Fatal Collision: Sister Meets Driver Who Killed Her Brother
Many people would keep the deceased’s family and offender apart, leaving questions unanswered, shame unexplored, and bitterness to cause stress and even physical illness. Restorative Justice offers the opportunity for understanding and helps make things better for both the victim and the offender.
They sat together, face-to-face at a Young Offender Institution. The driver, in custody, and the sister of the young man he had killed. A Prison Officer was there for the offender and the Family Liaison Officer was there as support for the sister and the facilitator.
It was December 2006 when I asked, “What happened back in June 2005?” and, in front of the deceased’s sister, the offender went silent for a time. After gentle prompting, including allowing the silences to linger, he painfully described the fatal incident.
He was driving a borrowed car around Sheep Hills, with his friend, the deceased, in the passenger seat. They both regularly drove cars even though disqualified. He explained how they came to be in that car on that night but it was hard to remember when everything was such a blur.
He drove at speeds in excess of 60 mph and the fun turned to tragedy as the car, out of control, hit a stack of bricks and a wall. He was injured but his friend – the victim’s brother - was killed instantly.
He pleaded guilty at the Crown Court and was sentenced. There was even an unsuccessful attempt by the prosecution to increase the sentence. He had no insurance at the time and failed to provide a blood sample to test for alcohol or drugs. The court disqualified him from driving and gave him a 2½ years custodial sentence and he was released in 2007.
I asked him who he thought was affected by what happened. The driver paused and then broke down into tears as he reeled off all those affected on both sides.
The sister talked about her brother and her family. She explained how her mother couldn’t face the visit and that she had even kept it from her brothers, but she had questions and she wanted answers. She talked about how she felt the justice system had prevented her from finding out what she needed but she listened intently to his answers about what he did and what he was thinking.
Implications for the Future
The driver desperately stated how sorry he was and that he would happily swap places with her deceased brother. She had thought he was ‘thick-skinned’ and did not care but now realised he had 'genuine remorse'.
I asked the sister what would help her family and, rather than punishment, she said through tears on both sides: “I want you to achieve something… in the name of my brother.”
She didn’t want him to hang around with criminals; he needs to keep out of trouble and only drive when legal. She also recognised that he needed help too and, despite having refused counselling in the past, he agreed to it now.
The driver stated that he wanted to visit the grave of his friend to say goodbye. This was a difficult point, as the rest of the family may not understand, but the sister wanted to help by arranging a visit later.
The outcome agreement may seem woolly to some but it is what the participants wanted:
* Offender to undergo proper driver training when legitimate to do so.
* Offender to undergo counselling prior to release (1st session arranged for following day).
* Sister to facilitate visit by offender to deceased's grave to say goodbye.
* If deceased's mother ever felt the need in future, he would agree to meet her for a restorative conference.
The sister stated at the conclusion that she found the process very helpful and therapeutic. She said she could rest easy now knowing that the offender was “suffering as they were and not just glossing over it.” The offender also said that the meeting had done him good. The prison officer stated that, in 12 months, they had never been able to get beneath the offender's 'veneer'. They had never seen him affected like this - they had only seen anger and frustration.
On the route home, the sister described how the restorative approach made the meeting a success. While she had not been sure what she was going to say, she had never expected to get under the offender’s skin in the way that occurred in the meeting. The meeting certainly went better than she had ever envisaged.
If you are interested in finding out more about how Restorative Justice might help you and you are based in Kent, please give us a call on 0800 783 1583 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be glad to help you.