Criminal Damage –
Michael appeared in the District Court where he pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal damage. While visiting his mother in a senior citizen residential complex, he deliberately damaged seven parked cars. Before making a final decision on what sanction to apply, the sitting Judge referred the matter to an NGO which delivers restorative justice.
During his meetings with the NGO Caseworker, Michael said that he had been misusing alcohol for many years. On the day of the offence, he consumed a significant quantity of alcohol before embarking on the visit to his mother. At some point near the end of the visit, he became angry at his own situation and position in life. On his way out of the complex, he damaged several cars and was verbally abusive to some of the neighbours who tried to intervene. He could not explain or justify his actions; he told the Caseworker how he had grown up locally, knew some of the residents in the complex and had always got on well with them.
Within a short space of time after the incident, Michael admitted himself into a rehabilitation centre. By the time the matter came before the Court and was referred to the NGO, around 16 months had passed. He had completed his rehabilitation programme, was sober and had gained employment within the rehabilitation centre. However, he had never returned to the complex where his mother lived.
Michael and the NGO Caseworker discussed the possibility of a facilitated meeting between him and some of the victims of the offence. Michael confirmed that he was happy to meet with all or a representative group of the residents who had been directly affected. The NGO then made separate contact with all the named victims, informing them about what happened in court and the range of restorative justice options available to them, if they wished to participate.
All the victims responded positively to the approach, and it was agreed that they would attend a meeting with the NGO to discuss the available options together. At this meeting, the victims spoke about the impact of Michael’s behaviour on themselves and the residential community more widely. It was proposed that:
- each victim should receive a letter of apology;
- each victim would accept a nominal sum as a contribution toward repair of the damage;
- two of the group (Tom and Ben) would represent the victims and the wider residential community in a facilitated meeting with Michael.
Michael subsequently agreed to these proposals and the facilitated meeting was arranged, as a victim-offender mediation, to take place in a common room within the residential complex.
By arrangement, Tom and Ben arrived first. When Michael arrived, they both shook his hand.
As was agreed in preparation, Michael was offered the opportunity to speak first. He described the incident and his challenging relationship with alcohol. He understood that his behaviour on the day was unacceptable and that he had left some residents of the complex frightened, inconvenienced and at a financial loss. He talked about his embarrassment and the shame he had brought to his mother, who was a resident within the complex. He went on to speak of his time in the rehabilitation centre and his new, sober life. He apologised to Tom and Ben and presented his letters of apology for distribution to those victims who were not present.
Tom and Ben spoke to Michael about how the offence affected them and the group: the loss of their sense of security and peace of mind, as well as the financial loss. On behalf of the group, they said that they forgave Michael and expressed happiness that he entered into rehabilitation and completed the programme. They said that he was welcome back to the complex as long as he made a commitment to stay sober and refrain from causing further harm. Tom stated that he had known Michael’s grandparents, and he believed Michael was ‘from good people’.
Michael thanked Tom and Ben for their forgiveness, understanding and willingness to allow him back to the complex. He committed to behave in the future and apologised again. At the end of the meeting, the group acknowledge the financial arrangement that was finalised in advance of the mediation. The meeting then concluded.
When the matter returned to the District Court, the Judge decided to give Michael a Dismissal under the Probation of Officers Act, Section 1.1. This left him without a criminal conviction.