As a result of Dr Rowan Williams putting forgiveness back on the agenda this week, I have given six interviews for six different Radio stations. On two occasions I was pitted against two victims of an appalling crime, both of whom hardly surprisingly struggle with the very notion of forgiveness. The first was Colin Knox, whose son Rob Knox was stabbed to death in London in 2008. At the trial, the convicted man, Karl Bishop, refused to hear impact statements from Rob Knox’s parents and, as reported in The Times, “swaggered into court smiling at three friends in the public gallery…and smirked as he was sentenced.”
The second victim was Carol Quinn, whose daughter and two grandchildren were murdered in 2000 by Phillip Austin – her daughter’s husband and the father of the children. Carol Quinn had the horrifying task of walking into the house and discovering the bodies. The pain is as raw as the day it happened and indeed amplified by the fact that Phillip Austin, who received three life sentences, has never shown any remorse.
In both radio shows the presenter suggested that forgiveness might be good for these two, still very traumatised, parents – and then handed over to me. Of course, I didn’t go there. I hate the notion that anyone should be coerced into forgiving.
Forgiveness should never be an obligation. It is a personal choice and not necessarily right for everyone.
Indeed, to expect victims to forgive simply revictimises and heaps yet more guilt on them. Also, forgiveness is not black and white – to say you can’t forgive doesn’t necessarily mean you are eaten up by bitterness and rage. Colin Knox didn’t sound in the least bit bitter – just desperately sad.
When Colin Knox and Carol Quinn describe the lack of remorse and acute disrespect demonstrated by these two offenders, it’s easy to see why both parents feel that forgiveness is impossible and undeserved. Certainly no one deserves forgiveness – it is a gift from one person to another and only the sufferer is qualified to make that decision.