Jon Venables is serving life, whether he's in jail or not

By Suzanne Moore
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.

But this blatant case of cash for a peerage and real status within the party is very low.

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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Great piece, Suzanne

Click to rate     Rating   8

Thank you! Finally an article that makes sense. Having had a similar conversation with my child and explained to her why this boy's face was suddenly all over the news, she came to a similar conclusion. My child is 10.

What people need to remember is that we are no longer talking about a 10 year old boy. We are talking about a 27 year old man, who, if the British public continue with this vendetta, will be released from prison again, with a new identity, as per the terms of his original licence. Do we want to jeopordise this new case?

It is time to let those who truly know the legal system to deal with this. We have no 'right' to know anything about who he is, where he's been and what he's done and are merely going to force a result we don't actually want.

Red arrow away!!!

Click to rate     Rating   9

The writer is living on some other planet, she has no conception of what she's talking about, that is obvious, however, Venables has now committed a "serious offence", in the words of Jack Straw & has committed other offences. On his release Venables was of age & fully understood the terms of his release, yet committed further offences, culminating in the latest, serious offence. "This man is not the 10yr old who killed someone, he is someone else", sadly he is not someone else, he is still the same Venables, but more dangerously so. I cannot stand Straw, but I have to agree that, for the time being, the full facts should not be revealed as this could prejudice any court case, however, it is essential that the details are not concealed, othewise we may find that justice is not done & seen to be done. In other words, the decision may be taken not to prosecute a "serious crime" on the grounds of expediency. Then it will be a case of 'after the horse has bolted', shudder the thought.

Click to rate     Rating   21

I'm certain that not one day passes where he reminds himself of the dreadful crime he committed. All I can say is that the UK Justice system seems to have worked; namely that Venables has been caught regarding possible child porn charges...and whatever else...that just goes to show that this individual is far from 'cured'. I think the UK public, whatever the judicial outcome, can be assured that Venables will never see the light of day again.

Click to rate     Rating   3

all you bleeding heart lefties answer me this , who actually said that vengence was wrong , vengence is the proper term for justice it is a right of man or woman to seek vengence when they have been wronged. why does vengence make you feel good when the weak excuse for justice that our society, leaves a bad taste in the mouth for ever. vengence is mine says the lord and as i'm made in his image i would like a bit of it too.

p.s suzanne moore shouldn't you be writing for the guardian or are you the token leftie for the daily mail. answer on a postage stamp please.

Click to rate     Rating   23

I have never been able to comprehend the level of hatred people show these two boys. At the end of the day, they did something absolutely horrific - but their behavior was not that of two well loved, well adjusted, mature, sensible young boys. It was the behavior of two children from terrible backgrounds, lacking in love, attention, appropriate discipline and stability. Venables and Thompson were let down by a society that didn't spot their problems and deal with them. In a way, they're victims as well, and that's not recognised. Rather then accept that our society is too blame, we brand them 'monsters' and yell for their blood so we don't have to face that upsetting truth - that we let down those two boys, and are culpable to the murder of James Bulger.

Click to rate     Rating   26

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