Bulger killers must serve time in adult jails: Reformers say 15-year minimum will hinder boys' rehabilitation. Mary Braid reports

THE 15-year minimum sentence given to the two boys who killed James Bulger was far in excess of judicial recommendations but for James's mother, Denise, it was not enough.

Mrs Bulger's only consolation was that Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 11, would, after six years in separate local authority secure units, end up in adult prison doing 'proper jail time'.

Her opinion is almost certainly shared by the half a million people who supported the family's campaign for the boys - aged 10 when they murdered two-year-old James - to be jailed for life. There were reportedly only 33 pleas for leniency. The Home Office confirmed yesterday that Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, took public feeling into account when reaching the decision. But psychologists and prison professionals yesterday criticised Mr Howard's unusual decision to increase the recommended term.

'I think the Home Secretary is essentially satisfying public opinion,' said Dr Anthony Storr, clinical psychiatrist and Emeritus Fellow of Green College, Oxford.

'It's ridiculous to set a limit of 15 years. No one knows how these boys are going to develop or when they will be fit to rejoin the human race . . That is a future judgement for those who look after them. These children have a better chance than adult murderers of rehabilitation. The sad thing is that the long sentence means they will spend time in an adult prison where so much of the good which might be done while they are in secure units will be lost.'

Venables and Thompson have already spent eight months in secure units. They are the youngest murderers among 270 serious offenders under 17 housed in 28 units nationwide. Child murderers are extremely rare but the boys will mix with the country's most disturbed children, including arsonists and rapists. The unit regime is a combination of psychological counselling and education, where contact with their family could be less than an hour a week.

Angus MacKay, chairman of the Secure Unit Network, is principal officer of the Orchard Lodge unit in London. Having worked with teenage murderers, he regrets that most serve their last years in adult jails. 'In secure units we accept that the children are themselves victims. But we also have to get them to accept the reality that they, in the end, are responsible for their actions.

'You cannot underestimate the trauma suffered by young people who kill . . . Remorse is not a powerful enough word to describe their feelings. Our regime is essentially treatment-orientated but even the best prisons are punishment-orientated. If the aim is to make these boys fit into society again, such sentences make no sense.'

Peter Wilson, of the child mental health charity Young Minds, said he feared the switch to adult prison would come just when Venables and Thompson might be becoming more self-aware and realise the full horror of their crime. In prison they would get no real counselling.

'The sentence has to be based on rehabilitation. If it is simple vengeance we might as well close the door and throw away the key.'

Paul Cavadino, of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, yesterday said the Home Secretary should relinquish his power to set minimum terms in mandatory life sentences and to decide thereafter when someone should be released.

'The sentence is a matter for the judge who hears all the evidence from both sides,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
News
Lavigne performing in Seoul at the beginning of last year
people
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a security software com...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing / Sales Co-ordinator - OTE £25,000+

£10000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of staffing and r...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen Porter

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the four inns of Court is seeking...

Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the four inns of Court i...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?