stuff, I wanted to be able to say things to her and hear her response. I knew that she was very fragile and I felt that I could shut it down if I just flew off the handle at her.
“Maybe it’s just my nature but there were so many things that I wanted to be able to put to her, things that we had discovered that were really upsetting and then there were some other things that she never properly admitted to. I think she had done so many deceitful things that she wasn’t able to face all of them at once in her own head… I felt like I still played a role and the purpose of that role for me was to get the maximum done in the length of time that was allocated and what I thought she might be able to speak about without melting down or clamming up.
“I felt very well prepared… I got most of what I wanted from it; it was long and we sort of hung in there and kept on talking. In a way, the thing I hoped to get from it was ‘Why on earth did you do this to us?’… I didn’t really get to that because I feel that she can only face a certain quantity of what’s happened. I’m quite alert to her deflecting and managing the admissions because of what happened in our HR meetings before; you need to be conscious of the fact that it might be just another very plausible story.
“I couldn’t just be myself, cursing and swearing and saying ‘I can see what you’ve done’ and throw a load of sh*t at her because it wouldn’t be productive. I had been her employer; I hadn’t been her friend outside of work but I trusted her completely with doing the job that she was there to do.
“I probably went up to what I sensed was the boundary of when it was going to be productive. You might think it would have been productive to hurl this thing at her but I don’t think it is. Unfortunately my friends, family and partner have had to go along on this nasty ride with me and they have been hugely supportive, as well as our clients and contractors. We were strong anyway but my god, did it show us how strong we were. So it taught me a lot.
“I was emotional and we got through a lot of boxes of tissues between us, but not in terms of hurling insults or abuse at her. I felt justice was done, it was as simple as that.
“The good thing about going to restorative justice when I did was that, yes, I felt deeply hurt but I felt that the justice process had worked. I felt that any custodial sentence over six months was going to feel like real prison for her.
“All in all, I guess you could say that I went to the conference feeling quite balanced in myself that at least what had happened was fair and just, so I didn’t have any bad feelings around that which I think was a very good thing as it would have poisoned the process of having that time with her. So it could just be focused on ‘What the hell was going on during that time?’ - we went back to the beginning and went through it, year by year, act by act that I had discovered she had been doing.
“The great thing was that the RJ facilitators had laid all the groundwork before the conference so only had to guide the conversation at times. It was great that they were there but it was essentially me and Y talking, everything kind of segued naturally. You have your opening personal chance to speak and then it just went on… when I was speaking, I said what I had to say and then it went naturally into my first question. Then that went on for two-and-a-half hours until the prison officers came in and said ‘okay, it’s time now’. At that point, I was sat on the coffee table holding her hand and so it felt totally wrong for it to end so abruptly. But that was their job so they took her out, because the time had elapsed, and they took her into an adjacent room. Myself and the RJ facilitators felt that it wasn’t the right way for it to end, that Y and I should get a chance to say goodbye. They went in and negotiated with the officers for a little more time so they brought Y back in so we embraced and then she went.
“I feel we have a pretty amazing system, of course it has its flaws but the restorative justice process for me was amazing. I was endlessly grateful for the commitment shown by the people involved.”
You can watch a video about this case at https://youtu.be/ZLCOz6EjIgY
Notes for Editors:
The award-winning Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership was established by the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner in September 2014. It is made up of more than 20 agencies which have an interest and commitment to deliver restorative services to victims and offenders of crime, including the National Probation Service, Her Majesty’s Prison Service, Sussex Police and Victim Support.
The partnership has invested in three RJ co-ordinators across Sussex and trained 45 facilitators, who are either paid, staff volunteers or from a partner agency, at its three hubs in Brighton, Bexhill and Bognor Regis.
Last year the partnership achieved the Restorative Services Quality Mark, proving that restorative justice services in Sussex are delivered to national standards. And in April 2017, the partnership was awarded the Investment Strategy of the Year at the inaugural Public Finance Innovation Awards for its use of Ministry of Justice funding.