Back in 1993 there was a high-profile trial of two ten-year-olds, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who abducted the two-year-old James Bulger from a Merseyside shopping centre and tortured and killed him. It was an horrific crime which aroused huge public anger and enormous press coverage. The two ten-year-olds were jailed on what was called life custody until they were of adult age.
Whether or not these ten-year-olds really understood the consequences of what they were doing, was hotly debated in the press amidst a clamor for all sorts of punishments. Because of the media coverage, and because there was no doubt of their guilt, it was difficult to find any jury that wasn't already heavily influenced by the reports.
Although arrested in February 1993, they were finally tried in late November in Preston and sentenced to be detained "at her Majesty's pleasure", which basically meant until they were judged to no longer present a danger to the public. The minimum sentence set was eight years meaning they could have been released at the age of eighteen. Straight after the trial though the Lord Chief Justice ruled that they should serve a minimum of ten years meaning they could be released in 2003.
Despite an attempt by the then home secretary, Michael Howard, to increase the sentence in response to the public anger, it was ruled illegal to have such political interference with the operation of the courts. The parents of James Bulger tried to claim a right to be involved in determining the sentence but this too was rejected by the European Court.
Now Venables is back in jail. He was released in 2003 with a new identity but on something called "life licence" which means he can be jailed again for an indefinite time if he is seen to be danger to the public or is in breach of his conditions of parole. Because of the anger and the massive coverage of the case, there would have been a serious likelihood that he would have been killed had he ever been released under his own name so both he and Thompson were given new identities.