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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 11:48 GMT
Bulger case: Was it the right decision?

The killers of the Merseyside toddler James Bulger will have their anonymity protected when they are released, a judge has ruled.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, now 18, are to be given new identities when they are set free from the separate secure units where they are being held.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss at the High Court said: "I have come to the conclusion that I am compelled to take steps in the almost unique circumstances of this case to protect their lives and physical wellbeing."

Is this the right decision? Is it right that murderers should have their identities protected?

Top media lawyer Mark Stephens joined us on Monday for a live webcast. He answered some of your concerns on the implications of the Bulger ruling.

To watch coverage of the forum, select a link below:

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This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


The judge simply had no option but to change the pair's identities

Matt Guinness, England
The judge simply had no option but to change the pair's identities. They did an evil thing but have served their time and are hopefully rehabilitated. They were 10 years old at the time, so surely deserve another chance. What they did shouldn't be used as an excuse to incite more violence especially in the name of James Bulger.
Matt Guinness, England

I wonder if any of the people who agree with providing these two with anonymity, would like to have either one of them as fathers of their grandchildren or even just husbands of their daughters.
Janina, England

A lot of people seem to forget that the prison system is two pronged. It serves to both punish, and more importantly to correct. If the killers' rehabilitation is not complete they will not be granted parole. They will be released as individuals who pose no danger to society, but released into a society that seemingly wants to destroy them. Until society 'grows up' they both need and deserve protection.
Andy, England


Everyone deserves the protection of the law, including criminals who have served their time

Nick Marsh, UK
In this country everyone deserves the protection of the law, including criminals who have served their time. Releasing their whereabouts would only invite attacks against them. Two wrongs do not make a right.
Nick Marsh, UK

Those 2 boys have had every opportunity to gain a valuable education they would never have received under different circumstances. I feel that they have been given the best introduction into the 'best years of their lives' from which they could provide themselves with a wonderful life, something the little child will never get the opportunity to see. Why should they get to enjoy and make the most of these fantastic years? This is the ultimate in incomprehensible justice !
Mazza, England

In my opinion eight years was not a long enough sentence for the killers of James Bulger. I live on Merseyside and I remember vividly, as a 12 year old, the outrage of the local people. As a 12 year old I couldn't imagine what possessed them to carry out such a crime, Anonymity will not protect these killers.
Nick, UK

People who say that James Bulger's killers should have served at least fifteen years imprisonment are just guessing. Venables and Thompson were immature children when they committed their crime. They are now young adults and should be judged on what they are now and not what they were then. This is a judgement for the parole board. To arbitrarily ascribe any form of adult punishment on ten and eleven year-olds is ludicrous. If they are now found to be suitable for release, of course their identities should be protected to allow them the opportunity to re-build their lives.
Ian Marlow, England


Society bears a lot of the blame

Laura, UK
Let's not allow the destruction of the lives of two more young boys as well as Jamie - there's absolutely no justice in that. There is only value in punishment as a lesson, both to the perpetrators and to society - these boys have undoubtedly already been punished enough for a crime for which, as far as I can see, society bears a lot of the blame anyway.
Laura, UK

As cruel as it sounds, I hope they are exposed, and given no peace. Their rights? What about the rights of that poor child. Maybe this will set a trend: commit a crime that is brutal enough and you identity can be changed. A new start.
Aaron Hooks, Germany

I know what the boys did was the worst crime that could ever be committed, and please don't misunderstand me, my thoughts are with the parents of James, but, I have got to question a system that would even consider putting ten year-olds on trial, most countries wouldn't entertain a trail for children of this age. How can we hold these children responsible? Surely if we had a better system for parenting skills, someone somewhere would have seen that these boys was in need of help and a stable upbringing. Again I find myself questioning, who failed whom? Our whole system needs reviewing.
Sam, U.K.

I am astounded that these two boys will be allowed back into the community. I am only two years older than these boys and I for certain would want to know if I was living next door to them. On the other hand though I do understand why they have to have their identities protected, as their release would result in violence possibly even murder, as there are a lot of people wanting revenge on the boys. However I feel sorry for the women who will eventually get involved with these boys not really knowing who they are, so where do you draw the line?
Rebecca Dobson, England

Will they disclose each other's identity for money's sake?
K Llewellyn, Wales


The majority would probably let the matter lie

Dave Tankard, UK
If they had been given a meaningful sentence in the first place I suspect the outcry would be reduced at least. Instead they have had seemingly unlimited funds (i.e the tax you and I pay) poured into one defence after another, one "expert" after another making their assessments, an education only available to the very wealthy and, just to add insult to injury, they get a free ticket to a new life in another country! If they had been sent to jail, served a sentence appropriate for the crime (personally I would say 15 years is fair) and then released the public at large would see justice being done, and the majority would probably let the matter lie.
Dave Tankard, UK

The only excuse the papers could make for wanting the whereabouts of these two boys made public was that "it is in the public interest". Exactly what interest could the general public have in these two other than to exact revenge for the terrible crime that they committed. What the papers really mean is "it is in the newspapers interest" so that they can name them and show their faces so that they can sell more newspapers.

Look what happened last year when the papers started naming and shaming alleged paedophiles, many innocent people suffered at the hands of howling lynch mobs, who decided these people were guilty because they were told so by the newspapers. As much as it is hard to stomach I believe that the judge was right to order their identities to be withheld, in the interests of their own safety, once known they wouldn't stand a chance against the tabloid-fuelled vigilante mobs.
Peter, Switzerland

The decision was clearly a civilised and humane response to the inevitable consequences of the two boys' release into a community poisoned by the tabloid newspapers. I think these kind of newspapers shame Britain even more than the heinous crimes committed by the two boys at the age of ten. The disgusting crimes of these tabloid monsters are perpetrated by grown men and women, who are quite happy to entice their readers to commit unspeakably awful things in the name of a simplistic and child-like revenge mentality.
Colin Simpson, England

As far as I'm concerned these boys lost ALL their rights when they committed this horrific crime. I remember back in 1993 that that they were going to be sentenced for life, not eight years then having our tax money go to their protection. Life means life, not eight years then back into society! And to those people saying that they should be protected as they are human beings: Try telling that to the Bulger family! James Bulger has had the gift of life taken away from him at a very young age, he will NEVER get a second chance, so why should these boys get a second chance, let alone protection from our tax money!
Adrian, Wales


The lynch-mob enthusiasts are a much more dangerous, and nastier, problem

Rob, UK
After reading some of the comments about these two boys it makes one realise what a thin veneer there is between civilised society and tabloid newspaper led barbarism. Two ten year-old boys committed an unspeakable act and have been punished (and, hopefully, rehabilitated). The lynch-mob enthusiasts are a much more dangerous, and nastier, problem.
Rob, UK

Nothing that happens now will bring back the life of James Bulger. Venables and Thompson have forfeited their liberty, (and will continue to do so indirectly as a consequence of their actions), but they do not forfeit the most fundamental of all human rights: the right to life. All human rights must be balanced with responsibilities. Without a change in identity, the lives of these men would certainly be in jeopardy because they would be hunted down following press led publicity. The decision was a responsible act; without it a certain violation of human rights would occur namely the murder of Thompson and Venables. Despite the feelings of James Bulger's friends and family today, that would make them and everybody else feel a whole lot worse after the event and barbarise our society.
Stuart Woodward, UK

The hysterical opponents of the planned release and protection of Venables and Thompson make very little sense. On the one hand they seem shocked by the age of the two boys at the time of the crime, believing this somehow makes it even more unthinkable, on the other hand they seem completely blind to the other implications of their age. Has it not crossed their minds that a child is bound to be more successfully reformed than the adult criminals they happily ignore? And have they not considered that missing out on a normal childhood, as these boys now have, is possibly one of the severest punishments imaginable?
Anon, UK

It was a terrible crime but the boys have served their sentence. They have to live with their conscience for the rest of their lives. The newspapers involved are only interested in increasing sales and profit not in the moral aspect.
Helen Morgan, Denmark

Recently the unit that the Bulger murderers are in put forward one of these men for an award. Having worked in such a unit I am aware how easy it is for a young persons to appear to have changed because they are not exposed to everyday life and temptations. I am also aware how easy it is for the staff of such units to be taken in by their clients. It is difficult for me to believe that these two young men have changed so much in such a short time. They should spend some time in an adult prison - maybe an Open Prison - before finally being released on licence.
Alan Watts, England


Most countries wouldn't even put 10 year-olds on trial

Chris Cormier, Canada
I wonder, reading the vengeful comments on this page, exactly what do those opposed to the boys' freedom want? The boys to be executed? Their crime was horrific, however most countries wouldn't even put ten year-olds on trial. Where does it end? Exactly what would "justice" be - to live in torment and punishment for a lifetime for something they did at a young age? It is obvious that some people cannot even conceive of the word "forgive" unless the subject is absolutely trivial (i.e. you took my parking spot).
Chris Cormier, Canada

My name is Robert Thompson. I am 20 years old. If the murderer with the same name as me was released WITHOUT a new name, how long would I last? We saw last year that people, egged on by the tabloids love a bit of vigilante violence (even though they want stiffer sentences for "real" criminals). It does not matter to them whether they get the right Robert Thompson as long as their primitive sense of "justice is satisfied". I would be beaten up and maybe killed, even though I am innocent. I'd be worried if they did not have new names.
Rob, UK

I for one, do not feel any sympathy for either of these two boys. People will track them down if they want to. Never mind about the ban. What really gets to people is that justice has not been done. We know they were young when they did this horrific crime but the facts of the case are appalling. It was cold-blooded murder. They knew what they were doing.
Alan Grainger, England


It appears that for the innocent, these are only but dreams

Anna M, UK
By committing this crime, Venables and Thompson have inadvertently found themselves the promise of a much better adult life than they would have had, had they remained law-abiding. This is further proof that crime, at least in the UK, does pay. How many desperately poor children out there, living in inner-city slums, would dream of the chance of breaking free from their violent parents, changing their identities and living the rest of their lives in a hot far-away country and follow their ambitions without the constraints of an archaic class system? It appears that for the innocent, these are only but dreams.
Anna M, UK

Let's think about this. Two kids kill another child and spend almost half their life serving their sentence for their crime. Put yourself in their place and imagine being hunted down for the rest of your life - would you like it? I think not. The judge was right to protect their identity.
John C, UK

If we don't know who they are, we also don't know who they aren't. What happens when an innocent 18-year old Scouser moves to a new area and is suspected of being either Jon Venables or Robert Thompson? How would he be able to establish the truth of the matter?
Graham Giles,UK

To be honest, I really don't care what they do or what they are called, but for one who has just spent six months in Australia, longing to live there and with little chance of being granted residency (age, no degree, etc) I would be absolutely livid if these two were sent to live there. I would certainly have something to say and would go to great extremes to make myself heard. What do I have to do - kill someone, spend 8 years in a British prison, obtain a degree or two then get packed off down under? Australia is a wonderful beautiful country, and their being sent there on the back of the taxpayer would be beyond belief. A punishment Australia is not!
Elizabeth Coldwell, England


They will never be left alone

Frank Bacon, Canada
This story is being reported all around the world. God knows which country is going to allow these murderers across their borders! I'd give it five days after release before pictures of the boys are posted on the internet, ten days before their current whereabouts, etc. They will never be left alone, never be safe, never sleep at night. Personally I say - good; others may feel for them, I do not.
Frank Bacon, Canada

The boys have done their time and they would need to have different identities for their own sake. They've got to get on with their future and if they can put something back into the world, then that will certainly help.
Jacinta, UK

A difficult case and whatever the rights and wrongs, any decision will be both applauded and derided. What they did was undeniably unspeakable but do we keep them in gaol forever? Oh for the wisdom of Solomon.
Peter Nixon, England/ USA

It is wrong! The criminal has greater protection than the law-abiding citizen. It would be interesting to see the reaction of Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and her political ilk, if a child, or grandchild of hers was wilfully murdered. When are the 'do-gooders' going to suffer for the fruits of their ridiculous philosophies that they insist on imposing on our society?
D. Thorpe, England


I can understand both sides of the argument

Andrew Boxall, England
I have no opinion either way regarding this decision, as I can understand both sides of the argument. However, I feel it is worth mentioning that these boys can never be free. They can have no contact with their parents or other relatives, as well as that of their hometown, for the rest of their lives. They can never reveal themselves. A very public prison, that any ordinary-minded individual would dread.
Andrew Boxall, England

What was most powerful about the recent decision was the inherent indictment of the UK press's ability to report in an objective manner - the fundamental duty of the press in a democracy. Even our quality broadsheets (The Sunday Times is a key perpetrator) have been guilty of sensationalist, boorish treatment of really quite complex and sensitive issues. We have a criminal justice system that is set up to punish those that commit crimes. These two kids have come through that system, and now need to be allowed the opportunity to prove that they have learnt from their imprisonment.
Imran Ahmed, England

As a tax-payer, I have already contributed substantially to their rehabilitation. If they come and live near me, I'd rather I didn't know - the last thing I want is a pack of slavering, blood-lusting tabloid hacks lowering the tone of the neighbourhood and pushing down house prices. I also don't want to contribute to the cost of police protection for the rest of their lives. If the tabloids are so keen to 'out' them, may I suggest they dip into their respective proprietors' cash-stuffed pockets and cough up for the price of the round the clock protection themselves.
Andy Stanley, UK

What do those who oppose this decision think should happen? Other than remaining in prison (which is a different debate) there seems no alternative to disguising these boys' identities. Those against it seem to almost want a revenge killing. It makes me thankful that the dispensation of justice in this country is in the hands of impartial and reasonable people, as opposed to the Daily Mail reading vigilante morons who come to light every time there is a disturbing crime of this nature. We are long past the days of "eye for an eye", thank heaven.
Richard Newman, UK


People need to learn that everyone makes mistakes, sometimes very large ones

Martin Mills, UK
This is the right decision. The two people have spent eight years in prison for what they did when they were 10, an age that most of us had little or no sense. There are people out there who believe that they should be punished further and that is the very reason why they should be protected. People need to learn that everyone makes mistakes, sometimes very large ones, but that gives us no right as individuals to exact our own form of "justice".
Martin Mills, UK

We saw what happened, last year, when the News of the World "outed" alleged paedophiles. It is quite obvious that the only reason the newspapers, who brought this action, wanted to show their pictures and announce where they will live, is to entice other weak minded people to commit crimes that will generate headlines for those editors and hacks. The judge, in this case, was obviously right. We all need the protection of the courts against the idiots who enjoy making money from the misery of others.
Andy, UK

What they did was heinous and evil, but let's show some common sense. They would be lynched wherever they went if people knew their identity. They will still have to live with themselves which is punishment enough!
Tim Abernethy, England


Thank God for common sense

Gareth Williams, UK
Thank God for common sense. The media just want their five minutes of fun and sales figures. They want to hunt these boys down and the messier it gets the better the story/ sales figures. Well here is the news - these boys are not a story, they are human beings. Here is also the news - they didn't kill the boy last week, they did it when they were little kids.
Gareth Williams, UK

Good decision. The priority now is to let something good come from the tragedy in the form of two reformed individuals.
Matthew Treherne, UK

What these two boys did makes me shudder. However, lynch-mob mentality also makes me shudder. I have a feeling that with this case being so intense, someone somewhere will exact their 'revenge', despite whatever privacy measures are in place.
Dan, UK

We will now see every Tom, Dick and Harry demanding special protection after getting out of jail. Every case will be clamed to be unique, as it indeed is. Nevertheless, these two will be found out in the end, even if they're sent abroad. In this day and age, nothing can remain a secret for long.
Lawrence Wills, UK

I don't think it's wrong to keep their identities secret but I do think it's wrong that they are being released. They have taken a child's life and yet they are being allowed to live theirs. How can that be justice?
Imogen Taylor, UK


It is a wrong decision

Hugh Palin, England
It is a wrong decision. These two are supposed to have expressed remorse and to have been transmutated into humans (however implausible this sounds). They should now get on with their lives as who they are. Anyone who attempts to attack them should be prosecuted if and when they do it, i.e. they should have the same "protection" as you and I - namely none.
Hugh Palin, England

Another confirmation that the shameful criminal justice system in the Western world is set up to protect the criminal - not the victim. I don't know who I have less respect for - these two reprobates or Dame whatever-Sloss and the dishonourable profession she represents.
B. Thompson, UK

This is the WRONG decision. These boys are going to be given new lives and identities. The time they have spent in "rehabilitation" has been luxury in comparison to what they would have had if they had not committed such a horrific crime. The public should know where they are.
Gillian, Scotland

What Jamie Bulger's parents must be going through right know is anyone's guess. The law has spent the last eight years pandering to the killers of their son while wringing its hands and saying, 'Yes I know, terrible isn't it, what a shocking crime'. Sickening.
Neil Halliday, UK


What mercy did they show an innocent child with his entire life to live for?

Miss Hearmon, England
I find it both disgusting and horrifying that the identities of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables are to be kept secret for fear of their safety. Is this the softly, softly approach that we can expect from so-called honourable people? If this is what happens to child killers then those in power in this country should be ashamed of themselves and everything they stand for. If is too dangerous for them to come out into society why not let them stay at Her Majesty's pleasure? Show them mercy? What mercy did they show an innocent child with his entire life to live for?
Miss Hearmon, England

If the populist media didn't have such an irrational obsession with the Bulger case this ruling wouldn't have been necessary in the first place. The tabloid media really should grow up and be a bit more responsible. If they'd had their way Venables and Thompson whould have been lynched at the time, but can you imagine the outcry and story those very same papers would make if some regime abroad started executing 10 year old children??
Rolf, UK

I think this is an outrageous decision. Why should these cold-blooded murderers have their "lives and wellbeing" protected when they took the life of one even younger than them?
Jonathan King, Switzerland (Brit)


The judge was right!

Mark, England
The judge was right! You either believe in the justice system in this country or you do not. The boys committed a (heinous) crime, but they have served their sentences. Mob rule and vigilante mentality helps no one. We do not have a death penalty in England but publicising their personal details would in effect put one in place.
Mark, England

The decision is a cover-up for an inadequate sentence. They are now worried that what hadn't been done legally will be done through lynch.
Robert Knowe, UK

I think it is totally wrong that these lads are even allowed back into our society. What they did was wrong, and they should be punished for it. This isn't a very good advert for other kids, who probably think that they will be able to get away things like this in the future.
Antony Grubb, England

It is quite right that the two killers of James Bulger should have their anonymity protected. This is not a precedent for ALL murderers to expect the same treatment. We must remember that these two young men were children when they committed the crime. If Mr Bulger finds them what does he propose to do? Murder them also? This is not the Middle Ages. Judge Butler-Sloss has made the correct and humane decision.
Amanda Nicoll, UK

Of course it is the correct decision. It's obvious to everyone what's going to happen if these teenagers' identities are revealed to the public. Do we want a society that condones mob rule?
Simon Watkins, Wales

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | UK
Secrecy for Bulger killers


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