Page last updated at 10:32 GMT, Sunday, 14 March 2010

James Bulger's mother calls for commissioner's sacking

Denise Fergus
Denise Fergus said children aged 10 could be "truly evil"

James Bulger's mother has called for England's children's commissioner to be sacked for "twisted and insensitive" comments about her son's murder.

Denise Fergus spoke out after Maggie Atkinson suggested James's killers should not have been prosecuted because, aged 10, they were too young.

Ms Atkinson had said children under 12 did not fully understand their actions.

But the Ministry of Justice said those over 10 knew the difference "between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing".

Mrs Fergus told reporters: "This woman owes James and me an apology for her twisted and insensitive comments. Then she should resign, or be sacked.

"To say that his killers should not have been tried in an adult court is stupid.

"They committed an adult crime - a cold-blooded murder that was planned and premeditated - and they were tried accordingly."

She added: "It is a shock to people like Dr Atkinson that children can be truly evil by 10.

"But it is a fact and I fear there will be more of them and we need laws to be tightened up so we can deal with them."

Maggie Atkinson
Maggie Atkinson said James's killers should not have been tried as adults

In an interview with the Times on Saturday, Dr Atkinson criticised the authorities' treatment of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were 10 when they snatched two-year-old James from a Merseyside shopping centre in 1993.

They walked the toddler more than two miles to a railway line, where they beat him to death.

Dr Atkinson told the newspaper: "What [Venables and Thompson] did was exceptionally unpleasant and the fact that a little boy ended up dead is not something the nation can easily forget, but they shouldn't have been tried in an adult court because they were still children."

However, she later issued a statement in which she said she wished to put into context her views on "such terrible atrocities" as James Bulger's killers and two young brothers who tortured other children in Edlington.

AGES OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY
7 - Switzerland, Nigeria, S Africa
8 - Scotland, Sri Lanka
10 - England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand
12 - The Netherlands, Canada, Greece, Turkey
13 - France
14 - Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, China
15 - Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Czech Republic, New York (US), South Carolina (US)
16 - Spain, Japan, Texas (US), Poland
18 - Belgium, Luxembourg, most US states

She said: "I empathise with the pain and anguish felt by all the families of the victims involved. Children who carry out such atrocities and other serious offences need to understand the severity of their actions."

Dr Atkinson also pointed to the age of criminal responsibility in many European countries, which ranges between 14 and 16.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the age at which children can be tried in an adult court is 10.

In Scotland, the age is currently eight, but legislation is being passed to raise it to 12.

Dr Atkinson's comments came after James's mother met Justice Secretary Jack Straw to discuss Venables' recall to prison.

Now aged 27, he is suspected of breaching the licence under which he and Thompson were released with new identities in 2001.

Following Dr Atkinson's comments, the government confirmed it did not intend to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "It is not in the interests of justice, of victims or the young people themselves to prevent serious offending being challenged."

'Anguished case'

Kenneth Clarke: "She obviously shouldn't resign for expressing an opinion"

Kenneth Clarke, the shadow business secretary - who was home secretary at the time of James Bulger's murder - rejected calls for Dr Atkinson to go and warned that "newspapers and the media cannot replace judges and jurors".

He told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show: "I don't actually agree with the children's commissioner, but she obviously shouldn't resign for expressing an opinion on a perfectly serious and quite difficult subject.

"This is a particularly difficult and anguished case and I still have confidence in the rule of law, courts, juries and proper respect for the principles of justice."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne, said he sympathised with Mrs Fergus, but said the commissioner was right to raise the issue.

He added: "I think what the children's commissioner was saying, is that we have the youngest age of criminal responsibility in the whole of Europe, with the exception of Scotland, in England and Wales, and that there is room for a public debate about whether we got it right.

"And I think, frankly, that's what the children's commissioner is there to do - is to stand up and say things on behalf of children, when the rest of us are not necessarily thinking about those things."



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SEE ALSO
James Bulger's mother meets Straw
11 Mar 10 |  Merseyside
Bulger murderer returned to jail
02 Mar 10 |  Merseyside

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