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‘I met the man who left my husband disabled’



In 2011, Dawn’s husband was grievously assaulted in a random attack near their home in Nottingham.

He was left disabled, with life-diminishing injuries.

The perpetrator, Paul, received a lengthy prison sentence after pleading guilty to the offences. Several years after the attack, he began the process of restorative justice.

Restorative justice unites those who offend with their victims. Its aim is to repair the harm and help those involved find a positive way forward.

It can have a huge impact on reoffending rates, with those who use it less likely to commit another similar offence when they leave the prison system.

Dawn’s meeting with Paul enabled her to find out why he had attacked her husband and determine that he was sorry for the impact it had on their lives.

Stuart and I got together in 1997, when I was a teacher and Stuart was a scientist. We spent a year travelling the world and got engaged while we were away. When we came back we got married, got a house, got jobs. One of our main hobbies was going to lots of gigs. Every weekend we travelled around the country to see different bands.

In April 2011, we were getting to the point of considering having children. Before that we were having too much fun, but once you get into your late thirties you start thinking you won’t be around forever.

One weekend, I was in Brighton with my mother, and Stuart was in Nottingham. We’d been in touch a few times that day, but when I texted him before going to bed, I didn’t get any replies.

I thought it was a bit odd. I tried ringing and didn’t get any answer. Something in my gut made me think that something was amiss. I drove all the way from Brighton to Nottingham, ringing all along the way, and knowing I was going to find something I didn’t like when I got there.

At our house I could see he’d not come home that night. I texted the pub landlord, who said he’d been there earlier but left when the pub closed around midnight. No one else had seen him. I knew that something was wrong.

I rang the hospitals, but I couldn’t get through to the right people. I tried the police station but they didn’t have him. So I just had to sit and wait, knowing that I was going to get a knock on the door from the police.

At our house I could see he’d not come home that night. I knew that something was wrong.


In the afternoon, a few hours on, a knock came on the door and my stomach churned. They asked if I wanted to go and sit down. I said: “No, just tell me, is he alive or dead?”

They said: “He’s alive but…” That was enough. They could tell me the rest on the way to the hospital.

Stuart had been walking home when he was assaulted by two strangers just around the corner from our house. All they could tell me at that point was that the people had been detained at the scene. They warned me that they’d started a murder investigation because they didn’t expect him to survive.

When I saw Stuart, he was in an induced coma. They couldn’t tell me if he was going to wake up, or if he did wake up if he was going to be able to walk, speak or breathe again.

After five weeks, he finally woke up and was able to move his eyes a little bit. I was told that might be as good as it gets, but I was still so grateful and relieved.

When he started being able to move his eyes for yes or no, that reassured me that he could understand things. Eight days after he woke up, he was moved to a specialist centre for people with strokes and brain injuries.

When his memory started coming back, he could remember me and his previous girlfriend, but he couldn’t remember which one was current. Luckily that made me laugh – I was just grateful he recognised me.

His memory is still all over the place. He describes it as a filing cabinet where everything has been pulled out, thrown up in the air and then misfiled. Lots of the things that we use to work out our associations with memory have gone. It can make things really confusing and difficult.

When he left the centre we did physio on our own at home. Our mantra is ‘every day is a physio day’. I left work and spent 18 months at home with Stuart, working with him every single day.

Stuart’s chronic fatigue is a big change. If we’re planning a night out now, we’ve got to plan in enough rest the few days before. We have to make sure there’s somewhere he can sit when we’re out, and get a taxi there and back. The next day, he’s completely wiped out. We can’t go to festivals any more. We can’t even go to London for a gig because the stress of all the travel is too much, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything. It’s really changed how we can enjoy our social life.

Dawn met with his attacker as part of restorative justice
Dawn met with her husband’s attacker as part of restorative justice

He can’t walk very well. He always looks drunk because he’s so wobbly. He had a fall on the tram on his way to work and someone said: “Oh, what a shame for someone to be drunk at this time in the morning.” He doesn’t have a walking stick and he looks young, so people do make judgements. The tram did an emergency stop and an old woman came to his aid and gave him her seat. As a 39-year-old man, that’s not how you see things panning out.

Financially we’ve gone from two full-time wages to my part-time wage. Stuart had to give up work completely because of the fatigue. He can’t really do anything on his own so everything falls on me. I’ve never spent the night away from him since.

When I heard from the police about who they’d arrested, at the time I was not really bothered. In court, they had to plead guilty because they’d been caught at the scene by the police when they returned to keep attacking him.

The sentence they got was as good as we could have hoped for. The judge seemed to understand what had happened – he pretty much gave them the maximum he was allowed to give them for GBH with intent.

They didn’t put forward a defence. We didn’t hear any evidence because they’d pleaded guilty. We left sort of pleased with the outcome but really not knowing what they were thinking. We never heard them speak and Paul showed no emotion, even when he got his sentence.

After the sentencing, our victim liaison officer mentioned restorative justice. At that point I had absolutely no interest in it whatsoever. We just wanted to get Stuart better.

Five years later, we wrote detailed victim impact statements for the parole hearing. We were told that Paul had cried when he read them. He asked to meet me that day, which I was not ready for. That was the first time I’d heard him show any emotion and I was a little bit suspicious of his motives. Was it just so the parole board would feel more pleasantly towards him? It was very well-timed remorse.

I needed to make sense of the attack. What they’d done was so alien to me and to everyone I know. What finishes a night out for me when I come home is probably some chips, not attacking a stranger.

I’d come across some restorative justice statistics which showed that it can lead to a 14-18% lower reoffending rate. When I saw that, I felt I had the opportunity to maybe make things safer. I didn’t want anybody else to go through what I’ve been through.

What finishes a night out for me when I come home is probably some chips, not attacking a stranger.


I decided I would give it a go. I wanted to see if he was that psychopath, feigning remorse because he thought it was in his favour, or if he was actually genuinely sorry. I wouldn’t know until I looked him in the eye. Seeing it on paper isn’t enough.

In the preparation, I was given a list of things that Paul had said. Some things I was appalled by. He kept calling it an ‘altercation’. An altercation is an argument over a parking spot. An altercation is not kicking my husband into a coma and then continuing to attack him. It was an unprovoked attack. I didn’t want it to be minimised.

On the day it felt very surreal. I didn’t feel particularly nervous because I knew what I was going to say. When we got there, Paul was having second thoughts. I could understand it, but I would have been disappointed if he wasn’t able to come out.

When Paul came in, I said hello to him – I needed him to feel relaxed enough for things to go ahead. It did seem very surreal, trying to put somebody at ease who’s almost killed your husband.

I heard Paul’s side of things. He admitted that he tried to kill Stuart, by going back and attacking him again. In the pre-meetings he’d said that Stuart had tried to attack him. But over time I think he’d processed it and realised that was not true.

He said he didn’t really know why he did it. It’s just how some people live their lives. Every weekend, they expect to go out and have a fight at some point. That’s how he’s grown up, that’s how his friends are. There is no motivation other than kicks. Usually they would ring each other the next day and brag about what they’d done. He admitted that’s all it was. It was equally sad to know that that’s just what they do.

He admitted he was angry at Stuart in court for seeming okay. He was resentful because his life was ruined, and in part he blamed Stuart for that. When he found out Stuart wasn’t going to die, he was relieved to be getting less time on his sentence. He said it didn’t occur to him to be relieved that the person he’d attacked wasn’t going to die. It didn’t occur to him to think that my life was going to be better because I wasn’t going to be a widow. He admitted that he had no thought for anybody else.

I told Paul about the impact on me. Our lives now revolve around that one chance incident. We can’t leave it in the past because it is affecting every day, and affecting our future.

We will never have children – it’s completely impossible now.

Paul found that upsetting, because he’s a dad himself. He said that leapt out when he read the victim impact statements. That he’d stopped someone having what he considers the best experience of his life.

Paul cried in the meeting. That’s when I knew that it had an impact. You could see how genuinely sorry he was. How it hadn’t occurred to him that there were would be so much fallout from what he was doing. Not just for the people he attacked, but also for his own family.

Towards the end of the meeting, he showed me his folder of his qualifications. The first one was a literacy qualification – when he went in to prison he couldn’t read or write. He’s now become a literacy advocate to other inmates and volunteers for the Samaritans Listeners scheme, speaking to other prisoners who are feeling suicidal.

It seems to me that he’s trying to become a good role model. I don’t think he was doing it for effect. You have to have some level of understanding and empathy to do those things. You have to have accessed a different side of your character.

At the end, I shook Paul’s hand and thanked him for being honest. He could have come and faked his way through it, but he didn’t. It took guts to do that.

Afterwards, I felt quite strangely elated. I felt I got all I could have out of the meeting. What else could I have asked from him? He genuinely seemed to be sorry. He’d worked as hard as he could in prison to change things when he comes out. There isn’t anything else I could have wanted from the meeting.

I want Paul to go out and do well. I want him to be a success. We agreed in the meeting that he would keep me updated on the good things he was doing. As a victim, they tell you when they’ve done something wrong but I want to know when good things happen.

It doesn’t seem that many other people have supported him and been proud of him in his life. In some ways I’ll be more proud when Paul does well than maybe some other people. I’ll be genuinely chuffed because I’ll feel like this process has had an impact.

To find out more about restorative justice visit The Restorative Justice Council’s website

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