Restorative justice in action

Meeting a murderer persuaded David that a career in probation was for him.

A meeting with a former paramilitary and convicted murderer in Northern Ireland gave Probation Service Officer David Masters his first insight into the power of restorative justice and persuaded him that a career in probation was for him.

Restorative justice is a scheme which holds offenders to account by bringing them face-to-face with the victims of their crime to understand the real impact of their crimes and take responsibility. Wales Community Rehabilitation Company (Wales CRC), which provides probation services for medium to low risk offenders, runs and promotes such schemes across Wales.

Prior to joining Wales CRC’s Swansea office David studied Reconciliation Studies at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast where one of his tutors was Alistair Little, a former member of the Protestant paramilitary organisation Ulster Volunteer Force.

How Liam Neeson played a part in David’s probation career
In 1975, Alistair, then 17, shot dead a 19-year-old Catholic in front of the victim’s 11-year-old brother. He was sent to prison for 13 years. Years later his story was made into the award-winning film Five Minutes of Heaven, which starred Liam Neeson. The film featured a powerful and fictional interpretation of a meeting between Little and his victim’s brother, who was played by James Nesbitt.

David explains: “My degree course in Reconciliation Studies was about bringing together the communities in Northern Ireland after the Troubles. As part of that course I got to meet Alistair and that had a profound effect on me.”

“He was very relatable and that’s when I realised that offenders are people who’ve made mistakes – sometimes big mistakes - and the acts they have committed can shape their whole life.”

“Alistair regretted his actions for his whole life. And the fictional reimagining of the meeting between Alistair and his victim’s family in Five Minutes of Heaven gave me an insight into the power of restorative justice.”

After moving to Swansea, David decided to train to become a restorative justice volunteer at HMP Swansea, which later led to him becoming a full-time Probation Service Officer with Wales CRC. The company provides probation services for low to medium risk offenders and works with offenders and victims to support restorative justice interventions.

David says: “The highlight of my restorative justice volunteering involved a student who had been burgled meeting the man who burgled him. It was interesting that the offender saw students as wealthy, and so believed that targeting them would have little effect on their lives. Meeting the student was powerful for him. He was nervous before the meeting and showed respect for the victim’s feelings and questions during the meeting. From the victim’s perspective, it was useful for him to talk through the impact of the crime. By talking to the offender, the victim learnt he wasn’t specifically targeted, and that the offender was apologetic.

“Restorative justice is important because it brings offenders and victims together. It allows offenders the opportunity to face up to their actions and to offer an apology. Victims, for their part, get answers to their questions, which can help them draw a line and find some peace of mind.”