A personal Revolution

Interview with former burglar, at Blackpool Police Station.
Interview with former burglar, at Blackpool Police Station.
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JUST two years ago, John was a prolific city centre thief, committing up to 400 crimes a month to feed his drug habit.

The 27-year-old had carried out a string of offences, ranging from car crimes and shoplifting to residential burglaries, and spent a total of 11 years in prison.

During his third spell behind bars, his older brother died of a drug overdose, but John was unable to attend the funeral, as he was deemed a ‘flight risk’ due to an earlier escape attempt.

Describing his brother’s death as ‘crushing’, John said it was the wake- up call he needed to get his own life on track.

And now, six years after that traumatic event, he has turned his life around with the help of offender management programme, Revolution.

He told The Gazette: “I was the youngest of a big family and always wanted to impress my older brothers, joining in with whatever they were doing.

“I started smoking cannabis and later took ecstasy and heroin, it didn’t seem to affect me and I didn’t want to be left out.

“But by the time I was 15 I was in prison.

“Being behind bars didn’t put me off, the first time I went down I was sentenced with the same people I was hanging out with on the outside, so it was just the same.”

“When my brother died, he was just 34 and it crushed me.

“I think that was the first time I realised there was a consequence to my actions, prison didn’t scare me, but death did.

“That was when I made the decision to get away from the people I was associating with and move away, so I came to Blackpool.”

But John’s redemption did not come overnight, and within months of moving to the coast he was caught shoplifting in the town centre, again to feed his drug addiction.

He was put on probation, and soon after received a visit from a member of Blackpool’s Revolution team – a police-led voluntary programme working with crime offenders – then things started to change.

He said: “When Jamie knocked on my door, I thought ‘what have I done now’, but he said he could help me get off the drugs.

“I didn’t listen at first, I wanted him out of the flat, but he took my number and kept ringing. Eventually I realised he was out to help me not hinder me.”

Soon after, John was put on the rehabilitation programme, prescribed methadone and placed on a training scheme at Blackpool Build Up, where he learned skills including brick laying and first aid. He has since worked for a number of construction companies, and even won an award for his achievements.

He added: “When I look back at what I did, and the list is endless, I am so ashamed of myself and would say sorry to the people I affected with my crime.

“When I walk through Blackpool I look at addicts begging on the street and I think you don’t have to do that, you can make the choice to change but the drugs have to go.

“I am proud of myself. I enjoy working hard and earning the money to buy my own stuff, it makes you appreciate things.

“I would be furious if someone stole from me.”

Sgt Robert Gomery, of the Revolution team, said John is one of the scheme’s success stories.

He said: “This isn’t a soft option, if a criminal re-offends while on the scheme we will come down hard on them.

“That is the message really, do it this way or go back to prison, it is a voluntary programme, the offender has to want our support.

“The most important message to get across is this is not a police scheme, we work in partnership with a number of agencies, including the NHS, Blackpool Build Up, Job Centre Plus and Blackpool and The Fylde college.

“The aim is to get the person on the straight and narrow, deal with the drugs if appropriate, find accommodation, get them training and employment and deal with any mental health issues.

“In some cases, we can organise a meeting between the offender and the victim, a kind of restorative justice.”

The Revolution team work closely with Blackpool Build Up, a four-year £1.8m project run by Blackpool Council and Blackpool and The Fylde College, aimed at training adults in construction skills.

Roberta Austin, a tutor at the centre, said: “The great thing about the scheme is not all our adults are offenders.

“This makes a huge difference, because former criminals start to mix in different social circles with people who have a completely different view of them because they don’t know the history.

“It is wonderful to see the improvement and it is remarkable how quickly those changes happen with the support in place.

“John has done extremely well, he is an absolute credit to himself, we have all really enjoyed working with him.”