Killers of James Bulger to be released 'within months'

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The Independent Online

The killers of two-year-old James Bulger should be released within months because "they have done all that is open to them to redeem themselves" during nearly eight years in custody, the Lord Chief Justice ruled yesterday.

The killers of two-year-old James Bulger should be released within months because "they have done all that is open to them to redeem themselves" during nearly eight years in custody, the Lord Chief Justice ruled yesterday.

The decision by Lord Woolf to "set a tariff which will expire today" left the murdered toddler's mother, Denise Fergus, "disgusted and shocked".

Ms Fergus, who has campaigned to keep Jon Venables and Robert Thompson in custody, said: "The whole case has turned into a ridiculous legal charade and I am sick of the mess the British legal system has made of it." Lawyers acting for James' father, Ralph Bulger, said they were planning a judicial review of the decision and would be making representations to the Parole Board about the proposed release of the boys.

But Lord Woolf said he had been impressed by reports on Venables and Thompson, both now 18, which drew "a vivid picture of two boys who have significantly improved over the years". Lord Woolf said: "The assessments generally agree that both of these young men are genuinely extremely remorseful about the crime which they committed, and the effect which it must have had on James' family."

The Lord Chief Justice's recommendation now goes before the Parole Board which will decide if and when the two teenagers are released.

James Bulger's killing on 12 February 1993 was described by the trial judge Mr Justice Morland as "an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity". James was taken from a Liverpool shopping centre to a railway line two miles away, where he was battered to death.

Venables and Thompson will both become 19 in August, when they are due to be transferred from secure local authority-run units to Young Offenders' Institutions.

Lord Woolf was concerned that the "corrosive atmosphere" of such establishments might undo the "striking progress" they had made.

In the knowledge that preparations for the release of the pair were likely to take several months, he cleared the way for the Parole Board to release them at the earliest opportunity, which he said was not likely to be before February, when they would have served eight years.

Lord Woolf, widely expected to set a tariff of 10 years, noted that eight years was the original tariff determined by the trial judge. The former Lord Chief Justice Lord Taylor, set the tariff for the boys at 10 years, but Michael Howard, then Home Secretary, intervened to raise it to 15 years. Mr Howard's decision was successfully challenged in the House of Lords and in the European Court of Human Rights, and the current Home Secretary, Jack Straw, last year referred the matter back to the Lord Chief Justice for further review.

Mr Howard said that he "very much regretted" Lord Woolf's decision. "I do not believe that it reflects what the trial judge had described as the unparalleled evil nature of the offence," he said. "My sympathy goes out to the parents of James Bulger."