Should Venables and Thompson be given protected identities? jpoc opinion
Just to recap for anyone unclear on the history of the case, in 1993, James Bulger, a three year old boy out for a shopping trip with his mother disappeared. A while later his badly beaten body was found by a railway line. Two boys Jon Venables & Robert Thompson, then aged ten were arrested, charged and convicted of kidnapping the toddler and beating him to death. They were sentenced to imprisonment and a court injunction was gained which forbade the press from publishing photos of the killers or writing about them.
Now, in 2001 these two murderers are adults and are soon to be considered for parole and potential eventual release. Their lawyers have requested that the injunction be maintained in order to protect their clients. Of course, this is of most importance in the context of the imminent release of Venables and Thompson. This has been granted.
A number of arguments were put forward for the continuance of the injunction forbidding anyone from giving publicity to Venables and Thompson. What are they and how well do they stack up?
Another notorious child murderer, Mary Bell received the same protection.
Despite the pressures from the News of the World, we do not name sex offenders.
We need to provide them with protection because otherwise they will be in danger of attack and retribution.
First of all, Mary Bell was given a protected identity because she had a child of her own and the court decided that it was in the interest of that child to be protected from the troubles that would surely arise should the mother's identity be made public.
That this was true was made clear by the events that took place when Mary Bell was finally identified. The child was subject to taunts at school. Of course, it should be remembered that Mary Bell was only identified when she made an attempt to get publicity for a book about her life.
As for the parallels drawn with the naming of sex offenders, this just does not fit for several reasons. There is a great difference between, on the one hand, the identifying of two highly notorious killers in whom there is widespread public interest and of whom there is widespread public knowledge and the identification of a whole class of offenders. Secondly, Venables and Thompson, when released, will always be on licence whereas many people on the register of sex offenders have served their sentences. Finally, there is a vast disparity between the crimes. An eighteen year old who has sex with a fifteen year old can be placed permanently on the register and that is hardly a crime in the same league as the brutal bludgeoning to death of a small child in order to liven up an otherwise dull afternoon truanting from school.
As for the last argument, that these two killers deserve protection from an angry public, my opinion is basically "oh hard luck." If Venables and Thompson expect to gain a place in society, they must earn it. It is up to them to show the public at large that they deserve to be allowed to walk free and that they have something to contribute to society. If they cannot or do not wish to do that, it is their problem not ours.
Finally of course, there is the matter of the sheer futility of attempting to block the publication of their names, photographs and addresses. This information will surely be placed on the internet, on a server somewhere that the British courts cannot reach, within hours of the two killers future release. There is nothing to be done to stop this and the courts really should not make themselves look foolish by passing an unenforceable injunction.