“I was on my way to the gym, but when I went outside to get my bike it was gone, and so was the small tree I’d chained it to – there was just a big hole in the ground. The tree was eight feet tall, so not exactly tiny, and I was really sad and angry that someone had dug it up.
“Yes, it was ‘just a bike’ but it made me angry – I earned that bike, it was mine. The experience left me feeling very mistrustful..."
“Then came the tedious process of calling insurance companies, reporting it to the police and all the other small inconveniences involved when you’re the victim of a crime. It was really upsetting and I was blaming myself for having left the bike outside. Yes, it was ‘just a bike’ but it made me angry – I earned that bike, it was mine. The experience left me feeling very mistrustful.
The insurance company were very quick, and within two weeks I had a new bike with new lights, a mud guard and a lock. But because of the excess on my policy, I was still around £200 out of pocket.
“A few months later I got a call from the police, telling me that they had my bike and asking me to give a statement. Apparently, my bike theft was one of many so I didn’t have to go to court. The police told me that the offender was stealing bikes to order and selling them on eBay, using his girlfriend’s computer without her knowledge. He was a prolific offender and his actions had got his girlfriend into trouble. She had no criminal record and she stayed with him after she found out, which was one of his main reasons for wanting to ‘go straight’.
I’m a restorative justice practitioner and so this was an opportunity to see the process from a different perspective.
“In October 2014, I was contacted by Restorative Gloucestershire to ask if I would be interested in a restorative justice conference with Joe, the man who stole my bike. I’m a restorative justice practitioner and so this was an opportunity to see the process from a different perspective. But just because I hold restorative justice meetings as a practitioner for a living, it didn’t mean I felt comfortable being there as the victim – it’s different when it’s you.
“Because Joe had already served his time in prison, I felt that his wish to make amends and to meet me came from a positive place. He wasn’t getting anything out of it, the only reason to meet was to make things right and to apologise – he’d already had his punishment.
“Preparation is the key and even with me, where I knew the whole process inside out, there was still careful preparation.”
“I’m a firm believer in restorative justice. Preparation is the key and even with me, where I knew the whole process inside out, there was still careful preparation. By the time the meeting came along I was confident that it would go smoothly. I was glad, because I was still very nervous and lay awake worrying about it the night before.
“I’m not sure why, but I thought that Joe would be quite aggressive and not sorry at all. I didn’t think he’d engage properly with the process but he seemed very nice and was genuinely sorry.
“Normally, when I facilitate meetings as a practitioner I have to be completely unbiased, so it felt strange being able to express my feelings and opinion.”
The meeting lasted about 90 minutes. The facilitators didn’t let him give half answers and they helped me to explain why I was upset and what the tree had meant for me. It flowered every year and had been planted when my house was built – I had loved it. Normally, when I facilitate meetings as a practitioner I have to be completely unbiased, so it felt strange being able to express my feelings and opinion.
“Joe said that he’d agreed to take part in restorative justice because he realised that at the age of 37 his life was going nowhere. He had two kids and he felt he was setting a terrible example for them. He’d been a burglar, and had never held down a job, and he wanted better for himself and his family.
“He had two kids and he felt he was setting a terrible example for them. He’d been a burglar, and had never held down a job, and he wanted better for himself and his family."
Joe offered me money, but I said I wanted to hear that he’d moved away from crime, into a job, and that he was doing well. I suggested that to gain people’s trust he should do some voluntary work – it wouldn’t be easy for him but it was possible.
“After the meeting I had a cup of tea with Joe. He told me about his children and his girlfriend and he asked about me. It was really relaxed in the end – we even shook hands. I felt much better than when I went in and I felt hopeful for him. I felt satisfied that I’d done it. Your imagination can build the offender up to be a sinister presence in the dark – a big bad monster seeking to do you harm personally. The reality is that they’re just checking every house for an opportunity to steal, there’s rarely a personal intent to harm you in particular.
“I’d recommend restorative justice every time. Crime can feel very personal and usually it’s not.”
“By meeting the offender they become powerless – insignificant and humanised – and you can move on. You feel empowered by being able to say what you feel. I felt like Joe was wriggling like a worm on a hook and could barely look me in the eye – it wasn’t an easy process for him to go through.
“Although I’m a bit biased, I’d recommend restorative justice every time. Crime can feel very personal and usually it’s not. Restorative justice can help you find a perspective that makes you feel less targeted and safer in your home.”