Billy Burns – Friendship and forgiveness

“He tried to kill me — but when I met him, I liked him”

Billy Burns
The 6 April 1983 was the day that changed Billy’s life. He’d been called to an armed bank robbery, and had been chasing the robbers in a high-speed pursuit through the streets of Bristol. Then the car the robbers were driving crashed. As Billy cautiously approached the vehicle, his world was suddenly turned upside down.

“The bullet hit me just under the lip, sheared off my teeth, went through my tongue into my throat. It physically lifted me clean off the ground and knocked me unconscious.”

As Billy lay fighting for his life, his attacker — teenager, Stephen Korsa-Acquah — hijacked two other vehicles before being caught on the M4. Eventually he was given three life sentences for attempted murder. But for Billy, rebuilding his life did not mean simply trying to forget his attackers. Instead, he sent them a Christmas card.

“In our Christian faith we believe in forgiveness and letting go, not holding grudges. I was very grateful to be still alive.”

The card certainly made an impact on Stephen. He took some time to come to terms with his crimes. Eventually he realised his punishment was a legacy of his own actions and something he had to deal with. He knew part of that meant saying sorry for his earlier crimes. So he contacted the prison chaplain, and asked if he could get a letter back to Billy, apologising, and asking to meet him. Billy readily agreed, but with mixed emotions. “I had no issues with forgiving him, that was the very essence of my Christian faith. Forgiveness is not about condoning or justifying someone’s actions, but it releases you from what can actually be a very cancerous bitterness.

“When I got to the prison, I was anxious about his character — whether I would like him or dislike him; which way this was going to go. But I liked him — it appeared that he was genuine… It’s seeing people for what they are.”

Over the following years Billy visited Stephen often in prison, and eventually supported his application for parole. Stephen now works with young people encouraging them away from lives of violence.

“It’s so satisfying to see him moving on. Bearing in mind I come from a police background, it’s good to feel I’ve done something to help that happen.”
Billy’s life has also taken off in directions he didn’t expect. He’s appeared on television and radio, with Esther Rantzen, John Snow, Michael Buerk and John McCarthy.

“It’s not a one-way thing. Stephen has contributed to my quality of life, he’s a true friend.”

This story was first published in the Real Lives newspaper. Billy visited Bethel church on Saturday 27 June, 2009, to tell is story in person.