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The release of Jamie’s killers has caused a controversy. The tabloid press, reacting to mass public opinion has criticized the fact that these child murderers may one day be allowed to “walk free”.

Shortly after the boys were arrested there was a debate about how they should be tried. A popular slogan was “Adult Crime, Adult Time”, implying that the boys should be tried and sentenced as adults, despite the fact that they were only ten and eleven years old. There really were people who thought these children should be tried in a standard adult Crown Court.

The court was not free of hysteria. At one stage, the prosecution mentioned that the murderers, Thompson and Venables had been fans of violent films - in particular they had been watching "Child's Play 3" the week of the murder.

The prosecution alleged that this film triggered the crime. This theory was dismissed as nonsense by the investigating officer. Althaugh never banned, Blockbuster refused to stock the movie. Sky TV also cancelled a scheduled broadcast.

Then, as today, it was much easier to blame violent movies than it was to solve the problems of negligent parenting, social exclusion and poverty.

I was listening to a talk show on Radio 5 this morning ( 9th January 2001 ), these were the sort of comments I heard:

“Forget human rights! Jamie didn’t have any rights when he was brutally murderd”.

“How dare the state give these murderers all that care an holidays when I cant even afford that for my own kids!”

“Thankfully we live in forgiving country that does not condemn people for tragic mistakes they made when they were kids”

Since their arrest in 1993 the murderers have been in psychiatric hospitals and juvenile correctional facilities. Although many years have passed since the incident – public sentiment is still strong. This has been roused by the news that the killers who are now young adults are soon to be free.

I heard an interesting if rather macabre fact about this case a week ago when I discussed the case with a barrister who had assisted the prosecting council during the original case. This was a fact of which I was unaware when I engaged the lawyer in conversation about the case. I asked the lady in question what her opinion on the case was, and was shocked to hear her reply: it was obvious, she said, that Thompson and Venables had been stealing a child "to order", on behalf of an adult. She reported that they had simply been looking for any child to abduct, having been ordered by another adult (whose identity had never been uncovered) to steal an infant, presumably for unspeakable purposes.

I was shocked by this, and entirely disbelieving; as I pressed the barrister for more details, she reported that psychological analysis of the deeds done to James and the body was placed indicated an adult mind behind the scheme. Furthermore, he pointed to the video footage taken which showed Venables and Thompson attempting to abduct a different child that morning, being stopped only by a vigilant mother.

Despite harsh questioning, the pair had never revealed the identity of the adult behind the scenes (presumably, my friend insisted, because they had been threatened with horrible reprisal if they told), which was one reason why the government and the press was less than keen to publicise that they had not been the initiators of the deed.

I'm not sure whether to believe the individual in question. It all sounds very conspiracy theory-esque. However, given their personal involvement in the case, they have an authority that is hard to question. I'm still unsure why this fact would not be more widely publicised, but it's a disturbing thought nonetheless.

Should James Bulger’s killers have been released?

N.B. This is just my opinion. Please read the whole writeup before voting.

In February 1993, James Bulger was abducted from a busy shopping centre by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. Together they lured away the two year old, subjecting him to four hours of torture before bludgeoning him with an iron bar and leaving him to be cut up by a train. It was something that shocked the entire country; something for which many believe no amount of punishment or penitence will be adequate.

If James Bulger’s murder had taken place a just few months earlier, neither of the boys could have been charged with any criminal offence. Because they had recently passed the age of criminal responsibility, however, they were sentenced accordingly. Few people would argue that Venables and Thompson are unaccountable for their actions, but their young age has raised difficult dilemmas. Our society accepts that children are not as responsible for their actions as adults are. Their minds, their sense of morality and ability to control their impulses are not yet developed. This acceptance is the root of our many age restrictions on activities that are deemed to require a higher level of development, such as voting or smoking.

The capacity of children to develop and change is reflected in the system for dealing with young offenders. Many countries refuse to put children in front of criminal courts unless their offence was committed after the age of fifteen. Below this age, any criminal behaviour is dealt with by measures designed to ensure the child’s welfare while pursuing a course of re-education.

In the most serious cases, this can involve living in a closed institution, especially if there is a risk to the public. The purpose is not punishment but aid, helping children grow into law-abiding adults. Education, treatment and the resolution of underlying problems are hallmarks of this approach. Especially in a case as vicious as that of the Bulger killing, the perpetrators, if they have any moral sensitivity, will suffer enough through the guilt of their act and consequently further punishment should be unnecessary.

In this country, the age at which children legally have control over their actions is ten. This means that people like Venables and Thompson, who committed their crime at ten will have spent nearly half their lives in custody by the time a transfer to an adult prison might occur. The penal period recommended by the judge at their trial was eight years, a period that they have now served. The decision of the Lord Chief Justice that this was the correct sentence does not mean that the two boys will necessarily be completely released. First the Parole Board must be satisfied that they present no risk to the public and even if they are released they will be under close supervision and liable to be detained again. Any offence or failure to keep in touch with their supervisors would result in recall, meaning that these young men will already be living under constant threat of imprisonment.

The task of reintegration for these boys will not be easy, as they will need continuing specialist help as well as supervision. By all accounts, they have made good progress while in detention and prolonging that detention with a move to an adult prison would only start to undo that progress. Evidence and experience suggest that in cases like this, transitions into the community can be successfully made. Much will depend on whether they are allowed to put their past behind them and attempt to construct something approaching a normal life, something which can unfortunately only be accomplished through their being given new names and their concealment from the media.

Justice Woolf correctly decided that to continue the imprisonment of the two boys would be undesirable. In their fury over his decision, the media seem to have missed the most important point: if, as is implicit in his decision, these young men would be at risk in prison then so are all young offenders. The public refuse to accept that re-education and rehabilitation for young offenders stands an excellent chance of reforming them whereas incarceration, in general, creates only institutionalised criminals who are likely to re-offend upon release as well as representing a considerable cost to the state.

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