A CHIEF constable pledged his commitment to restorative justice schemes after admitting the approach means he now feels comfortable encouraging relatives to report crimes.

Restorative justice, which allows victims to meet offenders and discuss the impact of crime, is being increasingly used to tackle crimes and anti-social behaviour in the North-East after research proved it can cut reoffending by up to 27 per cent.

Durham Constabulary's Chief Constable Mike Barton hailed its virtues at a conference yesterday (Tuesday, January 14).

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He said: "If a member of my family says something has happened, could I call the police, historically I was always reluctant to advise them to go to the police as I had seen decades of us making it worse for victims, especially within the criminal justice system.

"It is only with the advent of restorative justice that I'm confident telling members of my family to call the cops. How telling is that?"

Mr Barton believes restorative justice gives victims a voice and could be used to help tackle a wide variety of crime, including serious offences such as rape and burglary.

He said: "We've got to stop being patronising and start being imaginative about victims.

"We're pushing the envelope in Durham by offering restorative approaches to victims of domestic violence.

"Some experts might say it's not safe to put a victim into that arena but who are we to say that?

"We've had rape victims successfully do restorative conferences and providing it's done safely and sensibly, we should see it as a good thing and not say the idea is automatically bad."

Restorative justice proved life-changing for ex-burglar Peter Woolf, who turned his back on crime 12 years ago after coming face-to-face with two of his victims.

Addressing the Restorative Approaches conference, hosted by the Safer Durham Partnership, former prolific offender Mr Woolf said he had given up drugs, drink and crime after realising the impact his crimes had had.

He said: "Up until that point, victims for me were A4 pieces of paper in the form of a statement, sterile and impersonal.

"I could justify myself to them on paper, tell myself they were rich or they were insured and I never saw them.

"But one of them could never set foot in his house again and had to sell it. When I came along and smashed his window, I smashed his life to pieces too."