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Wednesday, January 7, 1998 Published at 15:00 GMT

UK: Politics

No conclusive link between videos and violence
image: [ Chucky the killer doll, from the film Child's Play 3, which James Bulger's killers reportedly watched ]
Chucky the killer doll, from the film Child's Play 3, which James Bulger's killers reportedly watched

A detailed survey commissioned by the Home Office has failed to establish a clear link between violent videos and aggressive behaviour by youngsters, it emerged on Wednesday.

The research, sponsored by the Home Office in the wake of the 1993 trial of James Bulger's boy killers at which questions were raised about the suitability of some videos, suggested a more complex relationship between screen and real-life violence.

James Bulger's killers, Robbie Thompson and Jon Venables, are said to have been influenced by the film Child's Play 3.

[ image: The UK video industry is worth millions]
The UK video industry is worth millions
Unhealthy taste

The report, compiled by psychologists from Birmingham University, found exposure to violence at home, and already developed delinquent tendencies, which were likely to nurture an unhealthy taste for on-screen violence.

It concluded: "The research points to a pathway from having a violent home background, to being an offender, to being more likely to prefer violent films and violent actors."

Dr Guy Cumberbatch, Head of Psychology at University College Worcester, commenting on the report's findings (0' 22")
The research project involved assessing the reactions to violent videos by a group of the 122 males aged 15 to 21, a group which included violent offenders, non-violent offenders and a control group of non-offending students.

Killer doll

The film, featuring Chucky the killer doll, was also mentioned as an influence on four people jailed for life for the murder of 16-year-old Suzanne Capper in December 1992.

She was injected with drugs, tortured with pliers and eventually set on fire at a house in Manchester. Her killers were said to have taunted her with lines from the Child's Play films.

[ image: Arnold Schwarzenegger...violent role model]
Arnold Schwarzenegger...violent role model
Researchers spent two years studying reactions to violent videos.

The report's authors, Kevin Browne and Amanda Pennell, said: "This study suggests that the well-established link between poor social background and delinquent behaviour extends to the development of a preference for violent films."

Ian Muir, of the Video Standards Council, defends the British video industry's use of violent imagery (2' 18")
"The implication is that both a history of family violence and offending behaviour are necessary preconditions for developing a significant preference for violent film action and role models."

Dangerous role model

The pair wrote: "Offenders were more likely to prefer actors who typically play characters whose use of severe violence appears positive and successful - a dangerous role model for young people, particularly those predisposed to crime and delinquency."

They conceded: "There is some evidence that young people do imitate films - the Black Museum at Scotland Yard has a copy made by a young offender of the deadly glove used by Freddie Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street - but there is no firm evidence of the extent of such copycat behaviour."

Both sides in the debate are likely to find material in the report to support their case.

[ image: Andreas Whittam Smith, new head of the BBFC]
Andreas Whittam Smith, new head of the BBFC
The report's findings will be studied particularly closely by the former editor of the Independent newspaper, Andreas Whittam Smith, who has been put in charge of the British Board of Film Classification.

The Government has asked him to review the way videos and computer games are classified and censored to see if there is a need to tighten things up.

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