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James Bulger killer refused prison release by Parole Board

Jon Venables was 10 years old when he and Robert Thompson tortured and murdered the toddler in Bootle, Merseyside, in 1993.

Flora Thompson
Wednesday 13 December 2023 14:03 GMT
James Bulger's mother speaks out after Jon Venables has parole bid rejected

Child killer Jon Venables has lost a Parole Board bid to be freed from jail.

The 41-year-old, who tortured and murdered two-year-old James Bulger in 1993, still poses a danger to children and could go on to offend again, the Parole Board concluded.

The body’s decision, published on Wednesday, said: “After considering the circumstances of his offending, the progress made while in custody and on licence, and the evidence presented in the dossier, the panel was not satisfied that release at this point would be safe for the protection of the public.”

The panel of parole judges “doubted Mr Venables’ ability to be open and honest with professionals, and concluded that there remained a need for him to address outstanding levels of risk”, it added.

A spokeswoman for James’s mother, Denise Fergus, said this was a day she had been waiting “years” for and thanked the Parole Board for making the “correct decision”, adding: “The prospect of him coming out was terrifying as we knew he’d harm again.”

James’s father and uncle, Ralph and Jimmy Bulger, said they were “relieved” in the wake of the ruling, which came after a series of delays and followed a hearing held behind closed doors last month where Venables asked to be released.

He was jailed alongside Robert Thompson after the pair of 10-year-olds snatched James from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, in February 1993.

Venables was released on licence in July 2001 and recalled to prison in February 2010 after indecent images of children were found on his computer.

He was once again freed in August 2013 and then called back in November 2017 for the same offence, with parole judges last considering his case in September 2020.

According to a summary of the Parole Board’s latest decision, Venables had “accepted that he had a long-term sexual interest in children/indecent images of children”, despite taking part in a “considerable amount of work in prison to address this area of risk”. He had a history of taking drugs and secretly trying to use the internet in breach of licence conditions.

The panel was “concerned by continuing issues of sexual preoccupation in this case”, warning there are “future risks” of him viewing more child sexual abuse images and of him “progressing to offences where he might have contact with children”.

“Both of these present a risk of causing serious harm to others,” the three-page document added.

Despite “competing views” of professionals who provided reports to the Parole Board – with some supportive of his release – the panel decided “there would be a risk to others at this time” if Venables was freed from jail.

His previous parole review in 2020 determined he used sex and pornography “as a means of coping”, felt a “lack of fulfilment in life” and had a “need for excitement”, as it looked at his behaviour leading up to his more recent offences.

James Bulger’s barbaric murder was a crime that shocked the nation and I welcome the Parole Board’s decision to keep his killer behind bars

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: “James Bulger’s barbaric murder was a crime that shocked the nation and I welcome the Parole Board’s decision to keep his killer behind bars.

“Public protection is our number one priority, which is why I opposed Jon Venables’ release and this Government is reforming the parole system to introduce a stronger ministerial check on the release of the most dangerous offenders.”

There is a long-standing legal order in place to protect the identities of Venables and Thompson because of their young age when they murdered James.

This meant Parole Board chairwoman Caroline Corby chose not to hold his parole hearing in public, and that James’s family were unable to attend.

Venables refused to give evidence during the November hearing because permission had been granted for a lawyer representing his victim’s relatives to listen to the proceedings.

He was “not comfortable discussing some aspects of the case with the family representative listening” and instead asked the panel to consider his review based solely on written evidence, according to the parole papers.

Venables will be eligible for another parole review in around two years’ time.

In a statement, Ralph and Jimmy Bulger criticised the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and said Government officials had been “hostile” ahead of the Parole Board hearing.

They raised concerns that a memorandum of the sexual element of James’s murder was never admitted to the Parole Board panel.

They said: “The further offending by Jon Venables has had a traumatic impact on us. We are immensely concerned that the MoJ is incapable of protecting the public and that officials within it are clearly not fit to fulfil their obligations.”

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