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Almost 9 years ago back in the autumn of 2006, I moved back to Ipswich with my 3 children after living abroad for 6 years.
We thought Ipswich would be an easier way for the children to reintegrate back into English culture than moving to an unfamiliar town.
Within weeks suddenly Ipswich was on the map for all the wrong reasons, local news, national news and international news.
Young women were disappearing and then a body was found. And another. And another.
In total the bodies of 5 young women were found, all naked, and it was reported that they were probably killed elsewhere and dumped in the surrounding countryside.
A serial killer was on the loose. It was portrayed in the media as the new “Jack the Ripper”.
I was so delighted that my youngest son has managed to get a place at a very good primary school as he only had one year before high school, a huge leap having never attended an English school. Its location hadn’t been a problem when the other two attended before moving abroad. But now it was a real problem, it was on the edge of the ‘red light district’ and one by one the bodies found were identified as prostitutes known to frequent the London Road, just around the corner from the school.
I remember many times parking as close to the school as possible, sometimes in residents parking areas as I was nervous walking on my own to collect my son. I remember one afternoon parking and hearing on the radio another body had been found; at the same moment I was approached by a traffic warden insisting that I move my car from residents parking whilst taunting me with the possibility of a parking ticket. I refused and relayed what I had heard but he was adamant that I move to a car park which happened to be in the heart of the area where these women were last seen.
A concession was offered; I was told to run as fast as I could to fetch my son from school and if I was less than 5 minutes I wouldn’t get a fine. It was an unnecessary pressure upon me. No wonder these people are despised.
What on earth had happened in the last 6 years that I had been away, how could this small town have changed so much?
What had I brought my children back to, why did we come back to Ipswich; doubt crept in. Had we made a huge mistake?
Yes it affected London Road residents but it went further than that, like a ripple effect. I felt vulnerable, scared and cheated, our landing back in the UK had come with a bump.
Even now 9 years later my kids don’t like me parking on the 2 hr free parking in the area whilst I nip into town.
The film ‘London Road is being shown tonight at the Ipswich Film Theatre, I had considered viewing it but have decided not to. Why put myself through those 3 to 4 months again.
Did life get back to normal? …Not at all
In 2001 Lord Justice Auld recommended: ‘The development and implementation of a national strategy to ensure consistent, appropriate and effective use of restorative justice techniques across England and Wales’ (Auld, 2001, p. 391 para.69).
Last month the ‘Restorative Justice Action Plan for the Criminal Justice System’ was launched. “This action plan is a joint commitment to develop a more strategic and coherent approach to the use of restorative justice in England and Wales. It sets out the steps that will be taken to achieve this aim”.
This is an important step, but I have been reflecting on why it has taken more than a decade from Auld’s original recommendation to publication of the action plan itself.
In his ministerial forward Jeremy Wright MP states, “Restorative justice has the potential to break the destructive pattern of behaviour of those that offend by forcing them [italics mine] to confront the full extent of the emotional and physical damage they have caused to their victims”.
True. But why does Wright use the term “forcing them”?
Contrast this with the definition of Restorative Justice taken from Marshall (1999, p. 5) which is one of the most widely quoted. It states:
“A process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future”
Earlier in his ministerial forward, Wright says “The benefits of restorative justice are well known by those working within the sector. 85% of victims who go through restorative justice conferences find it helpful [italics mine]”.
Is the best criteria to evaluate restorative justice as to whether it was “helpful” or not? I guess it depends of what is meant by helpful.
This reminds me of Andrew von Hirsh’s comments (Von Hirsh et al, 2003) when he observed participant satisfaction [italics mine] as being a criteria used to evaluate Restorative Justice, yet there was no explanation as to why “satisfaction” was an appropriate and meaningful criteria.
Auld, Rt. Hon. Lord Justice (2001) Review of the criminal courts in England and Wales: Report. London: The Stationery Office.
Marshall, T. (1999) Restorative Justice: An Overview. London: Home Office Research, Development & Statistics Directorate.
Von Hirsch, A., Ashworth, A. and Shearing, C. (2003) ‘Specifying aims and limits for restorative justice: a “making amends” model?, in Von Hirsch, A. Roberts, J., Bottoms, A. E., Roach, K. and Schiff, M. (eds.) Restorative Justice and Criminal Justice: Competing of Reconcilable Paradigms? Oxford: Hart.