The Jamie Bulger Case: Justice or Mob Rule?

Should the killers of Jamie Bulger have been released? Should the courts have allowed them anonymity?

This is an email I received in early 2001 from a close friend in Hong Kong, plus my response.

(This page last updated 15th September 2004)

----- Original Message -----

From: [xxx, Hong Kong]

To: Undisclosed Recipients

Subject: Fw: Please have a think! Your choice - [xxx]

On February 12, 1993 a small boy who was to turn three on March was taken from a shopping mall in Liverpool by two 10 year old boys. Jamie Bolger [this is the original incorrect spelling - AM] walked away from his mother for only a second and Jon Venables took his hand and led him out of the mall with his friend Robert Thompson. They took Jamie on a walk for over 2 and a half miles, along the way stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his mommy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him and threw stones at him and rubbed paint in his eyes and pushed batteries up his anus. They then left his beaten small body on the tracks so a train could run him over to hide the mess they had created.

These two boys, even being boys understood what they did was wrong, hence trying to make it look like an accident. This week Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new identities. We cannot let this happen. They will also leave early this year only serving just over half of their sentence. One paper even stated that Robert may go on to University.

They are getting away with their crime. They need to pay, and we have to do something to make them pay for their horrific crime. They took Jamie's life violently away, and in return they get a new life. Please add your name and location to the list and forward to friends and family. Please copy this email instead of forwarding so we do not get >>>> at the beginning of sentences.

If you are the 200th person to sign please forward this e-mail to - [ email address] attentioning it to Lady Justice Butler-Sloss. Then start the list over again and sent to your friends and family. The Love-Bug virus took less that 72 hours to reach the world. I hope this one does too.

We need to protect our family and friends from creatures like Robert and Jon. One day they may be living next to you and your small children without your knowledge.

If Robert and Jon could be so evil at 10, imagine what they could do as adults?

There follows a list of 44 names, tracing a trail from New Zealand via Australia to SE England, then on to Hong Kong. It includes the following comments:

10. [xxx], Auckland, New Zealand (May you rest in peace Jamie)

13. [xxx], Brisbane, Australia (I can't stand the sympathy the UK gov't has for these two immoral rats. I agree with the writer in that now they are 18 their actions will be worse and they will carry with them contempt for authority for the rest of their lives)

A) It is the criminal justice system which is dealing with them, specifically NOT the government. B) On what evidence do you make this assertion?

28. [xxx], Sydney, Australia. These 2 boys have taken a young boys life and they should pay for the rest of their life. The parents of Jamie are now in pain for the rest of there life so why shouldn't these 2 boys feel the same. The Justie system is to soft on people these days.


--------- My Reply ---------

[xxx], what utter garbage! It's facile, thoughtless and vindictive to forward this kind of filth. I'm disappointed in you. And interestingly, I notice that most of the people in this list are overseas. I wonder how much detailed background information they have about the case? Or were they simply reacting without thinking, as well?

I don't want to detract from the horrific act of which these boys were guilty: it was a ghastly killing of an innocent, and rightly shocked the nation and the world. They were beastly children.

However, these children were below the age of full criminal responsibility: it is the informed view of criminal justice professionals and psychologists that the moral sense of a 10-year-old is not developed enough to be criminally liable as an adult. In fact, they were only a few months past the age where they could not have been held responsible at all, any more than you would charge a 7-year-old with GBH because of a fight in the playground. Certainly if they committed the same crime now, aged 18, they should and would feel the full weight of the law. But they were kids themselves, brought up on Star Wars and Doom.

These boys have now spent nearly half their lives behind bars, have (quite rightly) had their childhood taken away from them. Eight years is an unimaginably long time to someone that young. But they are now completely different people: how like the 10-year-old brat you used to be, were you by the time you became an adult? These boys have grown up with the guilt and shame of what they did, and if that hasn't made them into different people I don't know what will.

The judge in this case recommended I think it was eight or ten years. The then Home Secretary, Michael Howard - a politician influenced by vengeful public opinion - overruled that judgement, making it fifteen years. Many to this day don't believe a politician - a temporary public employee subject to the whims of public sentiment, and with a very short horizon - should have the right to overrule a high court judge in this way. Just because one case hits the media, should that case be treated any differently from others of its type? Just because a petty thief turns out to be Lord so-and-so, and is exposed in The Sun, ought he to be treated better or worse than anyone else?

Personally I believe they perhaps should do a little more time, although there will never be a perfect time to release them so it's difficult for a layman to judge. Time off for 'good behaviour' - i.e. when you appear contrite and at least partly reformed - is quite common, so I don't think it's unreasonable to release them now: after all, they've served the full term of the original sentence.

And what is the use of prison if it never rehabilitates? Criminals are released all the time, and if the belief is that no-one can ever be a better person when they come out than when they went in, a person less liable to commit the same crime again, why do we jail people? Simply for revenge, or as a deterrent? How long is enough, then? Should we give life sentences - meaning life, to the death - to every criminal, to prevent reoffending? If so, how do you differentiate between a pickpocket and a serial killer? It's all a delicate balance and should not be treated as lightly as it is in this email circular.

And why should they be denied an education? Most convicted criminals are strongly encouraged to study: it is a useful, productive way to spend the time in prison, and increases the likelihood that they will find gainful employment once released. If a former jailbird is uneducated they are more likely to be unemployable, and slip back into a life of crime. To deny them an education would be a shocking waste of an opportunity to turn them into useful members of society.

And finally, denying anonymity to these boys would be a certain death sentence: the spiteful, hate-filled attitude evident in this email is prevalent among the hard of thinking, and a lynch mob would follow a matter of hours behind a report of their presence in public. Remember the public hysteria last year over the publishing of the pictures of suspected child sex offenders? At least one person was attacked simply because he looked a little like someone in the paper.

I do understand that people were and are shocked by the killing of Jamie Bolger, but Gods preserve us from the mindless rule of the mob. As your email suggests, HAVE A THINK! "They are getting away with their crime". Hardly. They've spent half their lives in jail. And if the person who wrote this gets their way, they'll be torn limb from limb as soon as they get out. Now where's the crime in that?

Alan Moore

Bath, UK

PS [x], I'd be grateful if you could forward this opposing opinion to the people you sent the original to. Thanks, dear - Al


What do you think? Any worthwhile comments, pro or con, will be posted on this page - AM

Comments received:

- Some mindless drivel asking how I would feel if it was my kid. Well obviously I'd be devastated and bloody murderous. But that's exactly the kind of reaction the justice system is supposed to rationalise and depersonalise. It's not supposed to be about personal revenge.

- MF pointed out that I misspelled Jamie's name before: it's 'Bulger', not 'Bolger'. That was my genuine mistake, I should have checked it and not just used the spelling from the original email.

- There are now a number of sites (those that deal with email hoaxes and so on) advising everybody not to pass the email on; partly because email petitions are useless, but mostly because the case was decided a long time ago. In January 2001 the High Court did indeed grant anonymity to Venables and Thompson, and this decision was later upheld. They are now free and living under new identities. Let's hope it was the right decision.

(This page last updated 15th September 2004)


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