CHARLES GRAHAM - Restorative justice must not be get-out-of jail card

THE parents of Warrington bomb victim Tim Parry never fail to impress me.

Their dignity, ability to see the bigger picture and hard work in the teeth of abject trauma are legendary.

After the horrors of the 1993 IRA atrocity that took away their 12-year-old, they set about creating an international peace centre that brought together peoples from the opposing sides of long feuding communities.

And they later found the courage to meet Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein and I would like to bet that the latters’ encounters with the Parrys helped to strengthen their resolve to reject armed struggle forever.

My heart went out to Colin and Wendy again recently when the commemorative plaque in Warrington town centre was torn from its moorings and stolen.

But again they have come back with great fortitude, last week coming face to face with the men arrested for the theft at a specially-arranged meeting at the town hall.

Afterwards they expressed satisfaction that the shame-faced thieves had been truly remorseful, especially when the Parrys were given the chance to explain how the bomb had devastated their lives, what the memorial meant to them and how they felt when it was stolen.

And there is going to be a lot more of what is called restorative justice in the future, with Wigan adopting it formally this week, although it has been pioneering such practices for a decade already.

Some may see it as a cynical way of saving the criminal justice system money, a box-ticking exercise whereby a crook just has to pretend to be sorry to the victim before going back to his own criminal ways.

One of the benefits of the system is that it bypasses the costly court process, and I would like to think that in many cases it will have the desired effect.

But I also fear that in some cases, offenders are such selfish and hard-hearted people, that at the price of a few (to them) meaningless words to their prey, they could be handed “get out of jail cards.” And that will help nobody but them.