Posted by: Natalie | March 9, 2010

System Failure

OK, so this may be a controversial post as many people in this country have quite strong feelings on it, but the issue of Jon Venables is a sorry tale of how this country, for all its ‘development’ in the modern world, can seriously fail its people.

Drawing by Steve Bell, published in The Guardian 8/3/10. CLICK FOR LINK. An interesting, thought provoking image which to me, is quite chilling.

In 1993, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both aged 10, carried out a disgusting, unforgivable, senseless and violent crime. They enticed two year old Jamie Bulger away from a shopping centre in Bootle, Liverpool, and took him to a railway line some two miles away. Here, for reasons only known to them which will have plagued them everyday since, they beat the child to death. I was not much older myself in 1993, that being the year I started secondary school. I remember it being on the news, I remember the horror and the disgust. I remember being quite frightened by it.

I also remember wondering about the parents of both the murderers and their victim. What was it that prompted these boys to commit such a horrific crime? What kind of life did they lead? Nothing so demonic had ever crept into my head, so why theirs? And James? Why was he not firmly rooted next to a parent or other guardian? At two years old, not that I remember, but I sincerely doubt my Mum allowing me, in a busy shopping centre, to wander away from her. But the answers to these I don’t actually know.

The boys were obviously sent to prison. A life of ‘rehabilitation’ awaited.

In 2001 they were released on suspended life sentences and given new identities to shield them from their past, to some extent, as they will always have to live with what they did. This caused outrage and a huge media storm. But a new gale is blowing now that Jon Venables, as was, has been rearrested again for an alleged ‘sexual crime’, with some news speculating child pornography. Mothers across Britain and people my age who grew up with this terrible tale are calling for his head. Suddenly we seem to have stepped back into the dark ages.

Obviously, yes, if he has done something truly awful, yet again, he will pay the penance.  But surely, the state has something to answer to here?

Those boys, when originally convicted were branded for life. The media saw it as their ‘right’ to publish all manner of articles and news reports on these boys and their families and the monsters that they were. With such a high profile on entering a state institution, from the rumours we see in our beloved TV programmes, these boys will have suffered fates worse than hell. Now, understandably, many readers will believe this is just and proper. But they were 10. Something had gone so horribly, horribly wrong in their lives that this seemed like a game to them. I don’t know, having only been eleven, but were their families investigated? Did social services look into the environment in which they were being nurtured?

I recently wrote a post as to whether creativity was a natural or an influenced attribute. Now you are not seriously going to tell me that the personality of a murderer can be innately born into this world. If we are so heavily influenced by our surroundings in those formative years, just what the hell was influencing them?! I would like to argue a serious lack of parental judgement/control/presence.

On the BBC’s Question Time the other night, the author Will Self made a startling comment, which I would imagine gained complaints to the broadcaster, but he spoke like I had never heard someone do before with regards to this case. He pointed out that these boys were children and that their own confessions taken by the police were those of very confused, very frightened and very mislead children. They committed a mother’s worst nightmare, true, but from their testimonies had no real understanding of the gravity of what they had done. They had no clear boundaries of right and wrong (granted, the average 10 year old should have, but lets be clear, these boys were obviously not an average, middle class child). This was a stark contrast to the simpering piffle that spilled from Carol Vorderman’s mouth.

So, the correct punishment was given. But where was the intervention from here? Due to the wonders of television and the slum press, these boys when they grew to be men would never, never be able to live a normal life again. Their faces, despite growing in maturity, would still be recognised. They would be hunted by the press forever more. This current case is a prime example: if Jon Venables has indeed been given a new identity, how exactly has it come to light about his new arrest?! But, lets put that to one side right now.

These boys, under the state and in the system should have received the best rehabilitation available, the best psychological help and therapy. After all, isn’t our prison system about dealing with the issues of crime in order to make its residents citizens on their release? To ensure they don’t re-offend? And at the end of the day, you don’t encounter too many 10 year olds who commit such brutal crimes as these. They were in desperate need of some serious help – and education!

Prisons clearly, no matter how hard they try, are never going to be the most suitable of learning environments, but after eight years, there should have been enough time to undo some of the mental wrong that had been inflicted in childhood. But then again, you are fighting against a greater foe, that of adolescent peer pressure. Most of us hate walking past the ‘hoodies’ in the streets, and those kids are on this side of the prison gate. God forbid I should ever encounter what is on the other side. Here the system fails again. They failed to prepare the then eighteen year old boys for life on the outside, having missed out on ‘normal’ interactions throughout adolescence. What chance were they going to stand? Especially when the media were there outside waiting for them, already erecting the scaffolds, the hangman having been wearing his black hood in anticipation for quite some time.

I am not saying they deserved specialist treatment, but what I am saying is that our blessed country failed these children. They did not help them. I would imagine the inside only made it worse.

And here we are, nine years later, and yet again the ‘media frenzy’ has taken over but with the failures of the system ignored. Jon Venables, if it is true of the allegations, has clearly got a very twisted mind. A mind that has not been rehabilitated, a mind that has not been helped and a mind that still cannot see morality. Had the system our government is so proud of – what with their convenient crime statistics and attempted cover ups of major goofs (just imagine the stuff we don’t hear!) actually done it’s job, he would never be looking at returning to complete his life sentence.

But it won’t even matter if he’s innocent, he’s already been tried. The media wills it so.



  1. Interesting post, and very well written.

    I know quite a lot about the Bulger case, having written about it for Psychology. Despite the horrific gravity and terrible nature of the crimes the two boys committed, I was always fully behind their release and subsequent new identities. After all, these boys were routinely tortured by their family and their brothers from a very young age – and consequently an atmosphere of abuse and pain as normality must have surrounded them.

    Will Self is right, they were just children, scarred and terribly damaged by the miserable and violent lives they had been forced to lead. Society and their parents failed them as much as they failed society, and as such it is only right to give them the second chance that they would never have had otherwise.

    Obviously I do not expect the mother of poor Jamie to ever agree with this point of view, nor to back off – and neither do I expect the media, hungry for a good story, to give it distance. I also do not condone their behaviour by any stretch of the imagination – but perhaps I understand it just a little better than I would have expected.

    What makes the sorry ever sadder is that it is increasingly looking like Venables did break the terms of his freedom substantially – but there is no way this could have been expected, not if we were properly giving two damaged children the chance to lead a life.

    Anyway, sorry about the essay!

    • No no, I enjoyed reading this reply, I’m really pleased you added this as it gives just that extra bit of detail I was missing!! It is worrying though the number of people who are still branding those two children as two of the worst murderers in Britain. The difference is, the likes of Myra Hindly etal were adults who made an informed choice. Their punishments were just, the life long suffering that Jamie Bulger’s killers will suffer is to an unimaginable extent, far surpassing any that has befallen other killers.

      Cheers for reading Lauren. Nxxx

  2. This is a really well-written post, and sadly on a topic that confuses and confounds me. I can’t possibly understand the complexities of it, of what makes a ten year old able to cause suffering on that scale. I’m sorry, I don’t really have an opposing to offer, just a pat on the back for making sense of one element of a very difficult situation.

  3. interesting and very well written.

  4. Great article Nat, Great cartoon.

    Had a quality discussion with my year 11s today about the cartoon, media and the justice system.
    Not many lessons give the opportunity to introduce Fyodor Dostoevsky to a bunch of 16 year olds.

    “A society should not be judged on how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals”

    Very appropriate quote I think..

    • Hey Tom, cheers for reading! I think its brilliant you talking to your year 11s about this kinda stuff, sounds like it would have been quite a debate! Hope teaching is everything you wanted it to be chuck, and you’re having fun!! Nxxx

  5. I’d definitely pick up on your point of how we know Jon Venables is back in custody if he has such a “new identity”. I really think it was ridiculous to allow the identification of the two killers in the first place and then allow this ludicrous situation arise – if nothing else, what a waste of taxpayers’ money. But of course, that is very much secondary to the suffering of the Bulger family having all this raked over again.

    I personally don’t think the two boys should have been released so soon in the first place – yes, they were children, but very badly damaged children who posed a danger to others and probably themselves as well. And of course regardless of their upbringing which I know was shameful in itself, they knew enough of right and wrong to try to hide what they did …

    Their releases should have been dependent on rehabilitation – and you don’t recover from the kind of problems which allow you to kill in a few short years. Surely remaining in some kind of correctional facility would have been vastly preferable – for the boys too – than facing a lynch mob when it all goes horribly wrong …

    • Yeah, I agree with you, I think something ‘intrim’ would have been beneficial to all involved. Its such a sorry state of affairs and I do feel myself yo-yoing at times with my sympathies. But it a good topic for debate, a good ‘lesson’ for kids to discuss.

      Thank you so much for reading, and thank you for your comments, its always good to hear a wide range of views I think on such topics as these!


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