Guest blog: Lady Valerie Corbett - Restorative justice & grief

17 November 2016

Lady Valerie Corbett

It takes someone brave to confront the person who killed their loved one. I am not sure I could do it.  But hearing stories of restorative justice does makes me realise that hatred is quite soul-destroying so I suppose anything which minimises it must be good. That's logical but emotionally, need to confess I am still unsure I could write to, or face, my child's killer. And yet many do and say it helps their grief.

I met some offenders in the Isle of Man jail - which won the second Robin Corbett Award -and one told me: "I wasn't selling to penniless individuals who had to rob houses to get the money to buy cocaine; everyone who bought from me was well-off with a good job, who could easily afford it. If they didn't get it from me they'd get it from someone else."

But then this young man met Gill.

Her beloved son was murdered a few weeks' shy of his 18th birthday, by someone "off his head on drugs." Through their letters and meetings this offender, serving his sentence for dealing in drugs, realised the truth about victimless crimes.

There aren't any.

He says meeting Gill convinced him he will never sell drugs again. I ho9pe he keeps to his word.

The Forgiveness Project, a London charity, was another worthy winner of a Robin Corbett Award. It's a secular organisation which "collects and shares real stories of forgiveness to build understanding, encourage reflection and enable people to reconcile with the pain and move forward from the trauma in their own lives."

The stories of forgiveness on their website they say demonstrate that forgiveness is a personal journey: a visceral process with no set rules or time limits. It is not dependent on faith and it is often just "as mysterious as love". ( 

Marina Cantacuzino founded the Project in 2004. She was a freelance journalist writing articles about ordinary people's struggles and triumphs: the challenges they faced with their relationships, their health, and their work. As a result, she became acutely aware that far more effective than reporting on the views of experts and analysts, was being able to share the authentic voices of people who had lived through difficult experiences - like Anne-Marie Cockburn. 

In July 2013 Anne-Marie Cockburn's 15-year-old daughter, Martha, spent the afternoon in an Oxford park with friends when she took a half gram of pure crystallised MDMA (ecstasy) which killed her. A 17-year-old man was given an 18-month supervision order for supplying Class A drugs. Anne-Marie's book 5742 Days  (the number of days Martha lived) chronicles a mother's journey through loss.

"I haven't felt angry as I've converted my anger into positive action," she says. "I have looked for positive and healthy ways to cope because if I don't find ways to be happy in my new life I will not survive. I have never focussed much on the offender because I don't need retribution. What he did was very unfortunate but he didn't do it deliberately. I hope he does something good with his life, something he can be proud of.

"I have exchanged letters with him through the Community Liaison team. After 2-3 letters I felt there was a real shift in the dialogue. I could see he'd taken responsibility for what he'd done and that it was weighing heavily on his young shoulders. I was touched by some of the things he said and through reading his words I could hear his voice. Through the dialogue it was as though we were sharing how the loss of Martha has profoundly affected both our lives."

Video: Parents meet the man who killed their son

Lady Corbett  is the widow of Robin, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale who died in 2012. Because he was passionate about prisoner rehabilitation and was Chair of the all-party Penal Reform Group for 10 years until he died, she has established an Award, with the Prison Reform Trust. It provides funding for charities doing the most to support ex offenders by finding them a place to live and a job.60% of ex-offenders return to prison within two years. That figure drops to19% when they have a job.The Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation is chaired by Lord Ramsbotham (a former Inspector of Prisons) and is presented annually in the House of Commons.