When victim meets offender

Since 1 April 2002, under the Youth Justice and Criminal
Evidence Act 1999, first-time offenders aged 10 to 17 who admit an
offence have been issued with a referral order by the courts to
help them take responsibility for their behaviour. Orders are based
on restorative justice, where a contract is drawn up by the young
person and their parent or guardian in negotiation with a panel
comprising two lay members and a member of the youth offending
team. Reparation for the victim should be part of the


Last April, 16-year-old George Hoffman* and his friend, Matt
Brown,* took the car that belonged to Matt’s mother, Daisy,* while
she was on holiday.
George says he drove the car to impress his younger friends:
“Everyone else in the area drove stolen cars and I wanted to be one
of the lads. The car was automatic and I thought I’d show the
others I could drive it to be hard.”

While driving, George felt “nervous and excited” but also concerned
about breaking the law and his passenger’s safety: “Matt tried to
put the music on but I stopped him. I made out it was because I
didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves but really I just wanted
to concentrate.”

But draw attention to themselves they did. George and Matt were
spotted driving and the police arrived at George’s home. He
considered jumping out of his bedroom window because he was scared
but decided to face the music.

George appeared before South and West Hertfordshire Youth Court, an
experience he describes as “like being in a movie, where I was the
bad guy”. He was worried about the punishment he would receive. He
says: “My worst nightmare was being sent to a juvenile prison. I
wouldn’t have been able to handle it. The cells are really small
and you are shut away with nothing to do.”

During the hearing George apologised to the court for his actions,
a move that impressed the judge who said he had never seen anyone
do this before. For taking a car without the owner’s consent George
was handed a five-month referral order, 15 hours’ community service
and six points on any driving licence he obtains within three

As part of the referral order George had to attend a weekly
addressing offending behaviour group organised by Hertfordshire
youth justice services with other young people on referral orders.
Initially he was reluctant to talk about his crime with others in
case they made fun of him but over time they built trust. “It
helped to talk to them about it openly and say what I had done
without having to be all macho,” George says.

A youth offender panel decided George should write a letter of
apology to Brown and meet her to discuss his actions. He thought
she would “start ranting and raving at me” if they met but agreed
to go through with it.

George attended the meeting with Matt and his mother, his social
worker and two panel members. He wore “casual smart clothes to make
a good impression and show her I wasn’t all bad”. He did not see
the meeting as a chance to justify his actions but to

He also wanted Brown to see the scenario from his point of view as
he had learned to do for her. “I was quite upset that she was going
through all of this because of the part I’d played,” he says. “I’d
thought about covering my own tracks and not what the consequences
were for her.”

George is grateful he went through the reparation process, although
he would not want to do it again. He is pleased he has paid his
dues and believes it has made him a better person.

“Numerous times people have asked me if I want to jump in a car,
but I have said ‘no’ if it was stolen. If I don’t go then neither
do my friends, so I am getting them out of trouble too.”


Daisy Brown* was on holiday when her ex-husband phoned to say their
14-year-old son, Matt, and his friend, George, had been spotted
driving her car.

She had put the keys in a chest of drawers and had not anticipated
her son removing them. “I was shocked that Matt had done this to
me,” she said. “He knew the car was essential in terms of me
getting to and from work.” Brown and her ex-husband were also
concerned that George and Matt could have killed someone while
driving illegally.

The two teenagers were each issued with a five-month referral
order, which included the stipulation that George met Brown to
apologise. She was keen to meet George again – whom she had not
seen since the trial – so she could tell him about the consequences
of his actions in her own words.

For a start, Brown’s neighbours had complained to her private
sector landlord about Matt’s antisocial behaviour. The landlord
served her with an eviction notice and she, Matt and her
12-year-old daughter had to leave their home. On top of this,
Brown’s car was written off because of the mechanical damage caused
by George’s driving and she had to rely on public transport.

If Brown’s car had been taken by a stranger she says it may have
been easier to deal with because she would not have been
emotionally involved with the individual. “I had invited George
into my home and he was one of my son’s friends,” she says.

She was nervous about meeting George. “I am not good at
confrontations at the best of times,” she says. But she knew George
would attend the meeting with his mother and therefore she would
not have to deal with any “attitude” from him. Brown was invited to
speak first about how she felt and told George about the
devastating impact his behaviour had had. “I just let everything
out,” she recalls. “My voice was cracking because seeing him again
brought back the nightmare of all that had happened.”

As Brown spoke she says George kept his head lowered. “Obviously he
was embarrassed and ashamed and it made me think there was a scrap
of decency in him.” When she told George about her family being
evicted she thought he looked shocked. “He didn’t realise what
taking my car would result in. It was really cataclysmic and led to
a downward spiral of events.”

Although Brown was angry with George she tried to remain coherent
so he would understand her position. George is older than Matt, but
Brown blames her own son more for taking her car and felt like a
failure when it happened. “I wondered what I had done wrong in
raising him,” she says.

She recommends other victims of crime meet the young offender
involved in their case if they feel able to. She feels she
benefited from it and says a person needs to have “that extra
something to look the offender in the eye and face their demons”.
Such meetings give the individual a chance to express their
feelings, she says, to the person who “violated them”. She adds:
“It may just be a stolen handbag to the young offender but for the
victim it is all the other things that come out of it.” 

– For more information telephone Peace on 0151 637 6060; the Tulip
Project on 0151 637 6363; and Parentline Plus on 0808 800

* All names have been changed

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