Bulger case juror says verdict was `forced'

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The Independent Online
A JUROR in the trial of James Bulger's killers provoked an outcry yesterday by claiming that the jury was "forced" into a "guilty of murder" verdict.

The unnamed juror wrote to a newspaper, claiming that Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who killed two-year-old James in 1993, were badly treated at the trial and denied psychiatric treatment.

The letter said the trial was "about retribution" rather than justice: "I have no doubt that they did commit a dreadful act and I have the most profound sympathy for the parents of James Bulger. But was justice really served? I felt that we, the jury, were forced into a verdict of `guilty of murder'."

The juror said that a "more appropriate" verdict would have been "guilty as frightened and largely unaware children who made a terrible mistake and who are now in urgent need of psychiatric and social help".

The letter added to the controversy surrounding the treatment of the two boys, which will soon be the subject of a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights.

Last week, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham,was forced to apologise to Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, for demanding that the boys be released from custody soon after they reach the age of 18, next August.

In the letter, the juror alleged that a psychiatrist was denied the opportunity to treat the boys until after the trial and was not allowed to give full answers to questions in court about the moral awareness of the two defendants. The juror also claimed that the boys were "almost entirely uncomprehending of most of the proceedings" and were "unaccountably branded `evil' by the judge".

Robin Makin, the solicitor representing James's father, Ralph Bulger, described the letter as "astonishing". He said: "Why has this juror sat on this matter for seven years? The attitude seems to be that the boys should have been given toys for Christmas. The crime was evil and if the jurors did not agree they should have said so before the judge."

Sean Sexton, the solicitor for Denise Fergus, James's mother, said the letter was "regrettable". He said: "It is most unfortunate that more fuel is being thrown on the fire."

But Paul Cavadino, of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said: "This letter confirms in a very striking way that it was totally inappropriate to deal with such young offenders in an adult- style Crown Court.

"This is coming from a juror who found the boys guilty of murder, not from a liberal commentator but from an ordinary member of the public who heard all the facts of the case and could see that it was a completely inappropriate way to deal with seriously disturbed young offenders."

Venables and Thompson were sentenced in 1993 to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. They are being held in separate local authority secure units.

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