Even James Bulger's killers have the right to privacy

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The Independent Online

Freedom of the press, as The Independent has repeatedly argued, is an important pillar of any democratic society. Restrictions on such freedom - and the Government's failure to introduce proper legislation on freedom of information - are a reminder of crucial changes that still need to be introduced.

Freedom of the press, as The Independent has repeatedly argued, is an important pillar of any democratic society. Restrictions on such freedom - and the Government's failure to introduce proper legislation on freedom of information - are a reminder of crucial changes that still need to be introduced.

That is not the same, however, as the right to conduct a lifelong revenge campaign against two young men because of what they did at the age of 10. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who brutally killed James Bulger in 1993, should be allowed to live anonymously when they are released, probably within the next few months. The main source of regret must be that the British media have so little sense of shame that it takes a court to make a ruling on anonymity, and that an in-built sense of responsibility is not enough.

A clutch of tabloid newspapers have challenged an existing ban on publicity about the two boys. Dame Elizabeth ButlerSloss, president of the Family Division, is presiding over the High Court hearing that began yesterday, and looks set to rule in the next few days. Those who seek to overturn the ban will defend their right to pursue the child-killers endlessly. This has nothing to do with freedom of the press, however. It has everything to do with the freedom to behave irresponsibly.

The mindless violence of the two children - and the haunting video image from the Liverpool shopping mall, when two-year-old James was taken by the hand and led to his death - remains deeply shocking today. It is not surprising that the anger and grief of James's parents remains undiminished.

For the rest of us, however, the real lesson must be what that horrific act tells us about society. It is grotesque to suggest that the hounding of the young adults - one can imagine endless, ghoulish reports about their difficult relations with their neighbours, or their doomed attempts to hold down an ordinary job - can be justified.

On a human level, it is understandable that James's parents complain that Venables and Thompson "never gave James any privacy", and therefore deserve none. Justice is not about revenge, however, even if individuals want it to be. These two young men did something evil, at the age of 10. That much we (and perhaps they) can agree on. Beyond that, they are damaged human beings who need somehow to be integrated into society. It does nobody - not the killers, nor society, not even James himself - any good to pursue them with the publication of sensational reports.

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