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Jack Straw, Home Secretary
"This judgment does not direct their release from custody"
 real 56k

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg
This is much worse than the government had expected
 real 28k

The BBC's John Thorne
"Not a single sentiment will be changed here by today's court judgment"
 real 56k

Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 15:32 GMT
Bulger killers' trial ruled unfair
Venables and Thompson are now 17
Venables and Thompson are now 17
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the killers of toddler James Bulger did not receive a fair trial.

The judges also said former Home Secretary Michael Howard was wrong to intervene in the sentencing of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

Even though they are evil I understand that they must be released eventually but they should serve nothing less than 15 years

James' mother Denise
Venables and Thompson were 11 when they went on trial at Preston Crown Court in 1993.

The trial judge set the tariff at eight years, but this was later increased to 15 by Mr Howard - a move criticised by the European Commission on Human Rights.

james bulger
James Bulger was abducted from a shopping centre
The judges agreed with the pair's solicitors that their trial was not fair because it was held in public, and subject to intensive press coverage. But they stressed the pair had not been treated in an "inhuman and degrading" way.

The judges also awarded costs and expenses of 15,000 to Thompson and 29,000 to Venables.

James's mother, Denise Fergus, said she was very disappointed and added: "The killers have slick lawyers and always get kid glove treatment.

"But the British Government should not allow the European Court to dictate how we operate our legal system."

Jack Straw
Jack Straw: Under pressure from James's parents
Home Secretary Jack Straw told Parliament he accepted the 120-page judgment but would need time to study the implications.

He reassured MPs the pair would not be released early and said: "The real agony is felt by James's parents. They have to endure, and will continue to endure, the profound grief of losing their son."

Thompson and Venables abducted James from a busy shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, while his mother was distracted, and walked him more than a mile to a railway line.

When they got to the track they poured paint over him, tortured and battered him before leaving him for dead on the line, where he was run over by a goods train.


The judges said some of the modifications to the courtroom - particularly the raised dock designed to help the boys see what was going on - had actually increasing their discomfort.

The judges concluded: "Although their legal representatives were seated `within whispering distance', it was highly unlikely that either applicant would have felt sufficiently uninhibited in the tense courtroom and under public scrutiny to have consulted with them during the trial.

"Special measures were taken in view of the applicants' youth, for example, the trial procedure was explained to them, they were taken to see the courtroom in advance, and the hearing at times were shortened so as not to tire them excessively.

"Nonetheless the formality and ritual of the crown court must at times have seemed incomprehensible and intimidating for a child of 11."

It's a very sad case but I think the decision is correct

Venables' solicitor John Dickinson
The judgment, released on the court's website, will have far-reaching consequences for the treatment of juveniles in court.

The BBC's Legal Affairs Correspondent, Joshua Rozenberg, says the ruling will almost certainly affect the way juveniles accused of serious offences are tried.

He says children will have to be tried in a less formal setting, more like a juvenile court, with judges and lawyers abandoning their robes and wigs as well as much of the legal ritual of the adult courts.

He added that the result was much worse for the government than expected.

Child law expert Allan Levy QC said it was highly unlikely the case would be retried, considering that the pair may now be free in two years' time.

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