In Brief

James Bulger murder, 25 years on

On the anniversary of a murder that shocked the nation, what have we learnt?

Today is the 25th anniversary of the abduction of James Bulger. His murder at the hands of two ten-year-olds shocked Britain and sparked a nationwide debate as to the criminal responsibility of children.

What happened?

On 12 February 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was abducted from the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, Merseyside.

CCTV footage showed him being led away by two young boys, later identified as Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, both 10 at the time. Bulger’s mutilated body was found two days later, showing signs he had been tortured.

Thompson and Venables were found guilty of murder later that year, the youngest people convicted of homicide in modern English history.

The identity of the killers had initially been concealed from the public during their arrest and trial but because of the public outrage, the two 10-year-olds were tried in an adult court.

Judge Justice Morland took the unusual step of naming the boys and sentenced them to a secure youth accommodation facility with a recommendation that they serve at least eight years in prison.

What was the public reaction?

The case shocked Britain and sparked widespread debate about the criminal responsibility of children.

The then Prime Minister, John Major, famously remarked that, in response to the killings, “we must condemn a little more, and understand a little less”.

The shocking nature of the crime still provokes controversy today. A documentary about the tragedy, The Bulger Killers: Was Justice Done?, shown on Channel 4 last week, attracted criticism for appearing to paint a sympathetic portrait of Venables and Thompson.

What happened to Thompson and Venables?

Both men were released in 2001 and given new identities. While Thompson appears to have been successfully rehabilitated, Venables has been in and out of jail since 2010 for downloading and distributing indecent images of children.

He was given a second new identity following his release from prison in 2013, but was back in the news again this month after he pleaded guilty to possessing more than 1,000 indecent images of children, and he was jailed 40 months.

“The case has led to calls from the family of James Bulger for Venables to be stripped of his lifelong anonymity,” reports the Daily Mail.

A petition demanding answers about how Venables was free to commit new offences might be debated in parliament after gaining more than 100,000 signatures.

The campaign, supported by Bulger’s mother, calls for a public inquiry into Venables’ time in the prison system.

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