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Sorry is the hardest word when a victim and aggressor meet

Chris Jackson | 18:07 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009

Amie and Lizzie

Amie attacked Lizzie in a Darlington street. Both were schoolgirls and it was more than a playground tussle. Amie admitted causing actual bodily harm and might otherwise have been given a custodial sentence. Instead, under a scheme being run by the Darlington Youth Offending Service, she agreed to restorative justice.

The question is; was it a tougher choice than being locked up?

Normally youngsters have their identities protected by the legal system but in this case both sides and a high Court Judge agreed we could record what happened when Amie and Lizzie came face to face.

You can imagine the atmosphere. For someone to admit very publicly in front of their victim that they were in the wrong takes a lot of courage, especially when the cameras are rolling.

Amie was not even 16 yet was expected to behave beyond her years. She couldn't quite bring herself to tell the whole story of what happened. Her account and Lizzie's didn't tally.

Because of that Lizzie's family didn't quite believe Amie when she said "sorry".

Yet that was not the end of the process. Amie had to undergo anger management and spent quite a few hours doing a type of community service.

Amie tidies up an overgrown gardenThere's now one elderly resident in the town whose jungle of an overgrown garden is a pride and joy once more.

But what of Lizzie? She was entitled to ask for a form of redress and she and her family opted for a chore. They wanted Amie to tidy up their driveway.

That might not sound much to ask after what had happened, but Amie felt like she was being turned into their servant and feared they would gloat or rub her nose in it. I know that wouldn't have happened but Amie didn't.

At the end of her 9 month supervision order she finally agreed to go. Sensing her original apology had not quite cut the mustard I asked if she'd be prepared to say it again, properly. Right up until that final moment in the film, neither she, I or Lizzie knew what would happen.

I had been in the privileged position of seeing Amie over the months and I have to say I spotted a positive change in her behaviour and attitude. Even she recognised she'd improved. The sadness for me is that Lizzie and her family didn't have the opportunity to see that.

When the two main characters came face to face again they didn't quite meet in the middle. Amie retreated into a less than convincing apology, even though I know she really was sorry for what happened, and Lizzie remained as sceptical as ever.

So did it work? The pair will never be friends, no-one expected that. Amie really has changed and no doubt has further to go, but her one-time victim has no way of knowing that.

Even if restorative justice hasn't worked for both parties in this case, Amie would say she's ultimately better off for not being locked up.

Sorry is that hardest word - accepting it is not much easier.


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