Bulger killers could be free in 8 years

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THE JUDGE in the James Bulger trial has recommended that two 11-year-old boys jailed for murder should serve only eight years in custody before being considered for release, it was disclosed yesterday.

The recommendation by Mr Justice Morland was attacked last night by the solicitor for James Bulger's parents, who said the couple would find it 'woefully inadequate'. The judge's views were also criticised by some Conservative MPs.

It is understood that Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, who is also required to make an independent recommendation in such cases, said Jon Venables and Robert Thompson should serve a minimum of 10 years.

The recommendations, which rarely become public knowledge in such cases, relate to the minimum time required for 'punishment and deterrence'. They were notified to the boys' solicitors this month, who may make representations.

A final decision on length of sentence is made by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary - and it appears likely that he will stipulate a longer minimum sentence - and the case is reviewed by the Parole Board three years before the end of that period. The Home Secretary of the day will also consider factors such as any possible risk to the public.

Sean Sexton, solicitor for James Bulger's parents, Ralph and Denise Bulger, said he found the recommendation 'very difficult to believe'. He added: 'The view of the family is that the recommendation is woefully inadequate. Ralph and Denise Bulger would find it very difficult to accept that either Thompson or Venables could be released into the community - probably with a new identity and living next door to people who have no conception of who they are - before they have even reached their 21st birthday.'

Andrew Hargreaves, Tory MP for Birmingham Hall Green, said the judiciary was 'cocking a snook in the face of public opinion'. David Evans, Tory MP for Welwyn Hatfield, called the news 'an insult to the parents of James Bulger'.

On conviction in November the boys, 10 when they killed the child, were given the only sentence available, detention 'at Her Majesty's Pleasure', the equivalent of an adult's life sentence. Both will stay in a local authority secure home until moving into the prison system at 18.