Ludovic Kennedy: The Bulger killers should be publicly identified

'The court order deprived Venables and Thompson of an opportunity to confront their pasts'
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The Independent Online

I regard the decision to forbid the disclosure of any information that might lead to the whereabouts of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson as short-sighted, wrong-headed and impractical. I also believe it to be misguided, craven and amoral.

Short-sighted and impractical because sooner or later their whereabouts will be discovered, if not by English journalists restrained from publication by the injunctions put upon them, then by foreign newsmen working in conjunction with English colleagues who (for an agreed fee) cannot be stopped from revealing their findings in the Irish Times or Toronto Globe or Le Figaro, and posting the boys' photographs on the internet. It will be as futile to prevent this happening as were Margaret Thatcher's pathetic attempts to stop publication of Peter Wright's book Spycatcher. And when it does happen (which could be any day now) those who insist on living in a timewarp of the past will seek revenge and another pointless and unnecessary murder, or maybe two, will compound that done to poor little James Bulger. I have always thought that Myra Hindley only escaped that fate by being kept in prison. The murder of innocents always causes outrage.

And the reason the court order was misguided, craven and amoral was, firstly, that it deprived Venables and Thompson of an opportunity, publicly as well as privately, to confront and come to terms with their pasts. Secondly, It ruled out the possibilities of any reconciliation leading to forgiveness, both of which are essential if any healing process is to begin, not only for Jamie's mother, Denise Fergus, and her family, not only for the boys themselves, but for all of us, the outraged public, too. If the two boys are now as reformed and contrite as the Parole Board claims (and why should one doubt it?) then it is time for all of us to see the improvement for ourselves.

The first step, I suggest, is for some wise and seasoned counsellor to see Mrs Fergus and explain to her that the only way to resolve the situation is by reconciliation and, however painful it may be, to agree to a dialogue with the boys (separately, because together they will pose a threat to her) in some mutually agreeable meeting place. There, for the first time, she will see her son's murderers not as the hydra-headed monsters who have lived in her imagination for the past eight years but as the vastly changed (both visually and internally) and quite ordinary young men they have become today; and to her they could try to explain why they came to do what they did (if, indeed, they know why) and of the regrets and remorse and sense of guilt which, as the Parole Board found, they now feel acutely, and which will doubtless haunt them for the rest of their lives. And then try to make their peace with Mrs Fergus as best they can.

This is a tall order and may well fail. Mrs Fergus has been wedded to the image of her son's killers and nurtured such an understandable hatred of them for so long that she may find it impossible to discard it, at least in one encounter, and if she is compliant, a second or even third meeting might be necessary. For their part the boys may find they have neither the maturity nor the vocabulary to express themselves meaningfully. But in my view, and despite all these obstacles, the risk is worth taking if the whole sorry business is not to drag on for years. In any event, it is a small risk in comparison to the one that is being taken now, of their whereabouts not being disclosed, which seems to me less a risk than a certainty.

Justice had been done; further imprisonment, unless for retribution, can serve no useful purpose. In any assessment, there is one important thing to bear in mind. The boys were 10 when they committed their horrible crime: today they are not who or what they were yesterday. None of us are; but these two boys have to change more than most.

The next step, I suggest, is for the public to see them, so that we can all have the opportunity to assess their new personae for ourselves. I would propose two TV programmes, one for each boy, to be recorded so that neither boy sees what the other has said, and the questioners to be in the Michael Aspel/David Frost rather than the Jeremy Paxman/ John Humphrys mould, the object being information not confrontation. When that has been accomplished, and our curiosities satisfied, it is hard to see what justification there can be for further media interest. With luck, we shall see them as quite run-of-the-mill boys.

But the courts have taken a different route, condemning Thompson and Venables to a hole-in-the-corner life of permanent deception which I doubt either boy will have the mental resources to sustain, let alone what the media and revenge seekers may do. That apart, all forms of public deception, except in wartime, are to be condemned, and it is deplorable in this case to see the law promoting it.

Progress, reconciliation, healing, these the courts have denied us, leaving participants and observers stuck in the timewarp from which it would seem there is no escape.

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