Emma* grew up in a large family, but she was always close with her older brother Dean*, who had learning difficulties.
In 2002, Dean was stabbed 18 times and died. He was just 28 years old.
Dean had been at a house party when one of his friends Steve* became paranoid because of the drugs he had taken and attacked him. Dean tried to escape but collapsed and died on the kitchen floor.
Forensic evidence later showed it would have taken half an hour for his body to shut down.
Emma said: “Every single night before I go to sleep, I am plagued by thoughts of my brother lying cold and frightened on a strange floor just waiting to die. I wonder if he desperately thought that help would arrive, or if he thought about us, his family.
“We’ll never know, and it tears me apart.
“If I was to try to describe how it feels to have someone that you love so much torn away from you in such a violent and cruel way it wouldn’t be possible. There are no words to describe that feeling. Even now I don’t feel settled, I have part of me that has been taken away and there will always be a hole in my heart that can never be fixed. It’s a horrible feeling and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Dean’s death had a massive impact on the family. Emma said: “Unable to cope with his grief my dad, who already had a problem with alcohol hit the drink even harder. Three years after Dean died my dad also passed away, he literally drank himself into an early grave. He was consumed by grief and guilt because he felt that he hadn’t been there to protect his son. We are all plagued by guilt that we hadn’t done anything to protect him, even though we couldn’t possibly have known what was going to happen that night.
“The death of Dean hit us hard as a family. My brother turned to drugs and is now serving a lengthy prison sentence. My older sister never speaks about it, she finds it too difficult. I have lots of nightmares and spent years searching for an answer as to why Steve stabbed my brother. I tried a counsellor to help me with my grief. As soon as she asked me my name I burst into tears and couldn’t speak for the rest of the session, I never went back because I found it too difficult to deal with.”
Years after Dean’s death, Emma wrote to Steven in prison and begged him to tell her why he had killed her brother. To her surprise he replied, saying his judgement was clouded because he was so full of drink and drugs.
Emma said: “As time passed I became worried about date of Steve’s release and the effect that it would have on our family. I found it difficult to imagine him living his life when we were struggling to come to terms with his actions. I imagined him laughing with his friends and joking about Dean, or even worse – hurting someone else.
“I decided that I wanted to speak with Steve face to face and to show him the pain that his actions have caused. It felt like the only way that I could move on and feel assured about his imminent release into society.
Emma was aware of restorative justice from her law degree and after speaking to a local police officer she decided to find out more. She said: “I thought long and hard about what I wanted from the meeting. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do to hurt Steve and I certainly didn’t want to behave in an undignified manner. I just wanted closure. I wanted him to see the pain he had caused face to face so he never does anything similar again.
“On the day of the meeting I saw Steve before he saw me. He looked a lot different from the cocky young man at the trial. I stood before him with every inch of my body trembling with fear and emotion, I even sat on my hands so he wouldn’t how much they were shaking and looked at the last face that my brother ever saw, I looked into his eyes, something that I had wanted to do for so long and I saw him fighting back tears as he studied the emotions in my face.
“He began to speak about the events of the night when he took my brother’s life and explained how sorry he was about the crime he had committed. He carried a folder with him detailing the different courses that he had taken and the studying that he had done whilst in prison. He explained about an employer who was so pleased with Steve’s progress that he had a job waiting for him when he was released and explained that he lived his life in my brother’s memory.
“He also explained that he would spend the rest of his life crippled with guilt over his actions, he told us about his mum and family and the shame they had suffered because of his actions that night. Unbeknown to us, Steve had two daughters that had grown up without their father and had been bullied because of his violent crime.”
Emma added: “The meeting with Steve lasted for over 2 hours, we spoke at length about his progress and I was pleased that he was taking the opportunity to make things right after his terrible crime. I felt it was important that the Restorative Justice meeting was a positive experience and I forgave him for the terrible crime that he committed towards Dean.
“My brother was not a malicious person and I felt that this was something that he would have wanted me to do. The experience helped me to move forward with my life and it was a great comfort to me that Steve agreed to take part.
“We discussed his release to an Open Prison and because of the particular discussion that we had, and the remorse he had shown I had no objection or worries about it. After being able to meet with him I believe that he is a changed man and as a result I feel able to move on with my life in a positive way.
“Nothing will bring Dean back and his death will always be a tremendous loss but the restorative justice process helped me to get closure from my brother’s death and move on.”
* Names have been altered to protect identities
Accessing Restorative Justice in Merseyside
If you're interested in finding out more or think restorative justice could help you, you can find out more on the Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company's website here.
You can contact the RJ team on 08452660761 or email.