Even if we didn’t live in such a rugby mad county, it would have been difficult to miss the story of how the former captain of Wales, Gareth Thomas, became the victim of a hate crime.
The 44-year-old former British Lion, who came out as gay in 2009, was assaulted in the centre of Cardiff by a 16 year old “because of his sexuality”.
Gareth Thomas, as he appeared on social media after the attack
No-one should be the victim of abuse because someone else disagrees with how they live their lives.
By contrast, Thomas, a giant of the sport in every sense who won 100 caps for Wales and also captained the British and Irish Lions, requested his attacker was dealt with through restorative justice.
Often reduced to initials, RJ puts victims’ needs at the centre of the criminal justice system and encourages people to take responsibility for their actions. So, when I was elected the first time and was asked to fund Restorative Gloucestershire, I agreed on condition it was recognised as an integral part of the police and crime plan.
There is strong evidence that being able to explain the impact of a crime helps the victim overcome its longer term effects. Thomas said himself that he wanted to spread a "positive message". And there’s evidence too that RJ enables the offender to make amends and improve their chances of not re-offending.
Just how, came from a more low-profile case where a young person was arrested after he was spotted breaking into a church in Cheltenham and stole a large TV screen. Under our ‘Children First’ initiative, the church indicated a willingness to meet and the offender, difficult at first, eventually agreed to do so.
The victim who witnessed the theft expressed his fear on the night; the offender apologised and volunteered to make amends by helping on a church lunch day for local people in need. Both described it as a valuable experience and there are encouraging signs the young offender learned a lesson and is keeping out of trouble.
Restorative Gloucestershire plays an important role in getting satisfaction for victims and rehabilitating offenders. It has won a number of national and regional awards and is recognised as one of the leading restorative services in the UK.
As we reach the end of International Restorative Justice Week, I am proud that RJ and Children First have prevented over 200 local young offenders from being criminalised.
(This article also appeared in the Citizen and Echo newspapers)