Media gets blame for Venables 'witchhunt'

Justice Secretary to meet mother of James Bulger over parole breach

Media pressure to reveal details of how one of the killers of James Bulger breached his parole has provoked a "witchhunt" which threatens his safety and long-term rehabilitation, lawyers and civil rights groups warn.

Fevered speculation over the recall to prison of Jon Venables has led to publication of information about his working environment, personal circumstances and even the name of the football team he supports. Now the Government fears his anonymity is at serious risk, and he is being protected from violence in prison.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, told The Independent: "The irresponsible reporting of Jon Venables' case shows how quickly we resort to shrill headlines and whipping up public fear which can be of no use to victim, offender or those who have to work to get things right in the justice system."

She added: "Already branded a failure, this incident could be seen as evidence of how seriously a life sentence is taken: strict supervision by probation, sticking to the rules for the offender and, should things go wrong, the ever-present prospect of a return to jail."

Ms Lyon said the case could also be seen as a reason to review the age of criminal responsibility and introduce a policy of treatment rather than punishment, in line with other European countries. "Instead, we have a media witchhunt in the name of public interest which can only fuel vengeance and damage rehabilitation."

Last night it emerged that Justice Secretary Jack Straw had agreed to meet James Bulger's mother, Denise Fergus, in wake of mounting criticism over the lack of information regarding Venables' return to custody. Ministers have so far refused to give details about the case.

Jodie Blackstock, senior legal adviser at the civil rights charity Justice, said: "Despite presumptions that the breach must be serious for a recall, without knowing the circumstances, it should not be assumed that Venables has committed another serious crime. A minor breach does not deserve the massive investment in his rehabilitation being destroyed by revealing his new identity."

She said there may be sensible and justified reasons for not disclosing Venables' offence. "It is likely the parole board's decision will have to be released publicly and at that stage we will decide whether it would be in the public interest to know Venables' new identity. Until then he should be entitled to the protection of the rule of law."

Felicity Gerry, a barrister and author of The Sexual Offences Handbook, said the case raised complex issues about punishment, retribution and rehabilitation. "Although there is great public interest in finding out more information about the breach, this may not serve the overall interests of justice. It could also make it impossible to prosecute him for any offence should the jury discover his identity."

After being released on licence and with a new identity in 2001, Venables was ordered not to return to Merseyside, among other conditions.

Justifying his decision not to disclose details of the recall, Mr Straw said: "Our motivation throughout has been solely to ensure that some extremely serious allegations are properly investigated and that justice is done.

"No-one in this country would want anything other. That is what the authorities remain determined to do."

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments