The Venables case: Why can't we be told?

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The Independent Online

Q: Why can't the public be told the whole story about Jon Venables?

A: He has been accused of a serious offence and like any other suspect has the right to a fair trial. The high-profile history surrounding his original crime, the murder of James Bulger, means that there is already a strong risk of prejudice in his proceedings.

Q: Wouldn't it have been better to have tried to stem the flow of the media's coverage by making limited details public?

A: Jack Straw, Justice Secretary, tried this tactic last week. He issued a statement on Wednesday simply saying that Jon Venables had been recalled to prison. But speculation surrounding Venables became even more fevered and fanciful.

Q: Surely the family has a right to know about Venables' behaviour?

A: Denise Fergus and Ralph Bulger argue that their rights as victims have been breached. But the family's victim status does not extend to the right to access to information that could undermine the criminal justice process.

Q: What happens next in the case?

A: The Parole Board will meet in the next month to decide whether the allegation against Venables means that his recall to prison is justified. They will look at his behaviour in the round but are unlikely to overrule the probation officers' initial assessment. The risk he poses to the public and his own safety will be foremost in their minds.

Q: Will Venables be put on trial after that?

A: The Crown Prosecution Service will have to decide whether to charge him after considering the evidence. Prosecutors will also have to decide whether it is in the public interest to put Venables on trial.

Q: Every jury in the country hearing the case of a 27-year-old man charged with downloading child pornography will presume the defendant is Venables. How can he be given a fair trial?

A: To ensure each jury member is capable of returning a fair verdict, it could be that Venables' true identity is disclosed to the court and the judge gives firm directions to the jury to put his past behaviour out of their minds.

Q: How can the media be stopped from putting a fair trial at risk?

A: On Sunday the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, tried to end the media's running commentary on the case by warning editors that they would be in contempt of court if they published anything which jeopardised legal proceedings. Editors were also warned about the anonymity order that prohibits the publication of anything that might lead to the identity of Venables or his co-accused, Robert Thompson.

Q: Can Venables ever be allowed to return to the community?

A: Yes. If the CPS decides not to press charges or he is acquitted at trial there would be no outstanding allegations against Venables. However, such a process might involve spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on creating another new identity. It will be a decision for the Parole Board.

Q: Isn't his case too high profile to make him suitable for rehabilitation?

A: Mary Bell, who was convicted of murdering two young boys when she was 11, was been also granted lifelong anonymity. That anonymity extended her to daughter and is considered to have been a success. Bell has been given several assumed names since her release from prison in 1980. But the most obvious example of anonymity leading to rehabilitation is that of Robert Thompson, who has managed to escape his past.