Jon Venables is serving life, whether he's in jail or not
Last updated at 3:49 PM on 08th March 2010
I was attempting to explain the murder of James Bulger by Robert Thompson and Jon Venables to my youngest child as she had seen the news. ‘That’s terrible,’ she said. ‘Those boys should be in prison for ever.’
When I told her they were only ten, a year older than her, when they committed this crime, she responded: ‘But it’s wrong to put children in prison.’
Her nine-year-old view of the world is contradictory, but no more contradictory than that of many adults. We struggle between reason and emotion.
Jon Venables, who is now 27, is reportedly in prison in isolation. Officers say they cannot guarantee his security. Gordon Brown has rightly refused to cave in to demands that details of his breach of licence be made public.
Jon Venables: There are more ways of serving a life sentence than simply being in prison
Nonetheless, all sorts of allegations are flying around.
Instead of having learned something since 1993 when the spectacle of two boys being tried as if they were adults was disturbing enough, we are being grimly reminded of the baying mob. Of course this crime was horrific.
The CCTV footage of the toddler hand in hand with the big boys is indelibly etched into our iconography of horror, though we appear to have forgotten about the number of adults who at the time saw but didn’t report this scenario.
The question remains, however, whether these ten-year-olds were capable of fully understanding the consequences of what they did. Tabloid fury labelled them as ‘cold-blooded murderers’ and purely ‘evil’.
Women with children banged on the police van demanding that these boys be hanged because, as one mother said so memorably in a TV interview: ‘Killing children is wrong.’
In court these boys cried, howled , covered their ears and clearly did not understand a lot of what was being said to them.
Before the murder Venables had already been referred to a psychologist for banging his head against a wall, cutting himself and nearly choking another boy to death.
As many pointed out at the time, it was only by doing such an awful thing that those boys were ever going to get the kind of attention they needed.
Let’s not forget, though, they were put in an institution. Secure units are not beds of roses. Cigarettes and drugs become currency, self-harming is rife and recidivism is high.
Venables and Thompson were locked up until they were 18 and a decision was made not to put them among the adult prison population. Many thought this wrong. They wanted these boys punished for a long time, ignoring the fact they were children.
The idea that these boys could change, that they were not immutably evil, is fundamental to any concept of rehabilitation.
A year after this case, three six-year-old boys murdered a five-year-old girl in Norway. This was viewed as a collective tragedy.
These boys were not discussed in the biblical language of sin or branded as cold-blooded monsters. ‘Our’ approach was almost medieval.
Still, we had John Major preaching the gospel of understanding ‘less’, as if that could ever be a good thing.
At the trial, the boys always referred to their victim as ‘the baby’. This vulnerable baby was brutally punished. In turn, many adults wanted to then punish these children instead of seeing them as also vulnerable.
Such complications do not serve moral revulsion well. Now we are revisiting this confusion in an appalling way. James Bulger’s family will always be upset by the ‘leniency’ of this sentence but what does the hounding of Venables achieve?
If this man is a threat he should be locked up. But this man is not the ten-year-old who killed James. He is someone else.
For all the outrage generated around this case we all may have to concede some things. Maybe this sentence was the right one and maybe, for those of us who believe that rehabilitation is possible, it isn’t always. It’s patchy.
The unspoken part is that it was always Venables who was considered the ‘lesser evil’ and Thompson who was thought of as more disturbed. Yet it is Venables who is now behind bars and in the papers.
Both these men have been ‘free’ for nine years but both must always hide.
There are more ways of serving a life sentence than simply being in prison. But the mob cannot and will not acknowledge that. It wants blood.
I’d stick to selling dodgy loans, Carol
What happened to Carol Vorderman on Question Time? Her extraordinary performance had many of us repositioning her as the new Sarah Palin. Only more fierce and with facts.
Carol was so pleased with her facts she seemed to be reading them out regardless of whether they had anything to do with the questions.
Unleashed: Vorderman in full flow on Question Time
Increasingly shrill, and putting on and taking off her serious glasses, Carol seemed to be taking part in some unknown exam she had crammed for.
She posed as impartial though she is a Tory adviser. The actual Tory, Boris Johnson, seemed to distance himself from her as she frantically felt up the audience to find its populist pulse.
Soon Carol Voldemort decided to dispense with charm and just bully us until she lost her thread.
Do the Tories need another ex-TV presenter on their side? Probably – but I would prefer Carol to go back to flogging dodgy loans and detoxing herself fit. Anything but this. The forces of Countdown have been unleashed. Please make it stop.
* It would be hard to think of a worse book title than Tony Blair: The Journey with its mid-life crisis/spiritual undertones.
I suppose it’s all geared up for the American market. Americans may like it but, as the cover shows, Blair has still got bad British teeth.
So they may wonder whether, with the £4.6million he received for this, he can get them fixed. As part of his quest – on the way to his destination obviously.
Cashcroft rolls on and how seedy it all is.
Not actually illegal, as we keep being told, but whiffy surely.
‘Systematic tax avoidance,’ as Vince Cable called it, is hardly patriotic or civil-minded.
It is a sign of a disenchanted electorate that we are no longer surprised that political parties take any money they can.
blatant case of cash for a peerage and real status within the party is
Transparency is a joke and the idea of Hague and Cameron deliberately
not knowing Ashcroft’s ‘arrangements’ is risible.
Money makes fools of clever men. They should know better. We deserve better.
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