Page last updated at 19:50 GMT, Monday, 17 November 2008

Offending youngsters face victims


Dorset offenders face their victims

Offenders as young as 10 are meeting the victims of their crimes in a new project being piloted by Dorset Police.

The restorative justice scheme is an alternative to giving young people aged between 10 and 17 criminal records for minor crimes.

The victims decide if the case can be handled through the new scheme, which has been running since May.

Specially trained police officers have carried out 96 restorative reprimands over the past six months.

More than 96% of the victims said the meeting with the offender had helped them to deal with what had happened.

In one case, a 12-year-old boy who threw a stone that damaged a newly restored carriage on the Swanage Railway met the volunteers who run the historic attraction in Purbeck.

Reconstruction of the incident on Swanage Railway
A reconstruction shows the damage caused to the railway carriage

Mike Whitman, chairman of the Swanage Railway Trust, said: "I was absolutely seething inside.

"I thought: 'How can one person cause so much grief and so much havoc?'"

The boy said it was not easy to face his victims.

He said: "You sit in a room and and they ask you questions and stuff, which is really hard to take.

"I know people would learn their lesson and would never do it again."

Mr Whitman added: "I think, as a result of the meeting, he was well aware of the error of his ways and how much grief he could have caused and how he could have seriously injured someone."

Pc Jon Sweet, who was involved in the meeting, said: "It has real resonance, it means something.

"For people coming into this room, it is not a soft option. They make a commitment to people and they often keep to it."

Ch Supt Lynn Hart said the scheme gives police a choice in how to deal with youngsters committing very minor crimes.

"[The crimes] are generally the result of childhood naivety and inexperience rather than any criminal mastermind, for example a fight in a playground, throwing stones that damage property or stealing sweets from a shop."

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