Letter: Bulger murder is no mystery

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Sir: Your moving editorial about James Bulger (25 November) concludes we will never be able to understand the behaviour of the two boys involved. That is not so. If you understand how an iceberg is formed, you don't have to explain its tip. The great majority of child psychiatrists would have predicted, as I did, a combination of vulnerable personalities, some degree of brain dysfunction and, more importantly, a background of emotional deprivation, alcohol, family and school violence, educational retardation and jealousy of a younger brother.

It would be quite wrong to think that this murder is a one-off. Thousands of vulnerable children in our society are made miserable and full of hate by neglect and violence - many are badly hurt.

Society is not helpless in this situation - there are remedies. Some years ago Dan Olweus in Norway showed that an anti-bullying policy in schools reduced bullying by one-third. Some, but by no means all, schools in this country have followed suit. Why not all schools? Stricter control of video nasties, better resources and more effective social services agencies and remedial education facilities, full provision of nursery education in deprived areas, a national curriculum relevant to family life skills as well as to later occupational skills - these would all reduce the level of violence inflicted on and by our young.

Of course, these measures would not eliminate the problem, but they would certainly greatly reduce the frustration, misery and hate experienced by a large number of children. That would surely be at least as worthwhile as preventing perhaps one other similar murder in 10 years' time.

Yours faithfully,


Professor of Child Psychiatry

Institute of Child Health

London, WC1

25 November