Celine’s* mother was killed when the car she was travelling in was hit in a head-on collision. The driver who caused the accident was convicted of death by dangerous driving and sent to prison for three and a half years. Here, Celine explains the impact of the crime and how restorative justice allowed her to rebuild her life.
“My mum and I were extremely close. She was my rock and my moral compass. I loved her. When Mum was diagnosed with cancer, I started travelling from my home in Oxfordshire to hers in Hull every weekend. Eventually, I moved back to Hull on my own to be with Mum as she went through treatment – she had lumps in her breasts and then in her lungs removed. It was a terrible time, but we were so happy when we were finally told she was in remission.
“Just two months later, the police came and told me that my mum had been involved in a car accident. She was supposed to have been with me that weekend, but I had quite a bad cold so she didn’t come to stay as we were protecting her while her immune system was weak.
“The police told me that Mum was at the hospital so I assumed she was alive. Then, when we got to the hospital, the nurse told me the wrong name – for a moment, I was hugely relieved that there had been a big mix-up. That made the shock even worse when I found out that Mum was dead.
“I lost six weeks of my life because I didn’t know where the hell I was. I had a complete breakdown - there aren’t words to describe it.”
“I was told that I couldn’t have my mum’s body for a funeral because the offender, Anneka*, was allowed to request a second post-mortem. It took Anneka nearly two weeks to make her mind up about that, which was quite devastating.
“I lost six weeks of my life because I didn’t know where the hell I was. I had a complete breakdown - there aren’t words to describe it. It’s extremely difficult for people who haven’t experienced it to grasp the depths of it.
“The court process took two years, and Anneka pleaded not guilty until the day of the trial. Finally, she changed her plea to guilty and was bailed for a pre-sentence report. By that time, I’d had enough - I couldn’t keep coming to court, and I needed an end to the process. For me, it put everything on hold. I didn’t grieve – I couldn’t even register my mum’s death until over twelve months after the accident. The whole thing was horrendous.
“I was put in touch with two restorative justice facilitators, Edwin and Avril, and they were fantastic.”
“I was familiar with the criminal justice system through my work in probation services, and I asked in my victim impact statement for restorative justice to be part of the sentencing. I felt that it would be important for me and Anneka, in helping to give me some peace and to make her understand the full impact of what she’d done.
“I was put in touch with two restorative justice facilitators, Edwin and Avril, and they were fantastic. They talked me through the process and explored what I might get out of it, and what would happen if my expectations weren’t met. They came to see me three or four times before the meeting and would visit Anneka afterwards, shuttling between us for about eight months to prepare us for our meeting.
“During that time, I prepared questions and looked at the emotional impact of sitting in the room with someone who’d killed my mum – to me, she seemed completely oblivious to what she’d done. Edwin was able to help me balance myself a little because it could have been too emotionally driven to the point where I might not have achieved anything that I’d wanted. His support, and Avril’s, was absolutely fantastic.
“Anneka wasn’t aware of the isolation that she caused me and the many, many other effects her actions had caused.”
“Everything about the meeting was organised in advance, from the layout of the room to when there was going to be tea and coffee to deciding that I would go in first. There were no surprises whatsoever, which made it a lot easier.
“I spoke first. I talked about the emotional impact of losing my best friend, of not being able to function properly – including in my job – because of it. My mum and I were extremely close and losing her was like ripping off one of my arms. Anneka wasn’t aware of the isolation that she caused me and the many, many other effects her actions had caused.
“I was able to be very frank, and I was able to ask questions. It was never meant to be about hitting her over the head with things - it was about making her fully aware of the grief and the pain, and the extra pressure of having to go through a very long criminal justice process because she wouldn’t take ownership and responsibility. Finally, the penny dropped and Anneka understood how bad the impact was on me.
“Anneka apologised, and it was a genuine apology. I don’t think she ever set out to do what she did. And I needed to see her remorse.”
“She told me that she thinks about my mum every day and she was clearly remorseful - that was the first time that I had the opportunity to see that from her. It was hugely valuable to know that she does think about my mum, she does think about her actions and she is trying to make things better in her life.
“Anneka apologised, and it was a genuine apology. I don’t think she ever set out to do what she did. And I needed to see her remorse.
“The meeting was done in a very respectful, considerate way for both of us and I actually gave Anneka a hug before I left. Afterwards, it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulder. I felt a lot lighter.
“I’d absolutely recommend restorative justice to other victims of crime.”
“I think I did what my mum would have wished for, which was about forgiveness. I’ll never forget, but I have that element of forgiveness and meeting Anneka made that possible. I needed to do it and I don’t think I would be in the position I am now if I hadn’t.
“I’d absolutely recommend restorative justice to other victims of crime. It’s about sharing and understanding. It’s a forum where you are able to share those things which have probably gone unnoticed – because people don’t understand – and it gives you the opportunity to be heard.
“It’s also a chance for the offender to feel the pain that I did, but with remorse and understanding that they’ve got a second chance and they need to live their life in the best way they can.”
The RJC would like to thank West Yorkshire NPS Victim Liaison and Restorative Justice Unit and Celine for sharing her story with us.
*Celine and Anneka’s names have both been changed.
© Restorative Justice Council 2015 – do not reproduce without permission.
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