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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Bulger killers: Is it the right decision?
The parole board has decided to release the two schoolboy murderers of James Bulger on life licences.
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, now aged 18, were just 10 years old when they abducted two-year-old James from a Liverpool shopping centre before torturing and killing him.
The decision comes as a bitter blow for the victim's family. His mother, Denise Fergus, has long opposed their release, saying they need to serve more time in custody.
Do you agree with the parole board? Is it too soon for Jon Venables and Robert Thompson to be released?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
It is time everyone stopped being so cruel and unforgiving. Children make mistakes and some are worse than others but in the long run this does not mean they will do it over and over again! What kind of country is Britain? Are we (yes I'm a British citizen) going to re-introduce hanging? Or maybe just beating prisoners? I find it embarrassing that a so-called civilised country can fail to show any understanding towards its children - the product of society! Oh and by the way YOU are society!
There appears to be a lot of naive people in this world - "The Parole Board wouldn't have released them if it wasn't safe". What a crass statement. Have these people not read stories of the crimes people on parole have committed.
I wonder how keen to release offenders a parole board would be if they themselves were made equally responsible for crimes committed by the parolee.
How many times will we hear that well worn phrase "We should examine society", when it comes to a discussion on
why someone commits a crime or murder. What ever happened to the concept that each of us is responsible for our own actions?
It seems to me that there are those in our "society" who believe that everything that people do is governed by society
and that we have no self will or the capability of making decisions for ourselves.
You've stated that it could cost up to £1.5m to give these murderers a new life. Who will pay for this? I assume the government. How will they pay? With money they have collected in taxes, no doubt. Money they collect from us, the general public. Have you ever thought that that includes the family and friends of the Bulgers? They shouldn't pay for this - they've paid enough! It's just not right!
I feel for James parents, but his father is right, it's time to move on and leave the past behind. These boys will never be truly free. What they did was unforgivable, and they will have to live with that for the rest of their lives. I can fully understand the depth of feeling which has been stirred by this terrible crime, but there is no sense in trying to "hunt down" these killers. Inevitably innocent boys will be targeted, and I just hope and pray that these "vigilantes" do not end up with an innocent life on their conscience - that would be tragic.
Has anyone else read the majority of these comments and noticed the underlying theme. Jealousy and a need to vent people's own personal frustrations. Everyone who wants a longer sentence, what good does it serve? Typical of the hysterical society we've turned into we just want more and more punishment so that we can feel cleansed in our moral superiority.
Prison should be about rehabilitation as well as punishment, or what happens people reoffend, giving you all more to fear as you sit at home peeking out form behind your curtains. There isn't enough prison room to make you all feel safe so deal with your own fears instead of reflecting them onto this case. It's because of hysteria like this that countries like the US have the death penalty, and that helps prevent crime now doesn't it - oh hang on a second it doesn't. Imprisonment without purpose only serves to show the brutalities of a society not it's moral fibre.
I bet there isn't a day which goes by in which Jon Venables and Robert Thompson don't wish they could rewind the tape of that day in February 1993, and bring James Bulger back to life. I wouldn't presume to speak for James's parents, but the rest of us should find it in ourselves to forgive.
Lots of people are of the same opinion that you would feel as strong about these murderers being let out if it happened to your child. Forget that, just think about what little James went through. I am sickened that those murderers have been set free. Forget saying we live in civilised times so we must rehabilitate them rather than punish them any more, think about James, think how horrific and uncivilised a death he had. No one will convince me that they should have been let out or that they are changed individuals. My heart goes out to Mr and Mrs Bulger, I cannot even begin to know what they go through every day of their lives.
For goodness sake, these boys were only 10-years-old at the time. And, yes, it was terrible. But what 10-year-old can really understand the long-term consequences of his/her actions? And shouldn't we be more concerned with the release of grown men who would have been aware of the long-term consequences of the crimes they committed? How can a child somehow be more evil than an adult that commits a crime? It seems to me that children get a raw deal all round from the justice system.
Being that I was only 10-years-old at the time of the murder, it sickens me that people use their age as an excuse. Although my mind was not fully developed I can assure you I knew the difference between right and pure evil. Justice has not been served. Another few years in an adult prison would be a warning to the boys, giving them time as adults to truly reflect on what they did. It would also satisfy the public to see that in some small way the boys are finally paying for their crime.
Brian Greenall, U.K.
I think it is absolutely correct to release the boys. These boys did something very wrong when they were very young and now that they have grown up, I think they must have realised what a horrible crime they have done. I believe that there can be no justice without mercy.
We have to just give them one more chance to lead a normal life.
I am an expat who lived in the UK at the time of James Bulger's murder, a case that indicated to me the tailspin British society finds itself in, contributing to my decision to move to Australia. These two killers are prisoners of their past, whether they are locked up or released makes very little difference to them in terms of freedom. No matter what they think about what they have done, they will be prisoners, in solitary confinement, for the rest of their lives. RIP James Bulger.
I feel very strongly that the boys should be left in peace and James Bulger's mother should start to rebuild her life. I have three teenage children and this tragic event had the most awful effect on all of us. I cannot imagine the pain she must feel but she needs to focus on rebuilding her family and leave this behind her. I just hope that no harm comes to these boys and they make something good out of themselves.
I really believe that they should at least serve some time in a Young Offender's Institution because the secure units I saw on television were, apart from being locked up during the night, basically juvenile hotels. It is unfair that they have not really been properly punished for what they did. Ten-year-olds should know the difference between right and wrong.
Dave Harper, UK
Having read the comments on this page and the media circus surrounding this situation I am have to say I am ashamed to be British. The psychotic baying for the blood of these two boys disgusts me, and makes all who call for it no better than Thompson and Venables themselves. If you genuinely believe them to be evil, show that you are the better person by letting them live their lives in the constant knowledge that they took a little boys life. Any decent, moral human being would think that enough. Alas, I fear that compassion and rational thought will play little part in how this story will come to its inevitable grisly end.
Who are we to say the boys have not changed? No one knows and yet we all seem to think that they have or they haven't. Let the professionals decide.
Manslaughter or plain murder are one thing and 10 year olds could be excused for it on the grounds of not understanding the consequences of their actions. Planned and rehearsed abduction, torture, horrendous murder and a subsequent attempt to make it look like an accident, are altogether an entirely different kettle of fish. We are not talking ordinary misguided, abused and neglected 10 year olds from the sociology textbook on the ills of inner city depravation, we are talking about something else. That's why most people don't want these two anywhere near them, and many would prefer that they never be released at all. The number of even remotely similar cases is very small, so the experts can't really be certain about anything. The decision to let them go is, I'm afraid, little more than an experiment.
It is too soon to release the two killers. The British people have a great sense of natural justice, fair play and can distinguish right from wrong. The public know that 12-15 years inside would have been appropriate for the two boys.
As an ex-pat I was in the UK at the time of the killing of James Bulger. I believed then and do so now that John Venables and Robert Thompson should have been held until they were 18 and then tried for the murder of James Bulger. As things stand justice has not been served, or seen to be served. Shame on the British legal system when it can allow known killers to go free. I only hope these two are not allowed to enter Australia. My husband and myself fought hard and long to obtain immigration status and had we had a criminal record no way would we be living here now. Send them to some remote island where they will have only each other for company and where they do not need to be part of the human race, just as they robbed James Bulger of his right to live amongst his family, then justice will have seen to be done
Unfortunately there is a lot of injustice in this world, the killing of the little boy is no exception. Perhaps no one will win in this situation, the victim, families, even the offenders in their lives to come. Please see it for what it is, a no-win situation for all - now get on with your lives people!
I believe that Thompson and Venables would not be released if they were a danger to the general public. The question now is whether the general public will be a danger to them. They did commit a horrific crime. They will never lead a "normal" life due to their own conscience. They were ten years old. The violent murder of Jamie Bulger is terrible. The violent outcry of the public towards Thompson and Venables is terrible. I cannot see how this issue will be resolved. One boy is already dead and three families destroyed. Where will this end?
I am so glad that I no longer live in a vigilante society like England! I accept that many UK residents do not wish to punish these boys anymore. Please think about what these two youths have been through in the last nine years. They have both shown remorse and regret for their actions. I truly hope that they have some sort of "normal" chance of life. I would also like to remind UK residents that many convicted murderers in the UK often serve less than these boys have served. Yet those murders were often committed as a premeditated act!
Please Brits get on with making your own lives better and stop this hateful bitterness.
The murder of James Bulger was utterly dreadful and tragic. It is the worst thing that can happen to any parent.
However, many people seem to forget that those two boys were only ten years old at the time. There is a large degree of diminished responsibility involved in this case.
If Thompson and Venables had been two or three years older when they committed the crime, it would have seemed fair to punish them more severely.
But taking all the facts into consideration, it would be immoral to keep them locked up any longer. Why should they be punished as adults for something they did as young children?
However difficult, the parole board made the correct decision.
Firstly, given the immense public opposition to their release it would have behoved those in charge to have respected that opinion. However, it doesn't matter when or where these young men are released, they still will not be fully cognisant of what they did. That reality will come home to them after the birth of their first child. Then they will understand the enormity of their actions. The pity of it is, not only did they destroy the lives of the Bulgers but also the lives of their own families and any future family they may sire. I feel enormously sorry for the Bulgers who are torn between seeking justice for their son, or putting this behind them and concentrating on the children they have now. It is an unresolvable issue.
Michael M, USA
They were ten years old. They really cannot be held accountable for their actions. They were too young. They were truanting from school. Whose fault is that?
They should be released on parole since one life destroyed is better than three lives. No one has a right to take someone's life away like that. James is gone. However, these two have learnt their lesson and should no longer be punished.
William Harris, England
Ever since this tragic crime, the two boys have been treated as cold, hard adult killers by the justice system and society. I was 11 when it happened and I know that I did not have a fully developed conscience at that time.
These boys should not be made to suffer for their entire lives for what they did as children. However the constant fear of reprisal will no doubt be a punishment in itself. We should learn from a very similar example in Norway in which two young boys who killed a young girl were accepted back into the community in a matter of weeks. Oh and Norway still has one of the lowest levels of crime in Europe.
These boys should never be released. Why don't the courts listen to what people want and most of the relatives of James Bulger. His parents are living a nightmare every day.
Has anyone considered that living a lie will have disastrous psychological effects for Venables and Thompson? Knowing that you must keep your identity and past secret or a vigilante group'll set you upon could create acute paranoia and unforeseen mental problems. It's this kind of pressure which could push two already unstable individuals over the edge once again. They cannot be released until they will be safe from public vengeance. And that means never.
The media is very dangerous and has been instrumental in demonising these two for their crimes to the point that public opinion would never be satisfied with any punishment. I believe that vigilante actions are mindless and at the end of the day I do not believe it will serve to make the mother of James feel any better for her terrible loss. Public opinion should not create policy and in particular the law, let's trust in the professionals who know how to do their jobs!!
I must say that I am absolutely appalled at the vengeful attitude shown by members of the British public. The crime was a horrific one, but they were ten years old. No penalty is truly sufficient for murder so let us try to do something positive; let the young men be and allow them to try to make something of their lives. The self-righteousness and hatred being expressed is disgraceful. And stop calling them killers; would we all like to be defined completely by single acts that we have done?
I don't think it's right that the boys killed James Bulger. However would taking their lives make a wrong right? Shall we all turn into murderers? We still have a lot to learn from the Norwegian experience of how that country was able to handle such a difficult situation.
Can't you realise that eventually these boys will be released, If not now then in 5 years where, after any progress they have made in the way of rehabilitation would be ruined and the corruptive atmosphere of your Youth Prisons would only increase their likelihood of reoffending.
If the parole board wants them released, let members of the board take custody of them personally.
Horrified by the death penalty and life sentences without parole, it is gratifying to see justice prevail, in spite of the blood-lust of the populace. Ten years from now, they would be 30 and probably unable to adapt to life out of prison. Ten years,and what 10 years in the life of a human being, is a long time, is enough. I can't believe the sanity and the sense of justice that I am witnessing from afar, when I constantly know of terrible deeds
perpretrated in the name of justice and in the name of the people.
One angle I have not heard anyone comment on is that these "boys" may eventaully fall in love, get married and have children.
One day, that secret will be exposed, can you imagine the feeling that poor mother and children face at that time.
They should be denied ever getting married and having children as part of their release.
James will never walk this earth again, yet his killers will. The British Justice system and the do-gooders of this country have got a lot to answer for. They obviously don't really care that a two-year-old has been killed or that a mother and father have lost their baby. How would they feel if it was one of theirs?
Who are the people on this anonymous Parole Board? They appear to have power without responsibility. At least if the decision were left to the Home Secretary he would be open to censure and would have to stand up and say why he took a particular decision - and carry the can if that decision turned out to be the wrong one.
While I believe in humane methods of trying to rehabilitate criminals, I feel that it is far too early to have released these boys. Their lives have been salvaged: good. But by not having any element of punishment for what they did, we can only see that their heinous crime has been rewarded by a life they could never have dreamed of.
Once you have done your punishment, you should be allowed to start with a clean sheet. If the parole board in charge estimates: "it is enough", then it is enough. Even if they did something horrible, there is a fundamental difference, they were not adults. They surely did not realise exactly what they did. And where did they get the idea? Would it not be from the movies they had seen on TV, or from where else? Instead of crying for many more years of revenge, why not start talking about forgiving?
The real issue here is less one of justice than of the purpose of the government. Isn't one of government's main purposes supposed to be the defence of its citizens from crime? Prison sentences are about punishing those who hurt others and break laws, not about rehabilitation of the criminal. Those who commit acts of violence against others have made a choice to do so. When they did this, they voluntarily gave up their rights as a responsible citizen. There is no such thing as being fair-minded to criminals.
I accept that Robert Thompson and John Venables should be released sooner or later but the sentence was far too light. I think that they should remain in custody until they are at least 30 years old. I know they were only children but the crime was particularly horrendous. I lived in Manchester at the time of the killing. It seems as though the system has shown more compassion for James' killers than for his parents.
Many people have spoken with indignation of the fact that Thompson and Venables have had better education and care while in local authority secure accommodation than they would have had they not committed the crime, and that they have in effect been "rewarded" rather than punished.
I hope somebody, somewhere finds these two evil people and that they get what they deserve. What is this world coming to that we treat them so well? They should have no new names or identities. They should just have to walk out of the prison gates like any other criminal, and take what is there to greet them.
It's very easy to say "lock them up throw away the key. but hopefully eight years is enough to learn a bit about what is wrong with a society that this happens in and how we can fix it. Ten years old is a very strange time. Trying to do what grown ups do but still thinking like a child. Love is what we all need to show each other.
I am British and have been living abroad for several years but I was living in the UK at the time of this horrendous murder. However, the release of these two unfortunate children just reminds me of my feelings at that time.
That it should not have been these two 10 year olds on trial, indeed their identity should never have been made public in the first place.
It's a "no win" situation. I think that 15 years would of been more just, but to put them into an adult prison now that they are 18 years old would of been disastrous. All the rehabilitation work of the past eight years would of been undone by the prison system as it exists. I feel very sorry for the family of James but the two boys would have to be released eventually. Eight years isn't long enough though and I don't feel they have been really punished.
As some one who has the trust and love of many kids, I find the actions of these two killers abominable. They tortured a two-year-old to death and were fully aware of what they were doing.
Do we really have any comprehension of the amount of pure evil it takes for someone (no matter what age) to do what those boys did to James? Excusing them because they were only 10 and did not fully understand the consequences of their actions cuts no ice with me. They tortured James and, to them, it was a FUN thing to do. There is a very dark underbelly here that needs to be exposed.
Donna Tunstall, Canada
If they can kill once they can do it again doesn't take high flying lawyers and judicial systems to figure that one out.
Can anyone comment on an approximation of the total 'lifetime' cost to the taxpayer for this unpopular decision?
How many nurses would you get for this money?
What happens if their identities are discovered, does the 'protection' continue? do we start again? Or as should have been the case, do they become answerable for their crime?
10 year old boys that have been brought up with no structure, no love and plenty of unjustified beatings deserve to be given another chance.
James has been dead eight years. Let him rest in peace and let these boys build a life where they can make a useful contribution to society, wherever that may be. No useful purpose can be served by keeping them in prison, it won't change what has already happened.
Joanne, The Netherlands (ex UK)
This is an outrage - not only are Venables and Thompson granted freedom, but they are also rewarded for murder with new identities, homes and numerous other handouts from the state. They will have the safety of a new life, something James Bulger was denied.
Although I sympathise with the family of James Bulger the reason these boys were released now is so that they are not sent to an adult prison which would have ensured they were corrupted absolutely. Since they are going to have to be released at some point, why not do it now when they still have the chance of leading normal lives rather than spending several more years in institutions that are just expensive ways of making bad people worse.
T. Dillon, Ireland
Can we even BEGIN to imagine what happened on that day? My son is 10 now, and he is fully aware of his own actions. They should not be released, under any circumstances. People who think they know best, are just that - people who think - they really don't know.
God help them if released, because they will be exposed - the media is too clever.
The judicial system has once again failed the whole of British society, not least the family of James Bulger. The age of these murderers and their background has no relevance. These two evil people should never have been released. Anyone involved in this shameful decision should be ashamed of themselves. A sad day...
Ian Campbell, UK
What happened to the 'time' fitting the 'crime'? This is an absolute disgrace, for eight short years to be punishment enough for such an abhorrent crime. It's time for the justice system to be accountable too.
Well, in a strange way, I feel justice is being done. Imagine the killers' lives from now on. They may well find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. No one to help them, protect them or come to their aid. A bit like poor James' situation 8 years ago. They have to live with that possibility, in the big open world, for the rest of their lives.
Rachel Booth, England
I have lived in Liverpool for the past five years and know that feelings up here still run deep about the murder of James. I am appalled that the two killers should be released back into the community after a relatively short time in custody for the nature of the crime and without tasting life in a real prison. This is a sad day for justice in the UK, as I feel that in this case justice has not been done.
Despite the horrific nature of their crime, surely these two adults deserve a second chance for a crime they committed at the age of 10. Given the strict conditions of their release, I think it's reasonable to allow them the opportunity to redeem themselves.
Of course it's the right decision, the parole board wouldn't let them out unless it was safe, I just hope for their sakes that they will never be discovered and will have a chance to live productive lives.
British justice is a disgrace.
We pander to the criminal element and punish the victim. It is about time we introduced harsher sentencing including life meaning life. Parole for good behaviour should also be abolished. The sentence should reflect the crime not your behaviour afterwards.
It is strange, is it not, that ordinary decent folk, who spend much of their lives working hard to earn an honest living get very little in terms of "freebies", and yet these two boys commit a gruesome murder, spend several years at Her Majesty's pleasure and are then released into an ideal environment - new identities, relocation, financial security, etc etc. Is this the message we want to be sending out the youth of today?
Gaynor Seckerson, UK
Thompson and Venables have an evil streak that no amount of rehabilitation can cure. They have received more perks whilst in their so-called 'Young People's Correctional Facility', than the majority of young people in the whole of the UK.
Perhaps the tabloids would like to see Venables and Thompson held indefinitely in a prison cell with Ian Brady or Myra Hindley... but we live in a democracy with a well-established judicial system whose decisions should be respected, however unpalatable they may seem.
I think the best solution would be for them to be released under the supervision of a TV crew. This way we can allow the vigilante pursuit to be broadcast for those who feel that John and Robert have not suffered. All you cold hearted "do-nothings" could tune into this on your idiot box and feel perfectly justified in your pathetic small-minded opinions.
It's hard to say but it's true that it won't be any good to keep them in prison. I disagree with their new identity thing because it will not guarantee anything. Someone, somewhere will know who and where they are.
Jennie Morris, UK
Up until now these boys have been in a holiday camp with PlayStations and TV/ videos. They haven't served any time. They committed an adult crime and should serve an adult punishment. They need to be imprisoned with grownups and learn to cope. Not be able to go out on visits to shopping centres and leisure centres!
Fact is they can only serve up to a maximum of 15 years (whether people like it or not). Surely there is less chance of them re-offending if they are released now, rather than spending 7 years in a more adult environment, being exposed to harder criminals and becoming more bitter.
Ten year olds know the difference between right and wrong. There is a deep and hidden reason why the two boys did what they did. If anything this needs researching. They should be not be set free.
I hope that all those people calling for the release of Thompson and Venables can put themselves in the position of James Bulger's mother for a moment and see how they would feel if it was one of their children who had been brutally murdered. I'm sure that their opinions would be much different if it had happened to them.
Do you remember what you were like when you were 10? Were you the same person at 18? How many nurses could you pay for with the money that you have spent keeping these two in prison?
I am an expat working in Norway, I do not think these
two should be released for a very long time. The do-gooders of this world have a lot to answer for.
18 Jun 01 | UK
Bulger killers close to freedom
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