Probation staff face questions over Venables

Report suggests Bulger killer was jailed over child pornography suspicions
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The Independent Online

"Serious questions" need to be answered about the supervision by the probation service of Jon Venables, one of the murderers of toddler James Bulger, the Conservatives warned yesterday after a report claimed the killer's recall to prison was due to suspicion of child pornography offences.

Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, said something had "gone wrong" in the care of Venables, now 27, after claims that he had been abusing drugs and alcohol, broken an order banning him from visiting Liverpool by attending an Everton match, and revealing his true identity, after a new one was created for him when he was freed on lifetime licence.

Ministers refused to be drawn into the growing row over the nature of the allegations faced by Venables after a Sunday newspaper reported that his recall 12 days ago was due to claims relating to pornographic images of children. Other reports claimed Venables had been working as a nightclub bouncer and has already disclosed his identity to officers and inmates in prison.

The Independent understands that Venables was recalled after enquiries by detectives investigating an alleged child pornography ring led to the discovery of images on a computer that may be linked to the killer.

The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, has confirmed that the killer was facing "extremely serious allegations" but insisted the bar on further disclosures was necessary to ensure that "justice is done".

Denise Fergus, the mother of two-year-old James, who was abducted and beaten to death by Venables and his accomplice, Robert Thompson, in February 1993, has called for Venables to lose his anonymity if he is charged. Both boys were 10 at the time, the youngest people convicted of murder in British history.

Mr Grayling said there had to be "good reason" to refuse to detail the claims against Venables, who was freed with Thompson in 2001 after serving eight years. An order giving them anonymity for life was granted by the High Court.

The Tory MP told Sky News' Sunday Live: "How did this ever happen in the first place? This is somebody who has been released from prison, who was supposed to be on licence, supposed to be under the control of probation bodies. If even half of the newspaper stories are true, he appears to have been able to act in a way that most of us would think is inconsistent with the actions of somebody who's supposed to be under the supervision of the state. Something has gone wrong here and there will certainly be serious questions to ask."

The National Association of Probation Officers defended the efforts to re-establish Venables in the community, warning that lifting his anonymity would destroy the "good work" done to ensure his rehabilitation. Harry Fletcher, Napo assistant general secretary, said he had been assured that Venables' recall was not due to a failing by the probation service.

Harriet Harman, leader of the Commons, said on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "At the time Venables was sentenced, it was said that he should keep his anonymity and, as a general principle, we want to make absolutely sure that nobody can get off on a criminal offence by saying, 'I can't get a fair trial [because] there's been too much publicity'."