'There's no point in a third life being cut off in prison': mum of Kettering man killed by drink-driver backs restorative justice
Quite understandably, many families who have lost loved ones in road accidents would not want to meet those responsible.
But for Kettering mum Sue Donnelly, meeting the man who killed her son and his girlfriend was never far from her mind.
Sue’s son Stephen was just 26 when he lost his life in a head-on collision on the A14 westbound near Kelmarsh in 2013.
William Wilson was twice the drink-drive limit and driving the wrong way down the carriageway at the time of crash, which killed Stephen and his partner Mandy Gold, 21, instantly.
He was later jailed for eight years, but was given the chance to show remorse when Sue and her husband Mark visited him in prison in Doncaster.
The process, called restorative justice, was fairly new at the time – and Sue hopes it will go some way to help both their lives and Wilson’s.
Speaking to the Northants Telegraph as part of national Restorative Justice Week, she said: “We were really, really scared about meeting him.
“Prison is a really formidable place and you don’t expect to go there so you’re not prepared for it, especially to meet the man who’s been responsible for killing your son.
“We were treated with courtesy and given a room by the chaplain which was comfortable and the warder stayed with us all the time.
“They brought William in and he was asked to explain what happened that night. He didn’t contradict what he said in court.
“He was truly repentant and was really sorry for what he’d done.
“He did a stupid and foolish thing but he is not a bad man. It was a massive error of judgement.
“Because of what we went through you have to hope that the restorative justice will help him to build a positive life.”
Wilson, of Brigg in South Humberside, is due to be released next year.
While Mrs Donnelly, who teaches languages locally, believes Wilson is truly sorry, she says it will never replace the pain she suffered.
She said: “Him coming out of prison is not something I think about, it’s not relevant to my life in any way really.
“I felt that he was a man who understood the gravity of what he’d done and is a changed man.
“I saw a man of remorse who was prepared to say sorry and recognised the damage he’d done to our lives and Mandy’s family.
“It was hugely emotional.
“Time is not a healer. The grief doesn’t go away, the pain doesn’t go away.
“But the fact that William was able to say sorry to us and we were able to offer him forgiveness was important to us.
“It was very intense but it was a release for us, if you like, a letting go of that part of things.
“It doesn’t bring Stephen back but Stephen would have told us to do that, he would have been up for that and believed that was right.
“He was everything any mother could have wanted.”
All victims of crime are now entitled to restorative justice, provided the perpetrator admits responsibility and both parties agree to it.
Gary Williams, service delivery manager for Restorative Northamptonshire, says it can help everyone in the long run.
He said: “Restorative practice brings those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for it into communication.
“To play a part in repairing that harm and finding a positive way forward is a big thing in the long run.
“All victims of crime are entitled to receive information about restorative justice.”
Restorative justice was something that then-PCC Adam Simmonds was keen to facilitate in Northamptonshire and it was he who introduced the Donnellys to Restorative Solutions, which organised their meeting with William Wilson.
The process has also been backed by current PCC Stephen Mold.
He said: “Victims of crime must be at the heart of everything we do – these are people who have been affected by crime through no fault of their own and who need our support to ensure they cope, recover and thrive following any incident.
“Restorative justice has been proven to help people come to terms with crime and aid the healing process, which is why I believe everyone should have the right to access restorative practices.
“The use of restorative justice has also been shown to prevent crimes through resolving conflict at early stages, and therefore helps to lessen the demand placed on our police services.
“For these reasons I’m committed to offering this support through Voice and would encourage anyone interested in restorative justice to read more at VoiceRestorative.org.”
Mrs Donnelly says she does not favour a ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ approach and that she had no qualms about the sentence Wilson received.
She believes that restorative justice can be a positive approach for all parties in the future.
She said: “I think the word restorative is a very big word.
“When you restore something you attempt to put it back to how it should be.
“Justice has to be served by the courts so you can’t take away the sentencing and punishment.
“I’m not in favour of a ‘locking someone in prison and throwing away the key’ type of approach.
“Sanctions have to be applied but you want justice to be done to both parties and if they want to restore things in some way then it’s an excellent process.
“There isn’t another one to match it.
“It’s an extremely positive procedure and it doesn’t have to involve people saying sorry and forgiving each other, but it’s facing up to what you’re doing.
“We felt there was no point in a third life being cut off in prison.”