Reformed burglar and his Islington victim join forces to ‘help people change lives’

16:59 29 March 2012

Peter Woolf, left, 55 and Islington ex-banker Will Riley, also 55, are now best of friends

Peter Woolf, left, 55 and Islington ex-banker Will Riley, also 55, are now best of friends


This time 10 years ago, businessman Will Riley had been left traumatised and terrified in his own home after a violent burglary.

A decade on and the 55-year-old former banker is friends with the intruder and the pair work together to promote the rights of crime victims to meet those who caused the harm.

In March 2002, Will had been confronted in his home in Canonbury Square, Canonbury, by Peter Woolf, a desperate heroin addict and repeat offender, and a violent struggle ensued.

Despite being hit hard over the head with a flower pot, Will managed to restrain Peter with a tactic he had learnt from TV series The Sweeney, by pulling his jacket over his arms, and Peter was bundled into a police van and subsequently sent to prison.

But Will was left struggling to cope with the ordeal.

He said: “My wife picked me up from hospital and as I put the key in the door, I suddenly had this fear that someone would be behind it.

“It happened day after day and it’s not a nice feeling.

“When you’re a victim of crime you feel very guilty.

“It’s a very odd thing, you feel as it you’ve been pointed out, that someone’s watching you and they’ve chosen your house because your house is the weakest.”

Everything changed when Will received a call from Pentonville Prison, where Peter was being held, offering him the chance to meet his attacker as part of a restorative justice scheme.

Peter, also 55, initially tried to justify the crime with difficulties in life but Will – left angry by his remarks – confronted him with the fear and shame he’d experienced following the incident.

He said: “It all came out like a fire hydrant.

“Peter was utterly ashamed. It was like a train hitting him, he realised all of the people he’d harmed.”

“Not to put to fine a point on it,” said Will, “but if I hadn’t caught him, I think he’d be dead.”

Two years later, Peter was out of prison and off the drugs. The two became friends and, having been so impressed with the restorative justice process, Will set up the charity Why me? which campaigns for all victims of crime to get the same opportunity. Will and Peter now work together to help others across the country.

Peter said: “If you did go to court, the person most involved in a crime is the person most far away from it.

“But you’re the one who’s been hurt, you’re the one in pain and you never get to resolve that – unless you meet him.”

He explained how restorative justice has even been used in murder cases: “A lot of people want to know, for example with loved ones, what their last words were. It’s very, very important to them.”

Will added: “I’m actually helping people change their lives. It is a whole side of my life I’d never had before.”

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