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The BBC's Jane Peel
looks back at the Bulger case
 real 56k

Former Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard
"I thought they should have spent 15 years in custody"
 real 28k

Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes
"The decision of the parole board should be accepted and supported"
 real 56k

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe
"I think 10-year olds are capable of knowing when they are doing something wrong"
 real 56k

Friday, 22 June, 2001, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Bulger killers' sentence 'too short'
Former Home Secretary Michael Howard
Howard: Killers should have spent longer in custody
James Bulger's killers should have spent more than eight years in custody, according to former Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard.

Mr Howard was in charge of the Home Office when Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were found guilty of murder, and later tried to have their sentence increased.


A civilised society must say the youngsters when they become adults must have the chance to start again


Simon Hughes
Among other politicians reacting to the decision to release the pair on Friday, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes argued the pair should be allowed to start their lives afresh.

And he called for a debate about the age of criminal responsibility.

Eight years not enough

Mr Howard directed his criticism at Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, who last year ruled that it would not benefit the boys to spend time in the "corrosive atmosphere" of young offenders' institutions.

Mr Howard said: "I very much regret this decision.

"It may well be that the Parole Board had no alternative but I think Lord Woolf was wrong to decide that eight years was sufficient time for Thompson and Venables to spend in custody in the light of the uniquely dreadful circumstances of their crime."

Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice
Woolf: Under fire for decision
Mr Howard's attempt to raise the minimum time the killers spent in custody was overruled by the House of Lords and later criticised by the European Court of Human Rights.

But shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said she believed the 15-year tariffs Mr Howard tried to impose were "more appropriate given the gravity of this offence".

She continued: "If there was such objection to sending them to an adult prison, then other arrangements could, and should, have been made for their secure detention, and thought should be given to doing this in any comparable cases in the future."

Sending her "deepest sympathy" to James Bulger's family, Miss Widdecombe said it was now crucial the killers' anonymity was preserved.

Civilised society

That was an appeal echoed by Mr Hughes, who said calls for retribution were "totally inappropriate".

But in his other comments, Mr Hughes took a different line - saying the decision should be supported.

"Of course, the killing of James Bulger was evil, sinful and terribly wrong," he said.

"It is not for the state, however, to say that any crime is unforgivable."

While expressing his sympathy for the bereaved family, Mr Hughes said the wider interests of society must come first.

"It seems to me that the assessment is that they are safe to be released and a civilised society must say the youngsters when they become adults must have the chance to start again."

He hoped there would be a debate on raising the age of criminal responsibility.

Although he thought 16-years-old was too high, he said there had to be a different regime for youngsters when they grew up.

George Howarth
Howarth: Heart goes out to James's family
Announcing the Parole Board's decision, Home Secretary David Blunkett said he could not comment on the release.

No interest in pursuit

But he argued "no public interest" would be served by anyone pursuing the killers now the board had decided they did not need to be confined for people's protection.

Mr Blunkett announced the decision in a written answer to Gerald Howarth, local MP to James Bulger's family.

"Few of us have the imagination to begin to understand what Ralph and Denise have been through and along with many others my heart goes out to them at this time," he said.

Mr Howarth said it was inappropriate for him as a politician to comment on the board's decision.

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