The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

The Bulger Case

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 5, 2010 @ 11:32

Before I begin I want to make clear that I am not entering into this post lightly. This is an extraordinarily difficult issue on a horrendously sad case.

Last night I watched Question Time, as you do. On it, the discussion turned to whether or not the public had a right to know information about the activities of Jon Venables, one of the two that murdered James Bulger in 1993.

The reaction from the audience was more restrained than I thought it would be, but the highlight of the evening was the contribution from Will Self. I would transcribe it, but he speaks with so quickly that it would take me a while.

The speed at which he delivered his point, however, illustrates the clarity of his thought process. He made an excellent argument, reminding us all that actually they were children with no concept of what they were doing, and there was no sign of “malicious aforethought”. He then shared his experience from reading the court transcripts of the original trial, and it’s obvious that he is very interested in what the motivations of Venables and Thompson were that caused them to commit such a horrific act.

The question of whether or not we have a right to know what is happening now is irrelevant. Frankly, we don’t. For the same reason that we should not get our politicians involved in the legal process, neither should the public get involved in this extraordinarily delicate matter.

Some argue that they have no right to a new life and a new existence. I disagree profoundly because they were children. Will Self’s point was that people are forgetting that they were extremely young at the time of the crime, and that just because they were young it doesn’t make them somehow more evil. In fact, it makes them less evil. It makes them almost entirely unable to understand the consequences of their actions. Indeed, had they been just a few months younger, both boys would not have been able to come to trial at all for being under the age of criminal responsibility.

It is that that justifies the exceptional nature of cases like this. Children have differently wired brains to adults. That is scientific fact. They are first and foremost the product of their genes, then their families, then our whole society. Adults have had much longer to escape and change the pre-determined nature of much of what life throws at you. Children haven’t. Children invariably make no independent decisions until they’re much older.

Let us also not forget that these cases are, mercifully, exceptionally rare. There is no question of a precedent at stake here. It is not the case that we are granting someone a new identity and a new life, and we should go on and do that for all murderers. No, it is the unique nature of a child murderer that means, in a free and just society, we have no choice but to give people another chance.

The point was again nailed home on Question Time. Someone in the audience was ranting about how they have no right to privacy or a new life. Shirley Williams replied: “So what would you do?” Answer came there none.

The alternative is not acceptable. Those boys have to live with what they did on their minds for the rest of their life. They are subject to intense scrutiny, and, as in this case, are subject to recall on any offence, even technical ones.

My final thought, though, is I believe we’ve let ourselves down. By this even re-emerging in the news, we may to disrupt a difficult but necessary consensus from all politicians on maybe one of the only things they are all agreed upon. Populism is an unedifying sight when it comes to political-judicial relations, and anything that threatens to stoke the fires must be avoided.

For that, we can only blame whoever allowed this story to get out in the first place, and the Home Secretary for fanning it further by saying the public should know.

Wrong, Alan. We shouldn’t know. It doesn’t help us. It doesn’t protect us. It just feeds into our tabloid curiosity.

As the old saying goes, just because the public is interested, it doesn’t mean it’s in the public interest.

The original crime was a tragedy for everyone concerned, victim and perpetrator. We crafted a way out, the only right course, and the only one which a truly enlightened liberal society should be proud of, in spite of all that’s happened.

Let’s leave it at that.


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