Sunday, 7 March 2010

What price anonymity?

Two years ago I interviewed a mum from the North of England whose husband had been charged with sexual assault. It transpired that he had in fact been having an affair with the alleged victim who had, he said, become bitter when she tried to end the relationship and made the false accusation.

What made the situation even more complicated for the case study was that her friends, and neighbours, had all told her repeatedly that her husband was in fact one of Jamie Bulger's killers. Her husband refused to allow her to go to the hearing, further compounding her suspicions. And although he was acquitted, and he was younger than Jon Venables or Robert Thompson, and bore no physical resemblance to either boy, the seeds of doubt had been planted.

I was reminded of this story when it emerged last week that Venables had been returned to jail.

Will Self was on Question Time on Thursday night and made a convincing argument for why it was right to rehabilitate the boys in the first place. He argued that the offence Venables was now being held for was 'minor'. It was a sensible, intelligent, measured argument. They were little boys when they committed that most awful of crimes and they came from terrible backgrounds and had no awareness of what they had done, Self said. This latest charge against Venables could be drugs or drink related, or it could be that he had tried to return to Liverpool, the scene of that terrible crime.

But on Friday it emerged that Jon Venables was actually arrested in relation to child pornography offences. Then it transpired that he had been accused of a 'sickening' sex attack.

And in my opinion that changes everything. Because adults who exploit, abuse or harm children should not have the right to anonymity. Whatever their background.


  1. here here, well said, pedophilia (sp) is a crime that can never be forgiven in my eyes, its as bad as murder in the sense that these people should be put away for life, and life should mean life. Like you say, anyone who can commit a crime against a child (and he has murdered and now linked with child pornography) should face what is coming to them and why the hell should that person be hidden from the public - what right did he have to start a fresh, poor Jamie Bulger didnt get that chance. And I have this opinion regards any case not just this one!

  2. Shoot me down, but I think there are far too many doo-gooders in this country and not enough being done to deter the bastards who cause such physical and mental pain. I'm not saying bring back hanging (though in some cases that would be the only punishment) but I am saying that I agree with you totally. These two boys would have been linched should their identities been discovered; and if rehabilitation isn't working (which quite clearly in most cases it isn't) then it should be left to the public to decide the punishment, and not the doo-gooders who become obsessed with human rights. What about the rights of Jamie Bulger and other victims.

    CJ xx

  3. With my legal hat on, this may piss a few people off but I think accused people (including sex offenders) have the right to anonymity until they are found guilty. There have been too many lives ruined by the press splashing photos around of people who are merely accused. The man who was wrongly accused of planting a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics games a few decades ago never ever recovered, was never able to find a job and eventually died. Even though he was publicly cleared of any connection, it was too late.
    With regard to crimes committed as children, we have to give them a second chance if only because it is a biological fact that they do not think maturely, and usually don't realise the enormity of their acts. In the US we have a legal process for minors which is thrown out the window as soon as a serious crime is committed. It's seen as being "too soft". What's the point of having 'minor' laws to support and rehabilitate children if we then punish them as rational adults anyway.
    Unfortunately, if Jon Venables hadn't had those sexual criminal tendancies before going to prison, it's not surprising that he came out like that. Most child sex predators have suffered at someone else's hands anyway. He has obviously been severely abused in prison. (Not that I am defending him in the least, but it could have been prevented.)Hopefully now, it will be pronounced that he isn't in fact, rehabilitated and it a danger to society.
    Most adult sex offenders are not granted anonymity. Venables was because the original crime was committed when he was a child.

  4. @ExpatMum you're right of course, we do/did have to give them a second chance because the crimes where committed when they were children, and they were granted anonymity to help rehabilitate them. Clearly it would be wrong to prejudice Venables' right to a fair trial for these new offences. However... my argument would be that if he subsequently found guilty he must surely forfeit his right to anonymity as he is now an adult and has had more opportunities than most to turn his life around. It is incredibly complicated though.

  5. My eldest son is the same age as poor Jamie would have been.
    I was deeply effected by his abduction and killing made even worse for me due to my sever post natal depression. I had difficulty sleeping for weeks and it got to the point that i wouldn't let my son out of my sight for fear that something would happen to him too.
    I know that the mother of every three year old child felt the same.
    I was sickened when the boys were released after just eight years and I still cannot comprehend that they didn't know what they did was wrong. They clearly had enough about them to lie and then to blame each other....

    Now I have a nine year old son - who has been asking lots of questions following last weeks news reports. He is just about the same age now as little Jamie's murderers were when they tortured, killed and left his tiny body weighed down by stones on the train track in the hope of what they had done being seen as an accident...

    My son knows right from wrong. Just as Venables and Thompson did. The only reason that they were set free is because they became pawns in the political merry go round of one up man ship.

    With Venables return to custody there is blood on many peoples hands - lets just hope that no other children ever have to come into contact with him.
    My love goes to Jamie's parents.

  6. Haven't seen you for a while. A good and clearly argued post.

    All I can remember at the time is that the boys blamed each other. They seemed to be very aware of what they had done.

  7. Couldn't agree more. Second chances are fine, but third chances, not so much. Not when children's lives and futures are at stake.