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Dealing With Emotions Rather Than Evidence, an Interview with RP Trainer / Consultant Claire Denby-Knight

What first attracted you to Restorative Practice (RP)?

To be honest, I was frustrated with the way the police treated some people. I found that the police often criminalised people as a default. For example, if a 15-year-old is stealing food, they are quickly labeled a thief. However, the issue of why that 15-year-old stole that food in the first place may never be properly addressed. In my 10 years working as a Trainer in law and diversity with the West Midlands Police Force, I was constantly struck by how the police don’t seem to help out those who have fallen into crime – and don’t have the time to fully explore the causes . They are programmed to criminalise. That’s why I was pleased to be selected for RP training and now work as an RP facilitator and trainer myself.

RP Trainer / Consultant Claire Denby-Knight

What were your first experiences with RP and how did you know it was something you wanted to do?

In my first few years in the force I had the privilege of spending a day with Jill Saward, the victim of the Ealing Vicarage gang rape, in which she met one of her attackers. The offender came forward to introduce himself and ask for forgiveness. She responded by saying that she forgave him years ago. I didn’t know back then that what I was looking at was Restorative Practice, but that meeting had a lasting impact on me. I was floored by the courage of both parties, the power of the peaceful outcome of the meeting and how it just felt right.

"Of course, sometimes I thought it might be quite nice to be full of hatred and revenge. But I think it creates a barrier and you're the one who gets damaged in the end. So, although it makes you vulnerable, forgiving is actually a release.”
– Jill Saward, Daily Telegraph interview, 2006.

After working in both, what do you think are the biggest differences between the judicial system and Restorative Practice?

The fundamental difference is blame and how that blame is placed. In the judicial system, the finger of blame is pointed at the offender, whereas in Restorative Practice offenders point the finger of blame at themselves. Furthermore, in the Judicial System the victim is often silent or not allowed to speak in court. The victim has no automatic right to speak in court about their feelings towards the crime. It’s at the judge’s discretion whether their victim personal statements are read aloud, while the offender has the right to speak and defend their actions, or remain silent.

In Restorative Practice, both the harmer and the harmed have a chance to speak and must decide together what the outcome of their meeting will be. For example, in the case of young people who offend on public transport, they can arrange to clean the buses they vandalised rather than pay a fine in court or do community service.

What do you love most about Restorative Practice?

I like that it gives people the chance to change. I see neighbours who have been arguing for years finally settle their disputes. I see families brought back together. It takes courage, but I think the chance to change is an opportunity that you don’t get often and that most people want to take.

I heard a great quote recently that the best form of apology is a change in behaviour and that’s really what I’m looking for in Restorative Practice. I never ask either party to apologise, but they often do so anyway. I’m always impressed by the bravery of those who come forward to meet each other. Many people believe that it must be harder for the victim to meet the offender, but often it’s the offender who is more reluctant and fearful.

RP also creates an equality; we realise we are more similar than we think. One particular case I worked on involved a man who would shout homophobic abuse at a concierge. In RP, the abuser talked about the discrimination he suffered because of his race and disability, which had fueled him with hatred that he wanted to let out. The concierge also revealed his own experiences being sexually abused at a young age and how these particular insults had really affected him. They realised they had more in common than they had initially thought. Again, we didn’t talk about apologising, but the abuser couldn’t wait to meet and apologise to the concierge.

How would you like to see RP progress in the long-term?

A long-term goal for me is to see RP integrated better into the judicial system. At present, everyone should be offered RP because of the Victim Charter, but they often don’t accept the programme for whatever reason. Victims and offenders don’t speak up for fear of judgement and really the police sometimes struggle to facilitate it, as, in my experience, they are better skilled at dealing with evidence than emotions.

On the flip side, Restorative Practice can be applied outside the realm of criminal justice too. I’d also like to see more Restorative Practice implemented in HR, in schools, in public services, in communities and everywhere else besides. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes is an invaluable experience and skill to learn. Of course, that kind of progress takes a lot of patience. I’m just taking it all one step at a time.

Conflict, Resolved

Love Thy Neighbour: How Restorative Justice Can Create Community Harmony

Tensions are high right now. The world is changing and that change is not just happening on a global scale, it’s happening in small ways in our communities too.

Perhaps you’ve noticed tensions in your own neighbourhood? They could be politically motivated and affected by recent news, based in anti-social behaviour, or they could just be frustrating annoyances in the background that are bubbling up to the surface. They could be as trivial as arguments over loud music, kids playing in the street, or dogs that aren’t kept on a leash.

That’s where Circle of Justice comes in. We’re looking to help communities like yours by using our restorative justice expertise. We want to help alleviate those tensions and, ultimately, work towards community harmony.

What Is Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice (RJ) gives offenders and victims the opportunity to meet, talk to each other and find positive ways forward through the conflict. This system of justice focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders rather than placing the blame and is proven to create genuine behavioural change.

Can Restorative Justice Achieve Harmony in My Community?

Yes. Restorative justice is statistically proven to be an effective solution for ASB, neighbour disputes, criminal damage, bullying, hate crimes and numerous other situations of conflict. This method of intervention can prevent reoffending and helps those involved achieve a mutual understanding.

Circle of Justice has a proven track record of achieving harmony in restorative justice cases just like these. We are also restorative justice consultants and can provide training courses to teach others how to use restorative justice techniques to achieve long-lasting results.

How Can I Get Involved?

At present, restorative justice is mostly being used in cases where an event or dispute has already happened, and offers a single solution. Now, Circle of Justice wants to start implementing Community Harmony Plans, with the aim of using restorative justice as a launch pad for harmers (and those harmed) to become involved in community programmes.

Your local Community Harmony Plan can include training community leaders to become restorative justice facilitators, setting up ‘restorative justice surgeries’ as places where people can go to resolve issues and get advice, or any other solution specific to your community.

Why Trust Circle of Justice?

Circle of Justice Founder and Director, Claire Denby-Knight, is a restorative justice trainer and facilitator with an impressive track record of using restorative justice in criminal, educational and housing settings. A former police officer and law trainer for the force, she is also the author of Restorative Justice – A Positive Way Forward.

Previous Students’ Feedback:

"Very well structured training. Ideal mix of theory and practical sessions. Open, positive learning space. Engaging and incredibly knowledgeable trainer" B.S

"The course was a real eye opener for me and I am excited about trying these new skills" E

"The best training I have attended" A.C

The truth is, there has never been more crucial time than now to work on community harmony. Whatever is happening in your local community, it’s essential that we start learning to listen to each other and communicating openly.

Contact Claire at or call 0121 659 6549 to make an appointment to see how Restorative Justice can make a difference.

Let’s commit to working together.

Restorative Practice in Education

I have recently completed some intervention work at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), catering for some very challenging key stage 2 and 3 students. This was an experiment to test whether there is a place for RP in such a hostile environment, hence my appointment.  My first case involved two teenage boys, one of whom was bullying the other, culminating in him threatening the lad with a snooker cue.  In a bid to avoid criminalisation, my skills were called upon.  At the end of the conference, the assailant became quite emotional and offered a full and heartfelt apology, and multiple fervent handshakes. A wonderful relationship then ensued with the ‘victim’ helping his former bully in his maths and ICT studies, and the assailant helping the harmed with his football skills, until a return to mainstream schooling intervened. 


Bullying also formed the basis of my latest case wherein a highly abusive and aggressive student had persistently abused a member of staff, who ultimately was at a loss as to how to stop the torture. Both parties had the courage to partake in an RP conference, despite the student initially refusing to accept responsibility. Eventually she understood the impact her actions were having on the staff, and offered to attend an anger management course.

Overall, I have to say that it was an honour to be the first person at the Unit entrusted with embedding RP into the culture, but, having seen it offer these troubled young people the chance to make different - positive - choices, I found it to be very successful – and something I firmly recommend.

Conflict, Resolved

Neighbour Disputes and ASB - Compare Restorative Intervention with Mediation as Effective Solutions

When seeking solutions to neighbour disputes and ASB, we have found a Restorative approach to be very effective. An alternative option is mediation which many housing professionals choose. Here are 6 differences between them:

Mediation Restorative Intervention
• No pre-requisite that parties take responsibility for their actions • Essential that parties take
• Can be forced • Voluntary
• Can include blame • Does not apportion blame
• Participants are told what the
solutions will be
• Participants create their own
• Enforced solutions • Positive ways forward
• Doesn't require reflection • Reflective practice
We have used a Restorative approach in our work as case busters for many neighbour disputes and ASB cases that were at stalemate and where complaints were constant and escalating. But views on when to choose Restorative Intervention or Mediation differ.