Two brothers, both heroin users, went into a petrol station one night and forced the three staff to hand over the money from the till. The older brother held a knife to the female manager’s throat and told her that his brother had a gun. One staff member escaped and raised the alarm, and, although the men ran off, they were caught later. At the time of the conference, the older brother was in prison (sentenced to nearly four years) and the younger one was on remand awaiting sentencing.
The conference took place in prison and was attended by the two brothers, their aunt and all three victims. Preparation took place with all the participants. When they came together, everyone was very nervous – one of the victims was shaking and the offenders both stared at the floor. In the first stage of the conference the facilitator asked the offenders to give an account of the offence – they found it difficult and needed prompting.
The next stage was for the victims to explain how they had been affected, in the short and long term. The manager had been severely affected – she thought she was going to die, and since the offence had suffered from sleeplessness and extreme anxiety, requiring medication. She could not go out by herself and her relationship with her partner nearly ended because of the stress. She was also worried about possible retribution from the offenders when they were released. The two male victims were also traumatised by the offence, feeling helpless and guilty for not doing more to stop the offence and protect their colleague. All three victims lost their jobs when the petrol station closed because of all the thefts. The offenders’ aunt told the group of the effects of the offence on the rest of the family – the older brother had refused contact from the family because he felt too ashamed.
The offenders began to realise the extent of the suffering they had caused. They reassured the victims that they had not been singled out, and told them they had not had a gun, would not have harmed them and had no thoughts of retribution. They explained their circumstances before the offence, and this led to a greater understanding from the victims.
By this time everyone had become more relaxed and at ease with each other. The third part of the conference focused on how the harm done could be put right. The agreement contained an apology and ways in which the two brothers could prevent anything similar happening in future. At the end of the conference, the participants went into the corridor for a smoke and a coffee, and stayed talking informally for over an hour – something unthinkable before the conference.
After the conference the facilitator contacted all the participants. Both brothers were determined to go straight. The petrol station manager said the conference had been a life changing experience – she no longer lived in fear and could now get on with her life.
Source: Marian Liebmann’s book, ‘Restorative Justice: How it works’ (2007, Jessica Kingsley Publishers)