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Brutal crime deserves more than British killers got



Published: Mon, June 25, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Can it possibly be eight years since those grainy surveillance tapes captured the attention of the world? They were tapes that showed two 10-year-olds taking a small child by the hand and leading him from a Liverpool, England, shopping center.

The 2-year-old boy was James Bulger. The two older boys were Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. James will forever be just two. But his killers, Jon and Robert, are now approaching 19. And after just eight years in custody for a murder that horrified a nation and shocked much of the world, they're being released.

Reasonable view: Denise Fergus, James' mother, was willing to be more kind to her child's killers than we would have been. She suggested that they should have served at least 15 years, which would have meant just under half their sentence would have been in a prison setting.

Instead, authorities are rushing to release the young men before they reach 19, specifically to avoid having to transfer the young killers from what the British call protective custody to a good, old-fashioned jail cell.

Civility begets injustice: It is one thing to be a civilized nation, as Great Britain certainly is. But it is quite another thing to carry civility to such an extreme that violence is done to the very notion of justice. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson will never serve a day in jail for brutally murdering a trusting little boy who followed them to his own death.

What's more, a judge has ordered that the killers be given new identities and has enjoined the press from reporting on the pair's whereabouts or publishing photographs of them. In addition, the state will spend "the minimum necessary" for education, training and support of the two men once they are free and safely settled in their secret cocoons.

Missing the obvious: While Venables and Thompson will get new identities and the chance to build new lives for themselves, James Bulger's family must live with the knowledge that his killers will forever be treated not as vicious murderers, but as misguided waifs. The British justice system acts as if two 10-year-olds don't know that it is wrong to take a child by the hand, lead him from a shopping center, drag him to a squalid railroad siding and then torture and beat him to death.

The horrendous nature of the crime is apparently lost on the likes of Home Secretary David Blunkett, who announced that a parole board panel had "given very careful consideration" to interviews with both boys, various officials and independent experts before determining that they presented "no unacceptable risk to the public."

It's not a question of risk. It's a question of crime and punishment. Or, more accurately, the lack of the latter.




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