Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Jon Venables

Most of the papers today are leading with the story that Jon Venables, who along with John Thompson killed toddler James Bulger in 1993 when he was ten, is back in prison. Venables has broken the terms of his parole licence, which was set in place when he was released in 2001.

I understand why this is big news - the James Bulger case was horrific, and the idea that he could have reoffended is a worrying one.

But details of the breach of the licence have not been released, and won't be released at least until the parole board has heard his case (which should happen over the next few weeks). Yes, he may have committed a further violent act. But based on the information we have so far, it is just as likely that Venables has simply missed meetings with his parole officer.

Venables was only ten when he murdered James Bulger. That doesn't excuse what he did, but the law in this country is based on a system of rehabilitation as well as punishment. Once a prisoner has served his time and been paroled, he deserves a second chance. That is how the system works.

Before the press, and the tabloids in particular, turn this into another witch hunt, we must wait for the full details to emerge. Digging away until Venables' new identity is exposed serves no one - he will presumably then be given a further identity, and the process will begin again.

Worse, there is a risk that the press could encourage vigilante attacks. Venables committed a terrible crime, but he has been punished for it. If he has seriously reoffended, then he will remain in prison. If he hasn't, the press risk stoking up violence against a man who has served his time and has done no further wrong. It is irresponsible journalism of the worst kind.

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