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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK


Outrage at call for Bulger killers' release

Jon Venables (left) and Robert Thompson are now 17

The Chief Inspector of Prisons has sparked outrage by calling for the killers of toddler James Bulger to be released.

BBC Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson: "Highly unusual for Chief Inspector of prisons to comment on length of sentence"
Sir David Ramsbotham said Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, jailed for life for murder, should be given "as early as possible a release" once they reach the age of 18.

But James's mother Denise Fergus said in a statement: "Why should Venables and Thompson be released after just a few years in comfortable surroundings while I serve the true life sentence without James?"

The pair, convicted of killing the toddler in 1993, are currently both 17.

[ image: Sir David wants killers released as early as possible]
Sir David wants killers released as early as possible
Sir David told the New Statesman magazine that he had met Thompson and had formed "a considerable admiration for the way he is being looked after and the way he has responded".

The pair will soon be moved from the care of social services to the Prison Service.

The BBC's Jane Peel reports on the outrage following the comments
"What are we going to do with them? I would not wish them to go to some of the institutions I have seen," Sir David said.

"Once they have reached the age of adulthood, I would hope they would get as early as possible a release in order to give them some chance of making a life.

"People say life shouldn't be easy for them in the light of what they did. I acknowledge that.

"But they did it at the age of nine. I can't remember all my emotions at that age, and I'd be horrified if I was still held accountable for them."

Outrage at 'distressing' remarks

But Liverpool lawyer Robin Makin, who represents James Bulger's father Ralph, said he was "horrified" by the remarks.

He expressed surprise that a Home Office employee would call for the boys' release when parties attending a recent European Court hearing on whether the boys' human rights were violated at their trial were "embargoed from discussing the matter".

[ image: James Bulger was battered to death on a railway line]
James Bulger was battered to death on a railway line
Lawyer Sean Sexton, who represents Mrs Fergus, said his client was distressed when people who knew nothing about the case expressed opinions.

"I am just surprised that he has seen fit to comment at this time. It is not part of his remit.

"We are expecting the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in December and the remarks will be very distressing as far as my client Denise Fergus is concerned.

"It is difficult to understand how somebody can have admiration for an individual who kidnapped a boy, took him on a two-mile route march and battered him to death on a railway line," added Mr Sexton.

'None of your business'

The Home Office has distanced itself from the comments, describing them as "a personal view" and refusing to comment further while the case is before the European Court.

The boys were originally given an eight-year "tariff" for the killing - the period they must serve before being considered for release.

That term was increased to 10 years by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, and to 15 years by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard. Mr Howard's move was declared unlawful by the House of Lords, when current Home Secretary Jack Straw was invited to set a new tariff - something Mr Straw has yet to do.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe told Sir David the fate of the boys was "none of his business".

"It's not for the Chief Inspector of Prisons to be wading into criminal justice matters that are patently none of his business," she said.

"The role of the Chief Inspector is exactly that - to provide analysis on the state of Britain's prisons, and not to second guess the decisions of the courts and the Home Secretary in matters such as this."

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