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Monday, 25 June, 2001, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Bulger decision could open floodgates
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
Venables and Thompson's cases were reviewed by Lord Woolf
The decision to free James Bulger's murderers Jon Venables and Robert Thompson could lead to the early release of dozens of other young killers.

Seventy of the most brutal young criminals in Britain could be freed early from prison if their solicitors are successful in seeking a judicial review of delays in the process of deciding on release dates.

Lawyers acting for the killers, who were all under 18 when convicted, are taking advantage of the decision by the European Court of Human Rights that helped ensure the freedom of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

The court ruled in December 1999 that tariffs for juvenile killers could not be set by the home secretary, but only by their trial judges or the lord chief justice.


The argument here is about who should be setting sentences

Simon Creighton, lawyer
This means their jail terms must now be reviewed by Lord Woolf, who ruled on the cases of Thompson and Venables.

One of those who could be released early is Learco Chindamo, who stabbed to death head teacher Philip Lawrence as he defended a pupil outside his school in north London in December 1995.

Mr Lawrence's widow Frances told Radio 4's Today programme she had deep reservations about any such appeals in the name of human rights.

Human rights

She said: "I take human rights legislation very seriously and I do appreciate that it applies as equally to Chindamo as it does to my own children.

"But at the same time I feel that nowhere have Chindamo's rights been violated in the most fundamental way that my children's have been.

"I understand that the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to family life, now Chindamo severed the soul of our family life and he has denied us that right and I do find that any watering down will be deemed less of a deterrent than a right of passage.

"I'm not sure what this will mean to the public and to other young people who may be on the verge of criminal activity."

Others eligible to see their sentences reduced include two 14-year-olds who laughed as they murdered a drunk on a park bench in Bedford and a self-styled gang leader who killed a 14-year-old schoolboy with a machete outside his south London school.

Fair play

Simon Creighton, a partner with Bhatt Murphy, which represents 11 child murderers including Venables, told the BBC a review was necessary to ensure fair treatment for those behind bars.

He said: "The issue here is about the judicial process and obviously the families of the victims are in a desperate position and everyone's sympathies go to them.

Learco Chindamo
Learco Chindamo: Philip Lawrence's killer could be released early
"The argument here is about who should be setting sentences and the principles and what those principles should be set.

"The reason we had the European Court saying that human rights were being violated was that sentences had previously been set by politicians and that obviously allowed a whole agenda to be brought into it."

The Home Office confirmed there are 128 killers behind bars in England and Wales, who were between 10 and 18 when they carried out their crimes.

They were originally jailed indefinitely "at Her Majesty's pleasure" which in effect translated as a life sentence.

The Prison Service has forwarded 72 applications from prisoners who were convicted of murder as juveniles to the Lord Chief Justice's department for consideration under the European directive.

Two have been rejected and 26 are in the early stages of being processed.

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