Bulger killers to be released on parole

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The Independent Online

The killers of Merseyside toddler Jamie Bulger are to be released on parole, the Government announced.

The Parole Board recommended that Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, now aged 18, should be released on life licences.

The result of parole hearings were confimed in a Common written reply by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.

Venables and Thompson appeared before the Parole Board this week which had to decide if they still represented a danger to the public.

Former Home Office minister and Merseyside MP George Howarth tabled a question for Mr Blunkett asking "when he will receive the Parole Board's decision ... and if he will make a statement?"

Venables' parole hearing took place at a secret location on Monday and Tuesday, followed by Thompson's two–day appearance at a different venue.

The partners in the February 1993 murder could both be freed within days if the panel rules they are no longer a danger.

They were just 10 when they abducted two–year–old James from the Strand shopping precinct in Bootle, Merseyside, before torturing him and battering him to death on a railway line.

Grainy security camera images showed the toddler being led off by the hand to a violent death.

The crime shocked the world, and many were appalled by footage of adults howling abuse at the young suspects after their arrest.

Last October the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, effectively ended the boys' tariff – the minimum period they must spend in custody.

He ruled that it would not benefit the boys to spend time in what he dubbed the "corrosive atmosphere" of a young offenders' institution.

Once they reach their 19th birthdays in August, Venables and Thompson would have to move from local authority secure units in which they have spent the last eight years and four months, and into young offenders' institutions.

If freed, the teenagers have been granted an open–ended High Court injunction protecting their anonymity when they are released from detention with new identities.

Family Division President Dame Elizabeth Butler–Sloss said the two had to be protected due to a "real possibility of serious physical harm and possible death from vengeful members of the public or from the Bulger family".

The Parole Board panel – comprising a judge, psychiatrist and independent member – must consider whether it is "no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the offender continues to be detained".

They spent this week hearing representations from the killers' solicitors.

The members were able to ask Venables and Thompson questions, as was a barrister representing the Home Secretary.

Psychiatric and other reports from the trial were considered, together with up–to–date reports from doctors and criminologists.

They also reviewed the killers' school records and considered any further offending that may have taken place during their detention.

If freed, the pair will be "on licence" for life. Probation officers will be in constant touch to ensure they are adjusting to life outside and remaining mentally stable.