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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The family will not give up"
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The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy
"Jon Venables and Robert Thompson could be set free in months"
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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 15:54 GMT
Bulger father loses parole challenge
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
Venables (L) and Thompson have served the minimum tariff
The father of murdered toddler Jamie Bulger has lost his High Court bid to prevent the early release of his son's killers.

Ralph Bulger, 34, said he was absolutely devastated by the judges' decision.

Lawyers for Mr Bulger, unsuccessfully tried to overturn recommendations by Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf which allow Robert Thompson and Jon Venables to be considered for parole in the near future.

The pair, both 18, could now be released later this year on licence if the Parole Board decides that the killers have spent enough time in custody and are no longer a risk to the public.

Three senior judges rejected accusations that Lord Woolf's recommendations that Thompson and Venables serve a minimum tariff of just under eight years was so low that it threatened to "undermine confidence in the criminal justice system".

I have spent two years trying to get this back to court and it now seems it is all over

Ralph Bulger
Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Sullivan and Mr Justice Penry-Davey, ruled that Mr Bulger did not have legal standing to challenge the tariff.

Mr Bulger said: "I have spent two years trying to get this back to court and it now seems it is all over."

He was also refused permission to appeal against the ruling.

'Saddened but not surprised'

Speaking after the judges' decision, the solicitor for James's mother Denise Fergus said she was "saddened but not surprised by the ruling".

He said she questioned the point of being invited to put a case if she and her ex-husband had no legal standing to challenge the decision.

"She suspects the invitation was a figleaf to cover the unpalatable truth that victims have no rights in the sentencing process.

"Denise will fight on by whatever means she can to prevent another family suffering at the hands of these dangerous young men whom she believes have been reinvented rather than rehabilitated."

Ralph Bulger
Ralph Bulger: Court challenge
The 12 reasons for a judicial review, put to the judges by Mr Bulger's lawyers, included allegations that Thompson had been involved in violent exchanges with another detainee.

But lawyers for the killer established these were a complete fabrication and the other boy was nowhere near the building at the time of the alleged incident.

Thompson and Venables were both aged 10 in February 1993 when they battered the two-year-old to death and left his body on a railway line in their native Liverpool.

They are now 18 and are being held in separate secure local authority homes.

'Disgrace to justice system'

In his ruling last October Lord Woolf took into account that neither boy had shown "any aggression or propensity for violence during his period of detention" after being sentenced for the murder of Jamie Bulger.

James Bulger
James Bulger was two when he died
But lawyers for Mr Bulger argued that Lord Woolf's tariff, backed by Home Secretary Jack Straw, must be quashed because of the "astounding" failure of authorities to tell the judge of the newspaper allegations about Thompson.

If released, Thompson and Venables will be given intricate false identities and "pre-histories" and may be offered the chance to emigrate from the UK.

Norman Brennan from the Victims of Care Trust said the judges' ruling was a disgrace to the British justice system.

"It shows that the most senior judge in the country has little regard for the protection of victims," he told BBC News 24.

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