Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Forgiveness and the healing it can bring
Billy Burns, a former constable, nearly died when a bullet ripped through his mouth, destroying five teeth and lodging in the back of his throat. His wife was pregnant with their third child and the attack ended his career.
But he nevertheless sent a Christmas card to the robber Stephen Korsa-Acquah who was serving his sentence in Broadmoor.
The gesture was a turning point in Mr Korsa-Acquah's life as a career criminal. He asked to see Mr Burns at Broadmoor - the first time there had been such a meeting between a victim and his attacker at the hospital - and the two began their friendship.
On Christmas 2003 Mr Korsa-Acquah was allowed out on free on licence after Mr Burns spoke up for him at his parole hearings and Mr Korsa-Acquah went on to use his experiences to persuade teenagers not to enter a life of crime. He was working with school pupils in Haringey, north London, as a member of Peace Alliance, a group campaigning to stop gun crime in the area.
"He totally changed the way I perceived things," said Mr Korsa-Acquah, 41. "If he could be so open towards me then surely, whatever I'd done, I could deal with it just as openly."
Mr Burns was shot on April 6, 1983, when he investigated a robbery at a Lloyds Bank branch in Bristol. Mr Korsa-Acquah fled, hijacked two vehicles and was chased through three counties before being caught on the M4. He served two decades in prison, much of it in Broadmoor, for the attempted murder of Mr Burns and 17 armed robberies.
Mr Korsa-Acquah, brought up in Tottenham, north London, one of four boys and six girls, was expelled from school at 16 for cutting another pupil with a knife. His father died when he was 17 and his mother lived in Ghana. He had no qualifications and had to look after the younger children.
He gave up looking for a job and found it easy to obtain a weapon. His gang robbed banks and ambushed security vans, financing a "fantasy life" of fast cars, drugs, and parties, he told the Bristol Evening Post.
Recalling the shooting of Mr Burns, he said: "At that moment we were two people on opposite ends of the spectrum. The logic I had in my head at the time was: 'Well, I didn't ask him to chase me.' We were both in these roles and I just reacted. Shooting him was a reflex, panic reaction because I was prepared to do what I had to do to avoid being caught."
During his time in prison, he started "wanting to do something positive". "Part of that turned out to be to apologise to Billy and explain that what I'd done hadn't been personal." Despite being seriously injured and medically retired from the police force, Mr Burns agreed to meet his attacker and accepted his apology.
Mr Burns, who runs a security business, said: "I had no issues with forgiving him, that was the very essence of my Christian faith. It's not about condoning or justifying someone's actions, but it releases you from what can actually be a very cancerous bitterness."
He praised his attacker for his work against crime. "Stephen has been there and can speak from experience. Kids respect that. I've seen him working with 15- and 16-year-olds, who are difficult to get through to at the best of times, and you can tell they're listening to what he's got to say. "It's so satisfying seeing Stephen moving on. It's good to feel I've done something to help that happen. "But it's not a one way thing. Stephen has contributed to my quality of life. He's a true friend."
The Telegraph 23rd December 2003