“When Ruth awoke to find her home being burgled, with her granddaughter in the house, she no longer felt safe in her own home. Meeting her burglar and finding a mutual understanding helped her move on.”
“It was 2am and I heard a noise. Thinking I was imagining it, I went out to the bathroom but on the way back I heard the kitchen doors banging and that’s when I knew for certain someone was in the house.”
“My first thought was for my granddaughter. She was seven years old at the time and I went straight to her room to check that she was asleep, which thankfully she was. I can’t imagine how scared she would have been if she had woken up.”
“I realised I’d have to go downstairs to phone for help.”
“After my husband passed away and my baby grandson died, I had begun to worry about getting telephone calls late at night and I’d got into the habit of unplugging the phone before going to bed. I hadn’t brought my mobile phone upstairs with me, and I realised that I would have to go downstairs to get a telephone to call for help.
“It was the middle of the night, and I was so frightened that I did things without thinking. I accidentally rattled the dog’s stair gate as I was trying to get downstairs and I even turned on the light before realising that this could alert the person downstairs that I was awake.”
“I crept downstairs, trying not to wake my granddaughter or make any more noise that the burglar might hear. I could see that he’d smashed the patio door and broken the locks and I could hear him going through the drawers and cupboards in the kitchen.”
“I got my phone and crept back upstairs, relieved not to have to confront him on my own. I went to the room where my granddaughter was still sleeping and closed the door, then locked myself in the en-suite bathroom and called my brother. I hated to leave my granddaughter in the room asleep on her own but I didn’t want to wake her in case she made a noise and alerted whoever was downstairs.”
“I was so afraid for my granddaughter.”
“I’m not sure why my first thought was to call my brother but he lives nearby and I knew he’d come straight to me. He said he’d be there in a couple of minutes and then I called 999. The operator did his best to calm me down and keep me on the line, because I was so afraid for my granddaughter. He reassured me that the police were on their way.”
“The next thing I heard was an almighty scream, which even the 999 operator was shocked by. I was petrified but I was quickly told that the police had tasered the burglar – the source of the scream – before arresting him on the spot. He had apparently got in through the tiny downstairs bathroom window and he’d damaged the shed as well as the patio doors and the kitchen. He had done nearly £5,000 worth of damage using a huge crowbar.”
“Once I realised that the police had control of the situation, I asked them if I could see him. I was very angry and told him to his face what I thought of him. He made excuses and said that he didn’t know what he was doing, that he’d taken drugs and that he hadn’t meant to break into my house. I found out later that he had recently returned home one night to find his mother had committed suicide in the garage. He had then started to take drugs on a regular basis and was on drugs the night he broke in.”
“I next saw the burglar – Joseph* – in court around four months later. I didn’t really know what to think – despite my late husband having been a policeman for around 33 years, I’d never been to court before. The judge said that in 99 cases in 100 he would recommend a custodial sentence but that he would give him this one chance, and to be honest, I did feel sorry for him. The burglar pleaded to see me but I couldn’t face it so my daughter and sister-in-law went to see him. He was full of remorse and I felt better that they’d spoken to him. They could tell that he was very sorry but I just couldn’t see him.”
“Joseph looked very nervous. I told the story of what had happened from my point of view. He kept apologising over and over and repeating in disbelief that my granddaughter was asleep in bed”
“Apparently, Joseph wrote to me but I didn’t receive it until several months later. He still wanted to meet me and he explained his very sad circumstances and background. I wrote back around Christmas time to let him know that I had forgiven him and that I knew that it was his first Christmas without his mum – it was my first Christmas without my husband so I could understand his pain.”
“Out of the blue, Joseph’s probation officer got in touch to say that he’d still really like to meet me in a restorative justice conference and I agreed. The probation officer facilitated the meeting and prepared me for it and talked to me about what would happen. I felt supported and reassured by the time I went into the meeting.”
“My sister-in-law came with me. Joseph looked very nervous. I told the story of what had happened from my point of view. He kept apologising over and over and repeating in disbelief that my granddaughter was asleep in bed – he seemed shocked by his actions. Joseph said he remembered going out but he was so out of it that he didn’t remember breaking in or where I live. It was very emotional and we even hugged at the end. I know my husband would have wanted me to give him a second chance. He believed that everyone deserves a chance and so I was determined to give him that.”
“I could finally get to sleep at night.”
“After meeting Joseph I felt such relief – it meant I could finally get to sleep at night. Before, I used to take down anything hanging on the wall in case it fell and made a noise that would scare me. I even peered in through the windows from the outside to see what someone outside could see. It really damaged my sense of safety in my own house and I considered moving. Since the meeting, I feel a lot better – not 100% safe, but perhaps that will come with time.”
“Joseph has said that he will keep in touch and I hope that he will keep me updated. I really hope it helps him to get on with his life. He has a lot of support and as he has a child of his own to look after now, he has every reason not to break the law again.”
*Joseph’s name has been changed.
(This case study was resourced with acknowledgment and consent from the Restorative Justice Council, 2020).