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Personal stories: Colin

When Colin Peacock is offered people who have been convicted of breach of trust offences for individual work placements at the charity shop he manages, he has no hesitation in giving them a second chance.

That’s because he knows – more than anyone – that a conviction for theft from an employer makes it almost impossible to get a job handling money or stock ever again. “After my conviction”, he says, “I twice spent almost a whole year on the dole. No one would give me a chance.”

Colin had 20 years of retail experience under his belt. But it didn’t matter what job he went for, the interview would always end the same way. “It was that one question every time – the one asking me what my conviction was for. I’d watch their faces – and there it was every time – that look. And then I knew.

“These were low-level jobs – cashiers, car park trolley collectors – and yet still I couldn’t be trusted even though I had more experience and was better qualified than the people interviewing me.”

There is no bitterness in Colin’s voice. He says he’s happier now than he’s ever been. He’s managed the near-impossible, he’s come full circle and even found himself as the manager of the very shop where he was placed to do unpaid work after he was sentenced.

He wants to give others a chance, he says, because he was given a chance. He knows exactly how it feels: especially what makes someone as ordinary as you or I do something so extraordinary they find themselves committing a criminal offence – something they would never have believed was possible.

It happened when Colin used to manage an off-licence in Brighton for a well-known national chain, responsible for a turnover of £2.5 million a year. His job was stressful. “I worked seven days a week without cover and hadn’t had a day off for six months. On top of that I was going through a difficult break-up with the mother of my two daughters. I started drinking – not a great idea for someone who runs an off-licence.”

Functioning on eight bottles of wine a dayExpand to read more

He was still functioning, he says, running the business while consuming seven – eight bottles of wine a day. It was costing him – literally – he got into debt and began fiddling the books to cover up for the stock he was drinking.

“I’d start drinking wine at 7.30 in the morning until I locked up at 11.00 at night. But then I’d go straight to a pub where I’d top up with beer, leaving at 2.00 or 3.00 in the morning after a lock-up. And then start all over again at work the next day.”

The debt was mounting, the stress increasing, and the drink was pouring. “I wasn’t thinking. I don’t remember anything other than kissing my daughters goodbye one morning, then I was opening the safe at work and taking the contents.”

The next he knew he was on a train for Watford. And then it hit him, he’d just stolen £10,000 from his employer.

He got on another train to Scotland and made his way to a fishing village he used to go to with his father when he was young. It was there that he really started to think about what he’d done.

“It was a straight choice, stay in Scotland, lonely and distressed and on the run or return to Brighton and give myself up.” He got in touch with his young daughters and his brother and he knew what he had to do.

Colin was lucky. The judge sympathised with his plight and the circumstances that had led him to commit a crime. He was given a two-year suspended sentence and ordered to do 160 hours of community service. He had to complete a drink rehabilitation programme and was given a two-year supervision order.

No second chancesExpand to read more

“I realised it was difficult getting me a work placement. Retail seemed out of the question. I had done a bit of farming in my life and was put forward for a placement. But once they heard I’d stolen from an employer that was that.” No second chances there.

Then his individual placement officer pulled something out of the bag. The manager of the YMCA furniture shop in Crawley was willing to give Colin a second chance.

“I threw myself into the job, gave it all I had. The rehabilitation work I’d been having had given me a great sense of wellbeing and gave me the right mindset to make this work. I was never made to feel inferior by the probation services. I was taught how to apply for jobs, helped with my CV, and how to phrase my conviction so I focussed on what I’d learned from it.”

Colin continued to volunteer after his unpaid hours came to an end. The opportunity for a one-day paid-role came up and to his delight, Colin got it. Then it was a full-time job and he found himself supervising the unpaid workers sent by his former probation service. Then he got his own shop to manage in Horley, Surrey.

His conviction came back to haunt him when the YMCA decided to shut the store. He went through nine months of unemployment until The Children’s Trust were willing to give him a chance managing their shop in Crawley.

Today two thirds of his workforce are individual placements that come through the Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC.

“I tell unpaid workers my story. It puts them at their ease. I hope I can be some kind of inspiration for them. I turned my life around. If I can do it, they can do it and I’ve never been happier.”