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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Judge defends Bulger killers' rights
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson in 1993
The most senior judge in England and Wales has defended the decision to release James Bulger's murderers.

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Woolf, was speaking publicly for the first time about the decision to free the two killers.

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables - who were 10 years old when they abducted and murdered the toddler - were released last year and granted anonymity.

During an interview with BBC Radio 4's "50 Years On" programme, Lord Woolf spoke about the right of criminals to be released back into society after they had served their time.


It wouldn't bring baby Bulger back to life if one or other of those young men had been, in turn, killed

Lord Woolf

He used Thompson and Venables as an example.

In the interview, to be broadcast on Wednesday, Lord Woolf said the rights of the pair had to be respected no matter what crimes they had committed.

"Those youngsters had committed very, very grave crimes," he said.

"They had been sentenced for those crimes but we ought not forget that although they committed those very serious crimes they were first of all human beings and secondly they were children.

"Children can do things when they are children that they would never do in their later life when they had matured and appreciated."

System 'biased'

But supporters of the Bulger family in Liverpool say too much attention has been paid to the rights of the killers.

Peter Price, of the Justice for James Campaign, said: "Everything seems to be on the side of people who do wrong.

"In my humble opinion they have not been punished.

"Does everyone have a second chance? I think in some cases that some people should not have a second chance."

Parole decisions

Lord Woolf played a key role in the release of the two killers when he ruled that they could be considered for parole after serving eight years in custody.

The pair, who are now 19, were freed on licence after the Parole Board said they were no longer a danger to the public.

James Bulger
James Bulger was killed on a railway line
Lord Woolf said the courts could punish people like the two boys but they could never bring back the victims.

"We have to realise that everybody except those who commit the most, most serious crimes are eventually going to be let back into society," he said.

He said criminals, once they had served their punishment, had to be allowed back into society to prove that the Parole Board's decision was right.

New identities

Thompson and Venables were given new identities to help them cope with the outside world and to protect them from acts of revenge.

Lord Woolf said the lives of Thompson and Venables had been threatened when they were released.

"But it wouldn't bring baby Bulger back to life if one or other of those young men had been, in turn, killed."

Lord Woolf said "only time will tell" if the decision to release Thompson and Venables was correct.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Daniel Sandford reports
"It is highly unusual for a judge to comment"
Lord Justice Woolf
"Everyone has rights"

Click here to go to Liverpool


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04 Dec 01 | England
13 Sep 01 | UK
10 Jul 01 | UK
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