Monday, August 9, 2010

Beyond belief... Sadly, revisited.

by Sue Russell
WCI Guest Contributor

Do you think British taxpayers should have to pay nearly $400,000 to hide the identity of someone who, as a child, committed one of the most horrendous crimes in modern British history? Do you support the government giving this notorious baby-killer another chance? And just how long do you think he should be protected?

In February 1993, British toddler Jamie Bulger (left) was abducted during a Friday trip to a Merseyside shopping mall after briefly straying from his mother. By the next day, police were scrutinizing fuzzy mall surveillance camera footage in utter disbelief. Two-year-old Jamie, in his blue anorak, was being led away not by a hardened pedophile but by two youths. Holding one’s hand, Jamie cheerfully toddled off, away from his mother forever.

His abductors, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, betrayed his innocent trust in the most ghastly way imaginable. Truants and practiced shoplifters, they dipped in and out of shops and walked two miles with Jamie. At a local canal, they dropped him on his head, leaving him bruised and crying. Further on, at some isolated railway tracks, they unleashed unimaginable violence, beating Jamie with bricks and an iron bar. They also removed his sneakers, socks, trousers and underpants. Forensics experts suspected sexual assault based on suspicious injuries.

Before leaving Jamie for dead, they covered his bleeding head with bricks, then lay his body across the tracks, knowing a train would come. Back home, Jon and Robert were just kids in hot water for playing hooky.

Jon Venables was labeled the “follower,” yet two years earlier, he had pinned a boy with a ruler against his throat until two teachers pulled him off.

Sunday brought a gruesome discovery. Jamie’s upper body was on the tracks; his naked lower half lay nearby. His little face bore a shoe print (later linked to Robert’s shoe.) Jamie survived the initial attack, police say, but mercifully died on the tracks before the train hit him.

Later, Robert Thompson took a single rose and joined mourners at the crime scene.

Police descended on the boys’ homes following a tip. They questioned them but never really suspected them. Jamie’s killers, they assumed, must be 13 or 14 years old at minimum. But there was blood on their shoes, and soon the dreadful truth was inescapable.

Jon Venables (at the time of the murder, booking photo below left) and Robert Thompson, both 10 years old, became the youngest people charged with murder in England and Wales in the 20th century.

They’d talked about pushing the infant into the water, but obviously one or both wanted something more sadistic and personal. We still don’t know why they did it, but Jon was bullied, reportedly cut himself with scissors, and envied the attention given his two special needs siblings.

The killing’s sexual element couldn’t be denied, but Jon and Robert were little kids. However, that November, they were tried as adults. In Britain, 10 is the age of criminal responsibility. Sentenced to at least eight years, their release would hinge upon rehabilitation and no longer being a danger to society.

In June 2001, they were freed with new identities, new birth certificates, new secret residences and, spy-like, new back stories, witness protection program-type scenarios usually reserved for mobsters.

Many Britons were out for blood; Jon and Robert had to be protected. They were, essentially, on lifetime probation and could be yanked back into custody immediately if ever they broke its rules.

Thompson stayed under the radar, but in 2008, Jon Venables was in a drunken scuffle and caught carrying a little cocaine. Reportedly, probation  officers knew Jon had a drug and drinking problem, and they let him be.

Then Venables adopted a disturbing online persona: “Dawn,” a pedophile mother willing to pimp out her young daughter. As Dawn, Jon lured pedophiles into sending him hardcore child pornography. He was busted when, fearing his secret identity had been blown and ready to flee, he gave police his computer for safekeeping. He’d tried removing the hard drive, which aroused suspicions.

Police found shocking images; videos of an eight-year-old girl being raped, and pictures of children as young as two being raped by an adult. Jon Venables’ viewing choices are a frightening window into his perverted fantasies.

Rehabilitation was the dream, but in no universe has he been rehabilitated. And so we face a painful truth. Fresh starts can’t always change the toxic mental brew that leads children to kill. They couldn’t erase Venables’ deep-seated problems or recast his warped sexuality. As children, Jon and Robert were anomalies, treated with kid gloves by the system. But Venables’ monstrous act was 17 years ago. He is no longer 10. He’s a man of 27.

Jon’s defenders say living a lie proved too much psychologically. He couldn’t have a girlfriend and feared being alone forever. But most men without girlfriends don’t covet or collect child pornography. He has shown us what excites him, and it is hugely dangerous.

Venables told police he saw downloading the images as “breaking the last taboo.” No. That was the torture murder of Jamie Bulger.

Venables received a two-year sentence for downloading and distributing the pornography, but could be freed in a year. Reportedly he is letting slip who he really is, so authorities are discussing another new identity, at a reported cost of 250,000 pounds (US $398,323) to taxpayers.

One new identity and one fresh start is plenty. All coddling should have gone out the window the minute he re-offended. Brits now need to know who he is, and where he is, and the powers-that-be now must protect those he is most likely to prey upon. Jamie Bulger’s memory deserves that much.

Today downloading child porn; tomorrow acting out? Maybe. But who is willing to take a chance on Venables? Rehabilitation is difficult, if not impossible, for hard-core sex offenders. Their sick sexual fantasies can be managed with enough will and medication, perhaps, but not erased. Jon’s redemption would have been saying “no” instead of “yes” to his dark impulses. It didn’t happen. This baby killer’s rights should never again overshadow the rights of our children. Venables is a time bomb. No good will come of burying the truth a second time, no matter how ugly.

So, just how much money, time or effort do you think should be spent on giving Jon Venables a second new identity? Let us hear from you on this issue.

Sue Russell is a British-born journalist and the author of Lethal Intent, a biography of executed serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who admitted to killing seven men in Florida. Sue is at work on another crime book. Find her at her website; e-mail her at:; or follow her at


Kathryn Casey said...

Great post, Sue. I'm amazed that they're protecting the killer and not the general public. By hiding his identity, they're jeopardizing the safety of other children.

Leah said...

Great post. I suppose they don't have sex offender registration in England. I wouldn't spend a dime on him. He cannot be rehibilitated so why would they bother changing his identity. As you pointed out Kathryn, he'll be unknown to society and can easily reoffend. I thought our system was defunct but Britian's is worse.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating (and awful) story. Now I am curious: How do British and U.S. laws differ on protecting the identities of juvenile offenders (and why were they tried as adults--is there some built-in conflict there)? What is British rationale for spending all that money? Surely the average citizen would feel the way you do. Does the U.S. register juvenile sex offenders after they're no longer juvenile? Just what you need: more questions! Great post.
-- Pat

Story Teller said...

Great post. I've never forgotten poor little Jamie. It's a truly horrifying case.

I'm a bit surprised at how much effort was expended to hide the boys' identity in the first place, but since they were kids, maybe they did deserve a second chance.

Now that Jon has offended again as an adult, I don't think another dime should be spent protecting him. To me, his fascination with child pornography is a chilling early warning sign that should be heeded. If it isn't, I won't be surprised to see headlines about other horrific crimes committed by him in the future.

Anonymous said...

Excellent reporting, but what a horrible tale.
I can't imagine why the government would want to continue to "protect" this criminal. At age 27 he's got another good 40-50 years to be a danger to society.

KL said...

Why are these disgusting creatures still alive? I hate to be so violently retributional, but by their actions, even though they were young, they have forfeited all rights. Great post, Sue, but so sickening.

Sue Russell said...

Thanks for comments! Someone asked: “How would you feel if your daughter unwittingly married Robert Thompson or Jon Venables?” Very good point!

In the US, Alex and Derek King, who were convicted of beating their father to death with a baseball bat while ages 12 and 13, were tried as adults just as Venables and Thompson were in the UK. The Kings pleaded guilty to third degree murder. Now, they are free again and have even appeared on the Today Show. No new identities. Had they been tried as juveniles, however, their files would have been sealed and they would have had fresh starts and clean slates at age 21.

The big difference is that the Brit killers didn’t murder an allegedly abusive father like the Kings, but an innocent toddler. So their lives have consistently been threatened. They earned, arguably, *one* chance to start over without putting a target on their back for anyone seeking vigilante justice.

The threat is real. Five years ago, an innocent man was mistakenly thought to be Venables and it turned the poor fellow’s life upside down. His family had to move and he had to be given a panic button by police.

Orders of anonymity can expire in the UK, but they can also be extended into lifelong promises. It is hard to see the British public standing still for that when Venables is released!

According to The Independent newspaper, Mr Justice Bean recently said:
"There is understandable and legitimate public interest in the fact that one of James Bulger's killers has now been convicted of child pornography offences. But there is no legitimate public interest in knowing his appearance, his location in custody or the exact location at which he was arrested and to which he might return on the event of being released." He considers that of marginal significance against the threats to Venables' wellbeing.

Hello? If that’s not putting Venables before his potential victims, I don’t know what is.


Anonymous said...

At what point do those convicted of a crime become accountable and when does the Criminal Justice system start doing it's job in protecting the innocent!!!

Anonymous said...

Same thing with Mary Bell. She has a new identity and has a child. Some laws need to be updated. Did the boy's parents get new identities as well? In this recession the justice system should save its money and let the public take care of him.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the parents did get new identities, Anonymous.

Mary Bell is now 51 and a grandmother and her family also is protected.


melizza moore said...

I am a true crime nerd, always have been since I was a youngster. I enjoyed your article very much. I have puzzling thoughts about it all though. As two ten year olds on the bunk from school, already known persistant trouble makers in their area , shouldn't there have been Child Protection involvement around their families. I think the case of two dysfunctional children changed the face of child protection as it stands now. No longer can be there be a child who is out of control, by default of whatever reason. But it is an atypical profile of a neglected child. I could be wrong of course. But we do not know all of the facts of the family make up of both these characters. Was it nature verses nurture. Or is it something more that we are not allowed to know.
What happened to that poor baby, there is NO excuse. But as the system keep all information to themselves for confidentiality reasons. WHAT is being kept held back. I doubt that Venables and Thompson will ever disclose the truth , out of fear of retribution. Their cards are already marked by the public.