The guilt trip

A revolution in crime policy is being put forward to ministers in which criminals are encouraged to

A woman sits in a police station. Beside her is the man who tried to rob her of her wallet. He says he is sorry; she is afraid and sceptical. But her assailant looks less menacing now. He has brought his baby and his girlfriend, who tells the victim that she is livid about what her partner did. An accident had stopped him working as a builder, she says. They were short of money, isolated, in despair. The victim accepts that her attacker feels remorse. In the light of this, the judge decides, for the first time ever, not to impose a jail term for robbery. Several years have passed. As far as anyone knows, this man has not committed another crime. Proponents of rebarbative measures will think this story emblematic of a soft-touch system. Others hope that such solutions are a foretaste of justice in Gordon Brown's Britain.

A report published on 8 February suggests a revolution in law and order thinking for the UK, with restorative justice (RJ) at its heart. Law rence Sherman, Wolfson Professor of Criminology at Cambridge University, and his co-author, Heather Strang, have evaluated evidence worldwide for the first time, and come up with conclusions that sound like manna for any crisis-swamped Home Secretary.

According to Sherman and Strang's research in Australia, the US and Britain, RJ has been proved to reduce repeat offending by up to half. It has doubled, or more than doubled, the offences brought to justice by conventional means, has reduced crime victims' post-traumatic stress. And it could slash costs. Controversially, it appears to work better for more serious types of crime.

Restorative justice has been used as an alter native or adjunct to the criminal system from America's death row, where relatives of murder victims speak to condemned perpetrators, to Dudley Zoo, in the case of a gang of youngsters who kicked a wallaby to death. Normally, the victim and the offender meet along with relatives and mediators - often specially trained police officers - who help draw up agreements, designed to allay victims' fears, and chart a course of action, such as drug treatment, that will stop the perpetrator reoffending. The tough-on-crime lobby may shrink from such collegiate problem-solving. But Sherman says: "The main question is what works - not what the bastards deserve. In giving vent to our own temper, we only make things worse."

The number of prisoners in England and Wales is at a record 80,000 and rising. Government sentencing guidelines mean longer jail terms, and the lack of drug treatment, rehabilitation and education contributes to a reoffending rate of 76 per cent. Women and the mentally ill are warehoused in institutions that cannot cater for their needs or safeguard their lives. Self-harm and suicide are rife, and 29 young boys have died behind bars since 1990. Apart from Luxembourg, Britain is the most intensive jailer in western Europe, squandering money and humanity to scant avail. Though crime is falling, with murder down 15 per cent for 2005 if you exclude the 7 July bombings, the public has rarely felt less safe.

In this climate, a mood in favour of RJ has been building. The Archbishop of Canterbury called for its adoption in his Prison Reform Trust lecture at the beginning of this month, and many judges, including the former Lord Chief Justice Harry Woolf, are vocal champions. Rob Allen, director of the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College London and a member of Sherman's steering committee, says: "The current crisis in the Home Office clearly exposes the limits of relying simply on punishment to solve complex social problems. Properly resourced and led, restorative approaches promise a more productive way of tackling the harm alongside, and in some cases instead of, conventional criminal justice."

Researchers' randomised trials produced some startling results, notably among North umbrian teenage girls in trouble with the police. Half had an RJ conference; the others went into the criminal justice system. The RJ group of poor, violent white girls proved twice as likely to stay clear of trouble. Judging by the findings, the RJ conferences prevented 71 crimes for every 100 offenders.

RJ appears to work better with more serious crimes, such as robbery, than with victimless offences such as shoplifting. Researchers think that violent offenders may be persuaded to change their ways after realising how much grief they have caused victims, who are often similar to them. Sherman believes that crimes of high emotion may lead to greater remorse. For him, the single most potent argument for RJ is that it is much more likely to bring offenders to justice than a criminal system in which cases routinely fail for lack of witnesses or proof. But the rule of law, whether enshrined in sharia or the English statute book, has a cautious relationship with informal solutions.

Early evangelists

Will Brown allow Britain's criminal justice system to be revolutionised on his watch? The Treasury was one of the first evangelists for RJ. Eight years ago, when the Home Office turned down a request for funding, one of the Chancellor's staff seized on the idea and offered funds.

Later, the Home Office relented, offering modest amounts. RJ gained a toehold, especially in youth justice, but the biggest slice of a £4.9m government grant went into testing the system on adult burglars and robbers, who met their victims at conferences held in London prisons. All the offenders went on to be sentenced at Crown Court, where the judge was made aware of any remorse, explanations or apologies offered.

These conferences were held in the presence of high-profile onlookers. The cream of the judiciary and ministers, including the Attorney General, watched an extraordinary experiment in justice. As the only journalist allowed to sit in, I saw the meeting at Pentonville Prison between a drug-addicted burglar and his victim, an elderly Turkish widow. Maria dared not leave her front room, where she slept on the sofa with a knife beside her. Her daughter and her son, a City lawyer, had had to sacrifice their independence and return home to care for their mother. Alexi, who had wandered into someone else's kitchen in search of money for a fix, had ruined a family's existence. He promised to go straight, and perhaps he did. His victim, faced with a needy wastrel rather than the monster of her imagination, had got her life back.

When the conference ended, amid tears and rapprochement, it was as if a seance had been ruptured. Back at the Home Office, an even sharper awakening was in store. Despite pleas by some judges, funding for the project was wound down, excellent police teams were disbanded, RJ lost its showcase, and victims - the undisputed beneficiary of restorative solutions - had a potential lifeline removed. Two years have passed, and critics talk of "the dead hand of the Home Office".

RJ is not short of cheerleaders. Charles Pollard, the former Thames Valley chief constable, says the Sherman report "quashes the idea of a fluffy solution in which offenders get off lightly. This is hard-edged research, and it [RJ] is a no-brainer." The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which funded the study's publication by the Smith Institute, has been a pioneer in the promotion of RJ. So has Cherie Booth. She told me, some time ago, that the government should do more. "If the evidence shows it [RJ] is successful, in particular in helping cut reoffending, I believe it could boost confidence in the criminal justice system."

Now that some hard evidence is on hand, could the Prime Minister's wife and the Chancellor, whose relationship is famously glacial, find a concordat in endorsing an alternative, if fallible, justice system? Enver Solomon, deputy director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, warns that, despite its "distinctive benefits for offenders and victims", it should not be seen as "a magic bullet".

Despite widespread enthusiasm, some leading figures in criminal justice are said to be even more sceptical. And where RJ appears to work, important questions remain. When should it be used instead of court proceedings, rather than as a supplement? How can vulnerable offenders keep promises to stay off drugs or drink if they cannot get good treatment? What kinds of crime should RJ deal with? Canada reports success in domestic violence cases, and Strang and Sherman cite a successful Australian case in which a man who tried to kill his girlfriend's alleged rapist was dealt with through RJ rather than the courts.

Powerful drug

There are still many mysteries as to why restorative justice works (or fails to work), and when, and on whom. Sherman and Strang concede that there is much work to do. Their report calls it "a powerful drug which needs to be carefully tested for specific kinds of cases before it is put into general practice".

The next step, they say, is to expand their research and run it to scale. Last month, King's College criminologists sent Brown a paper recommending a Restorative Justice Board, similar to the Youth Justice Board, and possibly annexed to a new Ministry of Justice. The projected cost for a board plus an RJ roll-out over the three financial years from 2008 to 2011 is £71m, £221m and £317m.

Treasury insiders say Brown has doubts about investment in such a major expansion. What works on a small scale may not, in his view, be replicated. In addition, the Chancellor is at pains to stress his "toughness". Some criminologists believe that, on criminal justice, you could not slip an Asbo between Brown and Blair. None the less, those close to the Chancellor say he is instinctively sympathetic to RJ as well as to its close cousin, community justice.

RJ is likely to appeal to him on two levels. The first is that a justice system re-rooted in humanity, compassion and mutual understanding fits with his championing of the good society and his targeting of "hearts and minds". The second imperative is cost. The Treasury has been reluctant to bankroll John Reid's eye-wateringly costly plans to build his way out of the jail crisis. It costs £35,000 a year to keep each offender behind bars at present, and RJ could yield substantial savings. So far, the evidence of success is modest, but growing numbers of criminologists, police officers and sentencers are arguing that the government must now build on the first worldwide evaluation of its benefits.

If Brown can be persuaded, then justice could face the most radical upheaval in memory. Assuming the proponents of RJ are right, the shift could begin to empty prisons, reduce reoffending and halt the criminalisation of children. The promises are not underwritten, but the alternatives are demonstrated every week by a criminal system in free fall. The question is not so much whether Brown dares take up the challenge of restorative justice. It is whether he dares not to.

The international experience
Research by Sophie Pearce

In Northern Ireland restorative justice (RJ) was legally enforced in the Justice Act 2002, in the form of "youth conferencing" for young offenders. A study of 185 meetings found that 85 per cent of victims received an apology they were satisfied with from the offender. Northern Ireland also has community restorative justice (CRJ), which is used to address low-level crime and neighbourhood disputes. The recidivism rate for the 400 cases dealt with by CRJ each year is estimated to be as low as 8 per cent.

RJ has also been successful in curbing crime in Australia and the US. In Canberra, recidivism fell by 84 per cent when offenders under the age of 30 were assigned RJ, while the number of offences brought to justice rose by 75 per cent for adolescent shoplifters and 45 per cent among violent offenders under 30. In Indianapolis only 15 per cent of violent offenders subjected to RJ reoffended within six months, compared to 27 per cent of those given standard punishments.

However, specific groups have shown discrepancies. Recidivism among Aboriginal youths and drink-drivers in Canberra actually rose when RJ was applied, and in Pennsylvania, young people arrested for theft were found more likely to reoffend if given RJ. None the less, in all these cases the samples were deemed too small to be conclusive.

This article first appeared in the 12 February 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni v Shia

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The lost magic of England

The great conservative journalist Peregrine Worsthorne reflects on a long life at the heart of the establishment.

In a recent editorial meeting, our subscriptions manager happened to mention that Peregrine Worsthorne was still a New Statesman subscriber. A former editor of the Sunday Telegraph and, during a long Fleet Street career, a self-styled “romantic reactionary” scourge of liberals and liberalism, Worsthorne used to be something of a pantomime villain for the left, a role he delighted in. He had close friends among the “Peterhouse right”, the group of High Tory intellectuals who gathered around Maurice Cowling at the small, conspiratorial Cambridge college. He was a frequent contributor to Encounter (which turned out to be funded by the CIA) and an ardent cold warrior. His social conservatism and lofty affectations offended lefty Islingtonian sensibilities. On several occasions he was the Guardian’s reviewer of choice for its annual collection of journalism, The Bedside Guardian, and he invariably delivered the required scornful appraisal while praising its witty television critic, Nancy Banks-Smith. There is no suggestion, he wrote in 1981, that the “Guardian ever sees itself as part of the problem; itself as having some responsibility for the evils its writers described so well”.

His prose style was Oxbridge high table, more Walter Pater than George Orwell. It was essential not to take Worsthorne too seriously, because he delighted in mischief-making and wilful provocation – one of his targets for remorseless ridicule was Andrew Neil, when Neil edited the abrasively Thatcherite Sunday Times. He ended up suing Worsthorne, who was famous for his silk shirts and Garrick Club lunches, for libel; he was awarded damages of £1, the then cover price of the Sunday Times.

“I wrote that in the old days editors of distinguished Sunday papers could be found dining at All Souls, and something must have changed when they’re caught with their trousers down in a nightclub,” Worsthorne told me when we met recently. “I had no idea he was going to sue. I was teasing. I occasionally run into him and we smile at each other, so it’s all forgotten and forgiven.”

After his retirement in 1989, Worsthorne, although he remained a resolute defender of aristocracy, seemed to mellow, and even mischievously suggested that the Guardian had replaced the Times as the newspaper of record. In the 1990s he began writing occasionally for the New Statesman – the then literary editor, Peter Wilby, commissioned book reviews from him, as I did after I succeeded Wilby. Like most journalists of his generation, Worsthorne was a joy to work with; he wrote to length, delivered his copy on time and was never precious about being edited. (Bill Deedes and Tony Howard were the same.) He might have had the mannerisms of an old-style toff but he was also a tradesman, who understood that journalism was a craft.

Shortly before Christmas, I rang Wors­thorne at the home in Buckinghamshire he shares with his second wife, Lucinda Lambton, the charming architectural writer. I asked how he was. “I’m like a squeezed lemon: all used up,” he said. Lucy described him as being “frail but not ill”. I told him that I would visit, so one recent morning I did. Home is a Grade II-listed old rectory in the village of Hedgerley. It is grand but dishevelled and eccentrically furnished. A sign on the main gates warns you to “Beware of the Dog”. But the dog turns out to be blind and moves around the house uneasily, poignantly bumping into objects and walls. At lunch, a small replica mosque in the dining room issues repeated mechanised calls to prayer. “Why does it keep doing that?” Perry asks. “Isn’t it fun,” Lucy says. She then turns to me: “Have some more duck pâté.”

As a student, I used to read Worsthorne’s columns and essays with pleasure. I did not share his positions and prejudices but I admired the style in which he articulated them. “The job of journalism is not to be scholarly,” he wrote in 1989. “The most that can be achieved by an individual newspaper or journalist is the articulation of an intelligent, well-thought-out, coherent set of prejudices – ie, a moral position.”

His Sunday Telegraph, which he edited from 1986 to 1989, was like no other newspaper. The recondite and reactionary comment pages (the focus of his energies) were unapologetically High Tory, contrary to the prevailing Thatcherite orthodoxies of the time, but were mostly well written and historically literate. Bruce Anderson was one of the columnists. “You never knew what you were going to get when you opened the paper,” he told me. “Perry was a dandy, a popinjay, and of course he didn’t lack self-esteem. He had a nostalgia for Young England. In all the time I wrote for him, however, I never took his approval for granted. I always felt a tightening of the stomach muscles when I showed him something.”

***

Worsthorne is 92 now and, though his memory is failing, he remains a lucid and engaging conversationalist. Moving slowly, in short, shuffling steps, he has a long beard and retains a certain dandyish glamour. His silver hair is swept back from a high, smooth forehead. He remains a stubborn defender of the aristocracy – “Superiority is a dread word, but we are in very short supply of superiority because no one likes the word” – but the old hauteur has gone, replaced by humility and a kind of wonder and bafflement that he has endured so long and seen so much: a journalistic Lear, but one who is not raging against the dying of the light.

On arrival, I am shown through to the drawing room, where Perry sits quietly near an open fire, a copy of that morning’s Times before him. He moves to a corner armchair and passes me a copy of his book Democracy Needs Aristocracy (2005). “It’s all in there,” he says. “I’ve always thought the English aristocracy so marvellous compared to other ruling classes. It seemed to me that we had got a ruling class of such extraordinary historical excellence, which is rooted in England
almost since the Norman Conquest.

“Just read the 18th-century speeches – the great period – they’re all Whig or Tory, but all come from that [the aristocracy]. If they didn’t come directly from the aristocracy, they turned themselves very quickly into people who talk in its language. Poetic. If you read Burke, who’s the best in my view, it’s difficult not to be tempted to think what he says has a lot of truth in it . . .”

His voice fades. He has lost his way and asks what we were talking about. “Oh, yes,” he says. “It survived when others – the French and Russians and so on – were having revolutions. It was absolutely crazy to set about destroying that. There was something magical . . . the parliamentary speeches made by Burke and so on – this is a miracle! No other country has it apart from America in the early days. And I thought to get rid of it, to undermine it, was a mistake.”

I ask how exactly the aristocracy was undermined. Even today, because of the concentration of the ownership of so much land among so few and because of the enduring influence of the old families, the great schools and Oxbridge, Britain remains a peculiar hybrid: part populist hyper-democracy and part quasi-feudal state. The Tory benches are no longer filled by aristocrats but the old class structures remain.

“Equality was the order of the day after the war,” Worsthorne replies. “And in a way it did a lot of good, equalising people’s chances in the world. But it didn’t really get anywhere; the ruling class went happily on. But slowly, and I think unnecessarily dangerously, it was destroyed – and now there are no superior people around [in politics]. The Cecil family – Lord Salisbury, he was chucked out of politics. The Cecil family is being told they are not wanted. The institutions are falling apart . . .

“But there were people who had natural authority, like Denis Healey. I’m not saying it’s only aristocrats – a lot of Labour people had it. But now we haven’t got any Denis Healeys.”

Born in 1923, the younger son of Alexander Koch de Gooreynd, a Belgian banker, Worsthorne (the family anglicised its name) was educated at Stowe and was an undergraduate at both Cambridge (Peterhouse, where he studied under the historian Herbert Butterfield, the author of The Whig Interpretation of History) and Oxford (Magdalen College). “I have always felt slightly underprivileged and de-classed by having gone to Stowe, unlike my father who went to Eton,” Worsthorne wrote in 1985.

Yet his memories of Stowe remain pellucid. There he fell under the influence of the belle-lettrist John Davenport, who later became a close friend of Dylan Thomas. “He was a marvellous man, a famous intellectual of the 1930s, an ex-boxer, too. But in the war he came to Stowe and he was preparing me for a scholarship to Cambridge. He told me to read three books, and find something to alleviate the boredom of an examiner, some little thing you’ll pick up. And I duly did and got the scholarship.”

Can you remember which three books he recommended?

“Tawney. Something by Connolly, um . . . that’s the terrible thing about getting old, extremely old – you forget. And by the time you die you can’t remember your brother’s name. It’s a terrible shock. I used to think old age could be a joy because you’d have more time to read. But if you push your luck and get too far, and last too long, you start finding reading really quite difficult. The connections go, I suppose.”

Was the Connolly book Enemies of Promise (1938)?

“Yes, that’s right. It was. And the other one was . . . Hang on, the writer of the book . . . What’s the country invaded by Russia, next to Russia?

Finland, I say. Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station (1940)?

“Yes. Wilson. How did you get that?”

We both laugh.

***

Worsthorne is saddened but not surprised that so many Scots voted for independence and his preference is for Britain to remain a member of the European Union. “What’s happening is part of the hopelessness of English politics. It’s horrible. I can’t think why the Scots would want to be on their own but it might happen. The youth will vote [for independence]. This is part of my central theme: the Scots no longer think it’s worthwhile belonging to England. The magic of England has gone – and it’s the perversity of the Tory party to want to get us out of the European Union when of course we’re much more than ever unlikely to be able to look after ourselves as an independent state because of the quality of our political system.

“The people who want to get us out are obviously of an undesirable kind. That the future should depend on [Nigel] Farage is part of the sickness. I mean the real horror is for him to have any influence at all. And when you think of the great days of the Labour Party, the giants who strode the stage – famous, lasting historical figures, some of them: Healey, Attlee, who was probably the greatest, [Ernest] Bevin. I’m well aware that Labour in the good days produced people who were superior.”

He digresses to reflect on his wartime experience as a soldier – he served in Phantom, the special reconnaissance unit, alongside Michael Oakeshott, the philosopher of English conservatism who became a close friend, and the actor David Niven, our “prize colleague”.

“I remember Harold Macmillan saying to me, after the Second World War, the British people needed their belt enlarged; they’d done their job and they deserved a reward. And that’s what he set about doing. And he wasn’t a right-wing, unsympathetic man at all. But he didn’t – and this is what is good about conservatism – he didn’t turn it into an ‘ism’. It was a sympathetic feel, an instinctive feel, and of course people in the trenches felt it, too: solidarity with the rest of England and not just their own brotherhood. Of course he didn’t get on with Margaret Thatcher at all.”

Worsthorne admired Thatcher and believed that the “Conservatives required a dictator woman” to shake things up, though he was not a Thatcherite and denounced what he called her “bourgeois triumphalism”. He expresses regret at how the miners were treated during the bitter strike of 1984-85. “I quarrelled with her about the miners’ strike, and the people she got around her to conduct it were a pretty ropey lot.

“I liked her as a person. I was with her that last night when she wasn’t prime minister any more, but she was still in Downing Street and had everything cut off. The pressman [Bernard Ingham] got several of us to try to take her mind off her miseries that night. There’s a photograph of me standing at the top of the stairs.”

In the summer of 1989, Peregrine Wors­thorne was sacked as the editor of the Sunday Telegraph by Andrew Knight, a former journalist-turned-management enforcer, over breakfast at Claridge’s. He wrote about the experience in an elegant diary for the Spectator: “I remember well the exact moment when this thunderbolt, coming out of a blue sky, hit me. It was when the waiter had just served two perfectly poached eggs on buttered toast . . . In my mind I knew that the information just imparted was a paralysingly painful blow: pretty well a professional death sentence.”

He no longer reads the Telegraph.

“Politically they don’t have much to say of interest. But I can’t put the finger on exactly what it is I don’t like about it. Boredom, I think!”

You must read Charles Moore?

“He is my favourite. Interesting fellow. He converted to Catholicism and started riding to hounds in the same week.”

He has no regrets about pursuing a long career in journalism rather than, say, as a full-time writer or academic, like his friends Cowling and Oakeshott. “I was incredibly lucky to do journalism. What people don’t realise – and perhaps you don’t agree – but it’s really a very easy life, compared to many others. And you have good company in other journalists and so on. I was an apprentice on the Times, after working [as a sub-editor] on the Glasgow Herald.”

How does he spend the days?

“Living, I suppose. It takes an hour to get dressed because all the muscles go. Then I read the Times and get bored with it halfway through. Then there’s a meal to eat. The ­answer is, the days go. I used to go for walks but I can’t do that now. But Lucy’s getting me all kinds of instruments to facilitate people with no muscles, to help you walk. I’m very sceptical about it working, but then again, better than the alternative.”

He does not read as much as he would wish. He takes the Statesman, the Spectator and the Times but no longer the Guardian. He is reading Niall Ferguson’s biography of Kissinger, The Maisky Diaries by Ivan Maisky, Stalin’s ambassador to London from 1932 to 1943, and Living on Paper, a selection of letters by Iris Murdoch, whom he knew. “I get these massive books, thinking of a rainy day, but once I pick them up they are too heavy, physically, so they’re stacked up, begging to be read.”

He watches television – the news (we speak about Isis and the Syrian tragedy), the Marr show on Sunday mornings, and he has been enjoying War and Peace on BBC1. “Andrew Marr gave my book a very good review. He’s come back. He’s survived [a stroke] through a degree of hard willpower to get back to that job, almost as soon as he came out of surgery. But I don’t know him; he was a Guardian man.” (In fact, Marr is more closely associated with the Independent.)

Of the celebrated Peterhouse historians, both Herbert Butterfield (who was a Methodist) and Maurice Cowling were devout Christians. For High Tories, who believe in and accept natural inequalities and the organic theory of society, Christianity was a binding force that held together all social classes, as some believe was the order in late-Victorian England.

“I was a very hardened Catholic,” Worsthorne says, when I mention Cowling’s book Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. “My mother was divorced [her second marriage was to Montagu Norman, then the governor of the Bank of England] and she didn’t want my brother and me to be Catholic, so she sent us to Stowe. And I used to annoy her because I read [Hilaire] Belloc. I tried to annoy the history master teaching us Queen Elizabeth I. I said to him: ‘Are you covering up on her behalf: don’t you know she had syphilis?’

“Once I felt very angry about not being made Catholic. But then I went to Cambridge and there was a very Catholic chaplain and he was very snobbish. And in confession I had to tell him I masturbated twice that morning or something, and so it embarrassed me when half an hour later I had to sit next to him at breakfast. I literally gave up going to Mass to get out of this embarrassing situation. But recently I’ve started again. I haven’t actually gone to church but I’ve made my confessions, to a friendly bishop who came to the house.”

So you are a believer?

“Yes. I don’t know which bit I believe. But as Voltaire said: ‘Don’t take a risk.’”

He smiles and lowers his head. We are ready for lunch. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle