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Quakers in Gloucester have forgiven £150,000 arsonist for torching city meeting house

By The Citizen  |  Posted: April 06, 2014

Warden Martin Skeues at the Friends Meeting House in Greyfriar’s after the 2012 fire

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QUAKERS in Gloucester have spoken of their forgiveness after a man torched their meeting house two years ago.

The place of worship in Greyfriars has been refurbished to the tune of £150,000 since James Bryan’s arson attack in September 2012.

Volunteers Elyn Mitchell and Maggi Holiday gave a talk at the Grade-II listed building about why they chose to use restorative justice to educate him about the effect of the offence and to find out why it was committed.

“At first we had no understanding of who had done the deed or why it had been done and it felt like a violation of our collective worship and what it stands for,” said Mrs Mitchell.

“As soon as we started to think about our reactions to the fire, some of us knew the restorative justice was the only way we could go.

“But against the advice of his solicitor, James wrote to us apologising which was wonderful and was the start of the correspondence. Being able to give him a name made it much easier to work towards forgiveness.”

Restorative justice helps cut reoffending and the process brings those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm into communication, giving victims the chance to explain to offenders the impact of their crime, to get answers to their questions and an apology.

Bryan, 23, from Alma Place, in Gloucester, pleaded guilty at Gloucester Crown Court to the attack on the historic Friends Meeting House.

The fire gutted the building, putting it out of use for months and rendering many community groups homeless.

But since the incident, the Quakers have kept in touch with Bryan, who they described as being articulate with a “sharp sense of humour”.

Mrs Holiday said he faced personal issues at the time of the crime, some drug-related, and that he is now writing the story of his life which is both “moving and upsetting”.

She said a bond between the Quakers and Bryan has formed and he explained he wanted to do everything he could to raise money for the Quaker house.

At a meeting with him at a Devon prison, Mrs Holiday said he “apologised profusely” and explained that he was out of character that day.

“That’s what drugs do, they make you behave out of character,” Mrs Holiday said. “We told him the thing we most wanted him to do was to forgive himself and that can be really hard to do.

“He was aware a considerable number of people had been affected by the damage and closure but his body language, when he was given a list of people affected, showed he was really taken aback by the impact.”

The public talk held at the meeting house on Saturday morning was chaired by Becky Beard, of Restorative Gloucestershire, who said around 40 cases per month use the restorative approach.

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