In November 1993 two young British boys were convicted of murdering toddler James Bulger. Total strangers to the little boy, they snatched him from a shopping centre and tortured and bludgeoned him to death on a railway track where they left him dead on the line. They told police they hoped his body would be crushed by a train. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were ten years old.
Sentencing the two boys, judge Justice Morland told them that they had committed a crime of “unparalleled evil and barbarity”. The murder was prolonged, merciless, had sexual components and involved torture. For that crime, the two spent a mere 8 years in jail and were freed aged 18 without spending a single day in an adult prison. They were freed on licence in 2001 – with many special privileges which will be described later.
In February 2010 it emerged that Jon Venables had been “recalled” to prison. The British justice system didn’t think it fitting to make this fact public but simply advised James Bulger’s mother, Denise, that the killer, now 27 years old, was back in jail after enjoying 9 years of freedom.
Government officials refuse to answer questions about Venables’ return to jail. The cocoon of secrecy protecting him means that far from saying which jail – or even area of the country – he is in they won’t inform the British public what he did to land back in prison. Neither are his fellow prisoners allowed to know he’s the child-killer Jon Venables.
All the UK’s Ministry of Justice would say is: “We can confirm that Jon Venables has been recalled to custody following a breach of licence conditions.”
The Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson also refused to give any information, reminding the public that Venables, like Robert Thompson, benefits from a very special legal measure:
“There is a worldwide injunction applying here.”
But Denise Bulger and others firmly believe the public has a right to know what Venables has done. It is known that Venables is reported to have been involved in several violent incidents since being freed. In one of those, in December 2007 he got into a knife fight after accusing a man of flirting with his girlfriend.
Albert Kirby who led the James Bulger murder investigation said:
“The statement that came out last night raises more questions than it answers… It would help to clarify and put this to rest once and for all if the public did have some indication…why his probation has been revoked and he is back inside…’why is he there, did the authorities fail in making the assessments of his suitability to come back into society?’.”
He added that is unlikely that Venables had been jailed again for a minor breach of parole conditions “given the huge effort made to create a new life for him.”
Here are some of the special privileges granted to Venables and Thompson when they were freed:
complete new identities including: new names, new national insurance numbers and falsified birth certificates
court order from UK High Court judge Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss assuring them of anonymity for the rest of their lives
worldwide injunction on reporting their identities or whereabouts (by early 2007 the British government had spent £13,000 stopping overseas magazines revealing their new names)
special educational attention
a special team of probation officers
help with finding work
help with finding accommodation
For the past 9 years Venables and Thompson have been free to work and socialise anonymously with massive legal protection. British people know that if one of them befriends your son, marries your daughter or asks to babysit your child, you have no right to know who you’re dealing with. (More on this aspect of the Venables and Thompson case here.)
Re-imprisoned, Venables will be given whatever sums of public money he requires to appeal, and regain his freedom. He’s well aware how assiduously British justice works to protect his interests and will doubtless engage the best lawyers, just as serial killer Peter Sutcliffe has been allowed to do.
Before his recall, the only information that had been leaked about him was that he had settled well, become a born-again Christian and was soon to marry.
Was that just bunk from a government wishing to claim all was well? If not, what went wrong with Venables’ extremely expensive and privileged rehabilitation? Did he commit some minor crime? Or has he violently attacked someone? The British people are simply not allowed to know. A child killer’s rights come before freedom of information and the public’s right to be advised what Venables and Thompson are up to. Never mind the “unparalleled evil and barbarity” of their crime, or the danger they may pose to others today, UK justice continues to champion the rights of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.