*Names have been changed*

One Saturday afternoon, Gulshan* was returning from a counselling session which had been a particularly difficult one. She had stopped to pick up some shopping on her way home and was fixing her headscarf while she waited at the till when she heard a member of staff in the shop comment into his headset “Watch out, this one’s from ISIS”

Gulshan initially brushed it off as a misunderstanding, she must have not heard him correctly. As she made her way home, she kept thinking about the comment and began to feel more and more fearful for herself and her children. What other abuse would she face living in this area? Do her children suffer from this kind of comment?

When she got home, Gulshan reported the incident to a charity who encouraged her to contact the Police. The officers who contacted her suggested that restorative justice (RJ) may help – she could face the person who had made her feel so uncomfortable and frightened in a safe space and tell him how she had felt and ask him questions. Gulshan felt that although this could be a difficult process, she wanted to confront this man and have her voice heard. The Police issued a community resolution and referred the case to the RJ team.

The RJ team met with Gulshan, and then John*, the member of staff who Gulshan had reported to have made the comment. John was distraught – he had no recollection of saying what had been reported and was adamant that he wouldn’t say something like that. Although John felt this was a misunderstanding, he didn’t wish to cause any further harm to Gulshan and said he would do anything to help her to feel that she was welcome and safe in the shop and community.

Gulshan and John met one evening for a restorative justice conversation, supported by two facilitators from the Essex Restorative and Mediation Service. John made a sincere apology to Gulshan for the stress he had caused over a comment he made into his mic. It was never his intention to cause any harm and he explained that the comment he made had been misheard. He had been communicating with a colleague and the discussion had been related to an issue in the store and had nothing in common with Gulshan’s presence.

Gulshan was able to explain how she felt and reported that the process had a positive impact on her. She was left feeling welcome to return to the store, which she continues to do, and didn’t go forward feeling that the community was an unsafe place for her and her children.

This incident has taught John to remove his mic when he is dealing with a customer and he is now very conscious how only hearing one side of a conversation can be misconstrued. This discovery has also become a part of the company’s training course for new staff.

Both parties said that RJ had a positive impact on them and that they would recommend it to others.

If you would like to contact the Essex Restorative and Mediation Service, please call 01245 291 621 or email restorativejustice@essex.police.uk