When Christine’s stepfather was released from 12 years in prison, restorative justice helped her to face her fears about meeting the man who’d murdered her mother.
"My mum and Martin, my stepdad, had quite a fiery relationship. Martin was an alcoholic. He didn’t drink at home, but he’d go to the pub at every opportunity. He didn’t work unless there was something he needed money for, like going to the races.
"Martin came into my life when I was two and, along with my mum, he brought my three younger brothers and myself up. His way of disciplining us would be a slap round the head, and he’d get very aggressive in his tone. We grew up quite scared of him.
"There are lots of instances I can remember where they’d have a fight, and mum would end up with a bruise. My mum was no angel, she had quite a sharp tongue on her, and that was his way of dealing with it. They loved each other, but the two of them together just weren’t a good match. I don’t think I ever saw him hit mum when he was sober, but when they both got drinking, they’d fuel each other and he’d take it that step further.
"I didn’t think that would be the last time I actually spoke to her."
"There was a police station round the corner, and I used to tell my mum to go and tell them what he was doing to her but she never would. One day they were having a row and I picked up a breadknife – it was nowhere near sharp, you waved it back and forth and it wobbled. I stood between them, and he got really cross with me and chased me up the stairs. I stood my ground and said, 'If you come anywhere near me ever again, I will report you to the police, and you leave her alone.'
"But just before mum died, my relationship with Martin changed. I was about 19, and I was still living at home. I think mum had got to the point where she’d had enough, and she disappeared for about three days. I think it scared him a little bit, and he tried to change, but mum had had enough, and she was nit-picking at him all the time. I still had a good relationship with mum, but it was weird – it kind of turned around, and I was sticking up for him. And then it went horribly wrong.
"The night it all happened I was decorating my bedroom, and I didn’t have enough paint, so I sent mum over to the shop. I got a bit cross because she got the wrong paint – it was something and nothing, but I didn’t think that would be the last time I actually spoke to her.
"Dave, my boyfriend, came round because I was going to stay at his house for the night. As I was leaving, mum and Martin were having an argument, and he wouldn’t let me in the bedroom to say goodbye to her. I just said goodbye through the door and I left. They argued a lot, and I didn’t think anything of it until I got a phone call the next morning from mum’s boss telling me that I needed to go and see my nan.
"There wasn’t any question in my mind about what would happen to my brothers – I took on the role of mum from that moment."
"When I arrived the police were there and I was told what had happened. Then I had to break it to my nine-year-old brother Daniel, who had been next door when it all happened. There wasn’t any question in my mind about what would happen to my brothers – I took on the role of mum from that moment. I was 20 years old, and I didn’t even think about it. We were family, and we were staying together.
"The details of what Martin had done came out gradually. Mum had gone to work, and Martin had been at home looking after Daniel. He had gone next door and asked if they could have Joseph and then gone to the pub. Later, he ended up at the pub where mum worked, and drank quite a lot, and I think mum had a couple of drinks before they left. They got into an argument, which carried on when they got home. Martin strangled my mum. The description I heard in court of what he’d done is still stuck in my head – I don’t think it will ever go away.
"Martin was sentenced to life, with a minimum of 12 years. He went for bail before he was sentenced, and I opposed it, which caused a rift between my grandfather [Martin’s father] and me. From that point, I didn’t have any support from that side of our family. Because our house was in mum’s name, we became homeless. That meant that I had to pack up all of mum’s clothes and get rid of them really quickly because I had nowhere to put them. That’s my biggest regret – there are so many things I’d love to have kept, but I wasn’t thinking straight.
"I knew there was a danger I might one day bump into Martin on the street... I didn’t want to be in a situation that I couldn’t control.
"Around 12 years after mum’s death I knew Martin was coming up for parole. Dave and I had two children of our own by then, and I knew there was a danger I might one day bump into Martin on the street. That’s what I was really worried about – if I met him in the street and I had my son and daughter with me, I had no idea if I would lunge at him, if I’d freeze, if I’d break down – I didn’t want my children to see any part of that. I didn’t want to be in a situation that I couldn’t control.
"Our Victim Support liaison officer mentioned restorative justice as a possible way of dealing with that first meeting. Charlotte Calkin, a restorative justice facilitator, gave me a ring to arrange a meeting. As soon as she came round, she completely put me at ease – I just felt safe. I felt in control – I knew that I was in charge, and that it was my decision whether or not to meet Martin.
"Charlotte was very good – she didn’t sugar coat it. She said it was going to be really hard, probably one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do. But she said I was going to have Dave’s support, and her support. She said, ‘If you want to get up and leave, you can get up and leave. You don’t have to sit there, you don’t have to speak – it happens when you’re ready.’
""I wanted answers. He had to explain what happened that night."
"When the day of the meeting finally arrived, it took me a long time to actually go into the room. I’d not talked about what had happened for a long time and going over the details with Charlotte had brought it all back to the surface again – I’d really worked myself up, and I was shaking and angry.
"When I eventually did go in, I couldn’t look at him. If I didn’t have Charlotte there, prompting me, I don’t think I would have said anything at all. Because it was Martin sitting there, I just reverted back to being a child again. That’s why I’m so pleased I did it, because that would have been how I would have reacted if I’d seen him in the street.
"I wanted answers. He had to explain what happened that night. And I told him what he’d taken away from us – that was the big thing for me. I told him that he’d taken away my mother. She wasn’t there the day I got married, or the day I had children. My children are never going to meet her, and I’ve got to tell them, one day, how she died. I wanted him to realise that it’s not just what he did, it’s everything that has followed on after.
"I stopped being scared of him – I grew up in that room."
"I’d like to say he took it all in, but I don’t think so. It was amazing for me. The biggest thing is that I stopped being scared of him – I grew up in that room. What I saw when I did look at him was an old man with grey hair, a lot slenderer than I remembered. He had been this big, long dark-haired man, but that’s not who was sat in the chair opposite me, and it made me feel a bit stronger.
"I’ve always said – and I still stand by this – that I’ve never hated him. I’ll never forgive him for what he’s done, but I don’t think it’s in me to hate anybody, because I think it’s a waste of emotion. And at the end of the day, there’s a part of him which will have to live with this for the rest of his life. It’s not just what he’s done, it’s what he’s lost as well. He’s lost us.
"Restorative justice turned the tables, and I don't feel like I'm a victim any more."
"For me, restorative justice turned the tables, and I don’t feel like I’m a victim any more. I’m in control now. If I want to see him again, then it’ll be my choice. If I want to take it further I can, if I don’t, then I’ve said what I needed to say.
"When I left that meeting, I did think that there could be some sort of reconciliation at some point in the future, because regardless of what happened, Martin was my father figure from the age of two. Ever since bringing the boys up, I’ve always told them that if they want to go and see him they need to go and see him, because he’s their dad. And I think that’s probably why I’ve never hated him, because he’s part of them."
(Image used is a file photo)
The RJC would like to thank Christine for sharing her story with us.
© Restorative Justice Council 2015 – do not reproduce without permission.
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