Bulger killer reveals his identity as strain proves too much

Jon Venables, now back in custody in a prison hospital wing, could no longer keep his past a secret

Jonathan Owen
Sunday 07 March 2010 01:00

One of James Bulger's killers, Jon Venables, who was granted a new identity after serving his sentence for the 1993 murder, has been revealing his true name, unable to cope with the strain of keeping his past a secret, it emerged last night. Venables had blown his cover several times before he was put into custody last week, according to senior sources close to the Ministry of Justice.

Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, yesterday cited "extremely serious allegations" in relation to the recall of Venables but refused to elaborate. It is, however, understood that he would have had to be satisfied that Venables presented "an unacceptable risk to life and limb" to put him in prison.

This week Mr Straw will meet Denise Fergus, James Bulger's mother, to discuss the case. Mrs Fergus claimed yesterday that she had been the victim of a "massive cover-up" and said: "If this hadn't been about to leak into the papers, I don't believe they would have even told me he was in prison. It hurts me to think that someone else might have suffered at Venables' hands in the process. I feel so angry about it."

Government officials had become increasingly concerned at Venables "self-disclosing" the truth about who he was, and he is now being kept on a prison hospital wing. He has already told staff and inmates who he is and it is believed that officials have ruled out any plans to create a new identity for the 27-year-old while he is in his current mental state.

Along with James's other killer, Robert Thompson, Venables has been living in the community on a life licence after serving eight years in a secure children's home for the murder of the two-year-old boy.

News of his recall last week – the first time that he has actually served any jail time for his crime – prompted widespread speculation. Theories have ranged from a fight with a workmate to reports that he has committed a serious sexual offence, amid a drink- and drug-fuelled lifestyle that has seen him returning to Liverpool on nights out and to watch football matches, and even working as a bouncer.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, the probation officers' union, said: "A disturbed child who kills, then spends eight years in a secure unit and then nine years having to pretend they're somebody else is bound to be deeply psychologically affected. It's not surprising that he may have revealed his true identity, given the enormity of what he's done and the difficulty of coming to terms with that and a new identity." Venables being recalled to prison is the "worst possible outcome" given the years spent trying to rehabilitate him, he added.

And last night the man who devised the plan that kept the Bulger killers – both aged 10 at the time – in care for eight years told the IoS how he always feared that this day would come.

Malcolm Stevens, a former senior civil servant who was the home secretary's special adviser on the care and detention of Section 53 offenders (young people who commit grave crimes) at the time of James Bulger's murder, said: "I always wondered what would happen to these youngsters when they became young men and when they had relationships... how on earth would all that pan out? It's difficult to imagine the pressure."

Mr Stevens remembers the pair as "a couple of fairly ordinary youngsters from downtown Liverpool.... What made the case much more serious in my book was that there was no obvious reason why that offence was committed. There was no cause and effect."

The two killers lived in fear of being discovered, he added: "They were always very apprehensive about their identities being known. All the way through they were frightened to go out... they were very frightened and my guess is that's never going to go away, so that will still be there now."

And while Venables comes to terms with being in prison for the first time, the news will be an unwelcome reminder of the past for Robert Thompson, now also 27, who is gay and is believed to be in a long-term relationship with a man who knows his real identity.

Dr Ian Cumming, a consultant forensic psychiatrist who works in the Prison Service, said: "So much about people's interactions with others is built on trust, and if what you're doing and who you are is not really correct then that's quite a strain on the individual. You've got enormous burdens to carry around ... in a lot of ways you have been given an enormous opportunity, another chance with a new identity, but it's a double-edged sword and comes at a price."