A HARDENED burglar who has turned his life around after meeting two of his traumatised victims is backing a new ‘restorative justice’ scheme.

To Peter Woolf, stealing a laptop to pay for his heroin habit could be justified - the owner was rich and could easily afford to replace it.

But when he was told that it had belonged to a heart and lung transplant surgeon and stored notes about critically ill patients as well as a research paper ready to be sent to the Lancet medical journal, the impact of his crimes suddenly hit home.

When they met the doctor wept, as did Will Riley, who was attacked by Mr Woolf as his home was being burgled and now felt terrified every time he put his key in the front door.

Mr Woolf thinks the restorative justice scheme, run in Middlesbrough, which is used as an alternative to the court system in a bid to stop re-offending, was the jolt he needed.

“When you hear the harm you have caused, you have to be a bitter and twisted person not to be affected,” said Mr Woolf, who had spent 18 years in prison. “I thought they would say ‘lock him up and throw away the key” but they wanted me to get help for drug and alcohol abuse, an education and a job.”

Mr Woolf, 56, who lives in Norfolk, has been sober since that fateful day 11 years ago, tours prisons giving victim awareness training and is good friends with Mr Riley.

Middlesbrough is one of 100 areas across the country introducing the scheme which has an 85 per cent victim satisfaction rate.

Anti-social behaviour or crime incidents can be considered for a restorative justice meeting except those involving sexual assault or domestic violence and the ‘harmer’ must accept responsibility for the distress they have caused.

Cleveland Police Assistant Chief Constable, Sean White, said it could be used to resolve neighbourly disputes, shoplifting offences, and keep young first-time out of the criminal justice system.

Barry Coppinger, Police and Crime Commissioner at Cleveland Police, said few people he had spoken to had been sceptical about the scheme.

“We should not be fearful that this is going to get us into a lot of trouble,” he said at the Restorative Justice launch by Safer Middlesbrough Partnership today (May 1). “I think the people will be on board, but it has to be victim driven. It has to be about helping victims recover from what they have been put through.”