An ex-prolific offender has spoken of their pride in their team after being recognised at a County Durham awards ceremony.

Marie Warby, 44, from Seaham, was on hand at the Emirates Riverside in Chester-le-Street to accept the Necaps Ruth Cranfield award on behalf of the Free Women's Group yesterday (September 14).

Marie, who is an ex-prolific offender, set up the group alongside Intergrated Offender Management Unit (IMOU) officers Peter Stobart and Michael Robins in April last year.

The group were recognised for their work supporting women facing domestic violence, addiction or mental health problems.

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The Northern Echo: Nepacs award winner Marie WarbyNepacs award winner Marie Warby (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

She said: "We found there wasn't much [support] for women in the area where I lived, we had a male rehab there, but there was just nothing for women.

"We set up the FREE Group not knowing how it was going to turn out and, due to my passion and experience, it sort of grew legs and it is where it is today.

"I haven't done this myself, I've had so much support along the way. I get overwhelmed still in these circumstances due to the lifestyle I lived.

"I didn't ever think I'd be working with the police, and sitting somewhere like I am today, but it's nice to be recognised. Some days can be really tough for myself and my own recovery, I need to make sure I keep that safe first and foremost.

"Trying to look after and support sometimes 30 women can be quite overwhelming, but I get so much from it, that's my purpose, that's my calling in life.

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"I'm overjoyed, I still haven't taken it in. It's not until I go home tonight and do the group, it's like 'wow.'"

She said she is in recovery herself and had been addicted to drugs for 25 years before entering rehab, and while in the programme, realised she felt passionate about helping women who are or have gone through trauma.

Marie said she had been 6 st and homeless before entering recovery, and said she was pleased the award could show how far she has come.

Adding to this, Marie said the group came about after joining IMOU officers Peter and Michael in volunteering and finding there were not many rehab options for women in her area.

She stressed this was achieved through the support she has received along the way, and credited Peter as the person who 'saved' her when she was at her lowest.

"If it wasn't for Peter, I'd be dead. I was at rock-bottom and he gave me that little bit of hope.

"He treated me like a human and I hadn't had that for years."

She credited Peter, Michael and another officer, Tony, for all their work in running the group.

She added her desire to work in the group was influenced by her own experience of trauma, and helping these people acted as another step towards her recovery.

She said she was offered other roles before the FREE Group became established, but said she wakes up each morning feeling "truly blessed" she can do what she does and see growth in the women they support.

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"I never had any of this. When I was in the criminal justice system, the whole hamster wheel I was in, I'd get locked up, there was no intervention, and I'd get back out," she added.

"Knowing I'd have to get back out and search for more money."

She said she believes early intervention is key to break this type of cycle and said the group aims to achieve this.