ALMOST four years after having a knife held against her throat during a terrifying late-night robbery, a Teesside woman has spoken out about why she met with one of the men responsible for her ordeal.
Gemma Bailey, 34, was working at a petrol station on Teesside in December 2016 when she became victim to the horrifying incident, which saw two men threaten her, one with a knife against her neck, before they made off with money and alcohol.
She came face to face with James, one of the men behind the robbery, through the charity Restorative Cleveland, and is sharing her story to let other people know about the service.
The mother-of-three, who now works as a carer, said: “It was just a normal night. We were about to lock up so I was putting the shutters down when these two lads walked in. I thought they were just last minute shoppers but they made a beeline for me. Then it clicked in my mind what was happening.”
She added: “I didn’t even really click with the knife until it was over because I didn’t want to see it.
“All that was going through my mind was whether I was going to see my girls. That’s not a nice thing to have had in my head and it’s definitely not something I want to be thinking again.
“I made it through the front door and collapsed in a heap. I don’t know how I managed to drive home.
“I didn’t sleep that night and I’ve never really slept properly since. It’s still something that plays on my mind though the more I talk, the more I can process it and close the door on it.
“Hopefully I can close the door on it completely but I don’t think its something I can ever 100 per cent get over.”
She agreed to meet James, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, after he got in touch with Restorative Cleveland while in prison, after hearing about it from another inmate.
The charity works with victims and offenders to facilitate restorative justice where possible.
After about a year of discussions to make sure both parties were ready, they met while James was still in prison and have now met three times.
James, 34, who described the robbery as “pathetic”, said: “I was disgusted with myself. The person who did that armed robbery is not the person I am today. I was very violent, I was bad with alcohol. When I mixed alcohol with violence I was a different person. I’ve spent a lot of time with Gemma now and I’ve tried to the deal with the problems.
“I’ve never done anything like that before. We had a plan but it was on the spur of the moment.
“People’s lives got ruined that night. I’m not here to say poor me because I did it and if it wasn’t for me, Gemma wouldn’t be here.”
Through the charity, Gemma is also in touch with Victim Care and Advice Service, who provide support and counselling.
Becky Childs, service manager for Restorative Cleveland, said: “It’s a voluntary process, nobody has to do it so the people who do do it are there for genuine reasons. That’s what the process is about. We can’t undo what has happened but we can try to move both parties forward.
“It doesn’t matter which party initiates it, it is always victim led and if both parties are in the genuine position that they want to engage then it cam be beneficial for everyone.”
She added: “Everyone reacts differently so we talk a lot to make sure it meets the needs of the people involved as responsibly as we can.
“For some people reading someone’s body language is a fundamental part. For others writing a letter can be just as empowering. It’s the victims voice being heard which is the most important part.”
Analysis by the Government shows 85 per cent of victims who take part are satisfied with the process, while it is shown to reduce offending by 14 per cent.
Reflecting on the experience, Gemma said: “There’s two sides to every story. My main goal was to make him feel guilty and it worked. I think he does have that voice at the back of his head so he won’t do anything stupid.
“I wanted him to remember me every time he had a stupid thought. I had questions about what was going through his mind. I think every victim has that question of why so I wanted an answer to that.
“My colleagues thought I was nuts and I didn’t event tell my mum because I thought she would try and talk me out of it.”
She added: “I’m proud of how he has done. He’s gone from that idiot to a family man, whose working and doing the same as what my husband does every day.
“I always said a leopard can’t change its spots but I think he’s proving me wrong. I still have things to sort out but he has helped me a lot.”
Karen Storey, victim care officer for Victim Care and Support, said: “It’s so powerful. I can see the difference in Gemma and James because they have both had their voices heard.”
Martin Grange, from the Cleveland division of the North East Probation Service, said: “For me, the process is so much more powerful than having a victim impact statement read in court.
“A lot of people we work with carry around a lot of shame but there is a lot of stigma around restorative justice.
“There are two sides of a crime being committed. The impact on the victim is massive but that one crazy choice has had a massive impact on James and his family as well.”