A teenage boy who was attacked by a gang of youths in a Brighton park is the first to receive an apology via WhatsApp video as part of Sussex Police’s restorative justice project.
The scheme, dubbed Restore DiverCity, gets offenders to speak directly to their victims so they can appreciate the impact of their actions and make amends directly.
It’s used when victims don’t want to press charges and would be more comfortable using this method.
The Brighton teenager was physically attacked by five other youths in a local park and had homophobic language used against him.
In his police statement, he said: “They started calling me homophobic names to which I responded, ‘You can’t call me that’. I was angry, then I sensed I was going to be attacked.
“A crowd had formed around me. At that point all of a sudden they attacked me and pulled me to the ground.”
Instead of pressing charges, he chose to write a victim statement to be read aloud by restorative justice and community resolution co-ordinator Kate Belbin to his attackers and their parents.
The statement said: “I was confused about why I was being targeted in a hateful way, but I want to forgive them. I’ve received abuse like this at school before and really don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
The statement was read out in the presence of one of his parents during a session with the offenders and their families which also explored hate crime and the law and possible implications of a criminal record on future employment, volunteering and travel.
One of the attackers said: “I want to say sorry, I feel stupid and terrible. My mum was heartbroken when she learned what had happened and what happened was beyond wrong and I don’t want anyone to feel scared.
“I know now that it was an attack on his identity. It was useful to hear the victim’s point of view and about his thoughts and feelings. I regret everything.”
The victim’s father said: “It has made a genuine difference to my son in the way the police have dealt with this.”
Sussex Police says it prefers to prosecute all hate crime offences but some victims are opposed to pursuing a criminal charge against their perpetrator in these cases, instead wishing to educate them on the harm caused by their discriminatory actions.
Under the scheme, victims can either choose to speak directly via WhatApp to offenders, or have a statement read on their behalf.
Ms Belbin said: “Often we hear ‘I want something done, I don’t want to go to court but I don’t want it to happen to someone else’.
“It is so important for us to hear the needs of our communities and to take positive action in tackling crime motivated by hate, sending a clear message it will not be tolerated.
“Hate can be motivated by ignorance or learned behaviour and the scheme seeks to address this while hearing the deeper harm caused by targeting someone for their identity.
“We have adapted the way we deliver the scheme during this time of lockdown to ensure victims’ voices continue to be heard.”
Police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne helped to establish the Sussex Restorative Justice Partnership and awarded it £246,000 last year.
From this, there were 425 successful outcomes achieved, including verbal and written community resolutions.
Mrs Bourne said: “Not every victim of crime wants a criminal justice outcome. Many just want the offender to understand how wrong their behaviour is.
“Restorative Justice is a powerful and effective process which gives the victim a unique chance to explain to the offender the impact that their crime has had upon them, their family and friends.
“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 RJ partnership which has helped hundreds of victims in Sussex to restore their faith, not just in the justice system, but in other people as well.
“The way they have adapted digitally to this crisis is commendable.”
Alex Hyatt, restorative justice delivery officer, a post funded by the PCC said: “Restorative justice for hate crime can be extremely empowering for victims and gives offender the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
“Using video conferencing didn’t take away the message and states hate crime will not be tolerated regardless of the situation.”
If you have been a victim of crime and want to learn more about the RJ services available in Sussex please visit: https://www.safespacesussex.org.uk/faqs/restorative-justice-rj/