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The day we hugged our son’s killer

Vi and Ray Donovan. Steve Meddle/Shutterstock

In 2011, 10 years after Ray and Vi Donovan’s 18-year-old son Chris was murdered, they met one of his killers, says Matthew Syed in Radio 4’s Sideways podcast. Aged 15 at the time of the incident, he was the youngest of the three teenagers convicted for the crime – a gang randomly attacked Chris and his brother Phil one Friday evening. At the time Vi felt she wanted to kill them. But at their meeting the young man hugged Ray and, after Vi said she forgave him, burst into tears.

This was part of a programme of restorative justice, which focuses on helping the victims of crime rather than placing an emphasis on punishment, as in criminal justice. It often involves offenders meeting victims, as the Donovans did. This carries a risk of reopening emotional wounds, but when done with sufficient preparation, it can help both victims and perpetrators move on, and cut the latter’s likelihood of reoffending.

Ray helped the young man find a job, and he and Vi eventually met all three of their son’s killers. All admitted their guilt, and one, Steve, took flowers to Chris’s grave. Steve told Vi that through their meeting, “you gave me back my life”. Vi replied: “I think you gave us back ours too.”

Listen to the podcast here.