It certainly doesn’t seem like seventeen years ago that we opened our newspapers to read the sickening story of two-year old James Bulger and his fate at the hands of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson when they led him away from the Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle.
It’s not my intention to reproduce thehorrific and gory details of James’ torture and murder, nor to echo the tsunami of public opinion which sought to deliver mob justice back in February 1993. But as details emerge in the press this week of Jon Venables and his return to custody, I can’t help thinking that our criminal justice system needs looking at. We will all have our views on the reintroduction of capital punishment – there are those who fear the ‘slaughter of the innocent’ as happened to Timothy Evans when persuaded by murder John Christie to admit to the murder of his wife Beryl and daughter in the 1950s.
But if as a civilised society we agree that ‘an eye for an eye’ is the right thing to do, we need to work doubly hard to ensure that those found guilty of capital crimes are prevented from reentering society until they have unarguably been rehabilitated. The psychiatric report on Jon Venables, which clearly carried great weight when considering his early parole stated that the danger of his reoffending was ‘negligible’, and that he should be released from juvenile custody rather than enter the prison system.
Now Venables has single-handedly managed to put himself back in custody on alleged child pornography charges. Justice Secretary Jack Straw has insisted that Venables’ identity must remain secret if he is to receive a fair trial on these latest charges. But where does it all stop? How much police protection; how much resettlement funding; how many ‘fair trials’ before we’re forced to acknowledge that the system is at fault?