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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 18:18 GMT


Prisons' chief: I'm sorry

Jon Venables (left) and Robert Thompson are now 17

The chief inspector of prisons has "apologised unreservedly" for comments in which he called for the boys who killed James Bulger to be set free, the Home Office has said.

Sir David Ramsbotham met Home Secretary Jack Straw on Tuesday to offer his apologies for the controversial comments made in a magazine interview last week.

He also promised not to speak out on subjects outside his official remit, said the Home Office.

A statement issued by the Home Office following the meeting said: "The home secretary saw Sir David this afternoon to receive an explanation over the remarks made by the chief inspector in an interview published in the New Statesman.

"At the meeting, the chief inspector apologised unreservedly for speaking publicly on matters which are outside his responsibilities and specifically in relation to cases in which the home secretary acts in a quasi-judicial role.

[ image: Sir David: Apologised
Sir David: Apologised "unreservedly" for comments
"The chief inspector gave an undertaking that in future he will confine himself to commenting on matters which fall within his duties as set out in statute, namely the inspection of prisons and reporting to the home secretary on conditions in them and the treatment of prisoners."

Mr Straw had accepted Sir David's apology, said the Home Office.

Sean Sexton, who represents Denise Fergus, Jamie's mother, said he was glad Sir David had apologised.

"I am pleased that the chief inspector has accepted that he made a serious error of judgment and has had the good grace to apologise unreservedly.

"Denise Fergus and her family would hope that there will be no further speculation while we await the European Court of Human Rights judgment, expected in December."

But shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe repeated calls for Sir David's resignation.

[ image: James Bulger was battered to death on a railway line]
James Bulger was battered to death on a railway line
"The home secretary was absolutely right to call the chief inspector of prisons to account for his remarks about the Bulger case," she said.

"The home secretary should now be considering looking for a new chief inspector of prisons forthwith."

In the interview, Sir David said Robert Thompson and Jon Venables should be given "as early as possible a release" once they reach 18 "to give them a chance of making a life".

The pair, sentenced to life imprisonment when they were convicted of the killing in Liverpool in 1993, are now both 17.

Sir David also praised Thompson's progress, talking of his "considerable admiration" of his artistic skills.

Earlier, during his first public appearance since making his comments, Sir David had suggested he had not expected his comments to cause such an outcry.

He later added he would continue doing his job for "as long as they want me to".

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