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When A Child Kills

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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.

But the very fact that the killers were given a new identity and a fresh start angered relatives of the Bulger family. There were continuing demands for retribution, for revenge, for making Venables and Thompson suffer, and there are plenty of people in a growing mob behind them. Now that Venables has been arrested again for breaching the terms of his parole in what is described as a "serious sex offence". The details have been withheld because it would prejudice the chances of a fair trial but it has been implied that there was no crime against a person.

The whole case has highlighted two major issues: that of retributive justice, and rehabilitation of offenders. There is no doubt that the two ten-year-olds who killed James Bulger were very disturbed youngsters and despite the press describing them at the time as "evil" and "monsters", many people find it difficult to accept that children so young could have been sufficiently aware of what they were doing to bear the culpability.

And anyone who has worked with children will know that they can change dramatically especially during their teen years and especially given help and direction.

Many people at the time considered Venables and Thompson as two deranged young children in need of psychiatric treatment. They were undeniably dangerous and needed to be confined for public safety but it was certainly not a case of locking them up and throwing away the key.

Those who adopted a more knee-jerk reaction were baying for blood, some public punishment which would satisfy the parents and relatives, and satisfy the press demands for heavy visible action against criminals. Already, another youngster who was wrongly identified at the time as having been a suspect was forced to leave town in fear of his life.

And now, James Bulger's mother is appearing on the radio and television demanding a say in how her son's killer should now be treated. But is that a reasonable path to take? Should the victims be deciding sentences, punishments, treatments? Surely, the very reason we insist that such trials be determined by juries is to isolate the victim from the judicial decision, preventing them exacting their own prejudiced revenge.

No doubt the media shares some responsibility for keeping the Bulger family in the frame, and despite claims that they want to "get on with their lives", there's a clear media circus making sure they continue to get lots of publicity and that they are continually invited to comment further.

The psychiatric treatment of these two young men is not known in the public domain, nor their new identities so if they have been rehabilitated, that's not for the newpapers and news channels to decide. But if the press manages to extract sufficient details to identify the new names for these young men, they will never have any chance to be rehabilitated.  They will be tried again by press mob rule and in that case, it won't make any difference how different they are now compared to how they were at ten years of age.

Despite the anger and media clamor, justice has to rise above the idea of knee-jerk demands for punishment and retribution and everyone is entitled to a fair trial, even those already previously convicted of a murder. The press would do the family a favor if it left them alone, denied them a platform, and encouraged them to do what they say they want to do, get on with their lives.

And in turn, those baying for blood again would do well to ask themselves how responsible is the average ten-year-old, let alone one who has serious psychological and psychiatric problems. And how many of us would want to be judged today, over and over, for our actions at that age? The courts made their decision, passed their sentence, and the legal system is acting now to insist on the conditions of the parole. It's important that they should be allowed to do the job without mob rule and press interference trying to disclose their new identities.

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About Bob Lloyd

  • Jay Joseph

    Only read one third of the page…

    Incorrect facts, the were arrested in 1993 not 2003 and they were release in 2001 not 2003.

    C- could do better!

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com Nancy

    English court?

  • STM

    Come on Jay, you’re a tough marker. It’s obviously a typo … he’s mentioned 1993 earlier, and does say they did 10 years, which would be a mathematical impossibility if they were tried in 2003 since its only seven years ago.

    C … Jay is opinionated and forthright, expresses himself well and can be quite bright, but he needs to work harder at maths.

    And yes, Nancy, a famous case.

    Surprised you didn’t hear of it, even in that backwater of international news.

    They were only 10 when they did it, and therefore entitled to certain protections.

    However, the enormity of what they did is frightening, especially given that they WERE only 10.

  • STM

    They were detained first in a juvenile institution then in prison “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure”, which is a term they generally use in the UK to sentence children who have committed heinous crimes.

    It usually means that if they’d been sentenced as an adult, the crime would generally attract a life sentence. What it really means is, they can be freed when the authorities (not the Queen) think they are ready to be released back into society – or not, as the case may be. 10 years used to be regarded as a life sentence anyway. It’s an indefinate sentence, but not an indefinate sentence, if you get my drift.

  • STM

    C for spelling … make that: “indefinite”.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Incomplete words, they were arrested in 1993 not 2003 and they were released in 2001 not 2003.

    C- could do better!

  • STM

    There’s a theme developing here …

  • http://passiontounderstand.blogspot.com/ Emm

    I think this is an excellent article. I’ve been wanting to write about it myself as I have such mixed feelings. The two youngsters were known to my family and they were “little monsters” before they committed this crime. I had always believed though that they had a chance of rehabilitation as they were so young and they were removed from poisonous homes. Someone failed, somewhere, that is for sure.

    “Surely, the very reason we insist that such trials be determined by juries is to isolate the victim from the judicial decision, preventing them exacting their own prejudiced revenge”. That is so very true. You have to let go at a point and let the courts decide.

    Great article!

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Re the dates, they were arrested in Feb 1993 and although the initial trial sentenced them not to be released for at least eight years, meaning they’d be eligible for parole at the age of 18 in 2001, the sentence was increased to a minimum of ten years making them eligible in 2003. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    Even so, the specific dates are far less important than the age of the killers at the time, the public reaction, and the really difficult issue of how you deal with murderers who are children.

    It’s also interesting that in any case such as this, there is an accusation that someone “failed” as if the blame for crime can be transferred to those who failed to prevent it. In reality of course, the blame for a crime is with those who commit it. Anyone else trying to prevent it are doing a noble public service and deserve praise even if they fail.

    It’s this frenzy for retribution often whipped up by the press that puts support services in such a terrible position. They do their very best and then when sometimes they fail, they are accused of failing.

    I don’t know whether or not the parents of the killers were put into some kind of psychiatric programme as well but it seems like a reasonable thing to have done, and not just because of the public reaction.

    In this case it seems to me that the blame couldn’t simply be put on the children involved but was shared by the parents who were responsible for bringing them up.

  • http://www.technorati.com Dawn

    Both children grew up in dysfunctional homes, with spotty parenting and not a lot of love based on a number of articles I read on this case.

    I completely disagree that ten-year old children aren’t aware of the difference between right and wrong. These children weren’t deemed as incompetent or having learning disabilities. They dissembled and lied their way throughout the investigation and attempted to cover up large portions of the worst of what they did. And what they did was bad, very, very, bad.

    I know a number of ten-year old boys, having a ten year old child myself, and while boys in general at that age have yet to develop much empathy or compassion, they know that death is final and that it’s wrong to hurt another person.

    These two kids were morally deficient in every way, especially compared to other kids their age. They were an abomination and deserved to be locked up forever, for the safety of society. Which is obvious now that one has been put back into custody for a “serious offense.”

    This wasn’t an accident, this was intentional. They kidnapped this baby (a 2-year old is still a baby) they dropped him on his head, they threw bricks at him, sexually molested him, threw paint in his eye, kicked him hard enough to leave a foot imprint and then left him unconscious, but not dead, on a train track to be cut in half.

    I think the parents of James should have a say. You really did skip over the meat of this story and I completely disagree with your overall analysis.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Dawn:

    There’s no question that it was a horrific crime and that the Venables and Thompson were guilty. It is very hard to understand the mentality of anyone committing such offences and especially so in the case of ten-year-old kids. They obviously knew they were doing wrong, and they also tried to cover up what they had done and in that sense they were fairly typical kids.

    I don’t think I skipped over the meat of this issue at all. The biggest difficulty discussing this at all is that in law children are judged to have a lower level of responsibility and that’s exactly why there was an attempt to rehabilitate them. Of course, they intended abducting and killing James Bulger and once having started to attack him, they were unable to stop, just as is the case in many other violent attacks.

    In the case of adults, an assessment is made of their mental state and the likelihood of psychiatric illness, personality disorder, level of culpability and responsibility. In the case of children, since so much of their development is ahead of them, that assessment is far more difficult.

    Giving in to the idea that they should be locked up forever goes againt the legal principles of dealing with children in courts. But it is a difficult question as to whether a particular violent act puts someone automatically outside the scope of rehabilitation.

    I think part of the objectivity of the legal system is in recognising our own revulsion at these acts and trying to separate the emotion from the analysis and factual judgement. But the converse of that is that the sentencing seems to be impersonal and doesn’t take account of the feelings of those affected.

    The Bulger family have had a great deal to say about the sentencing and what they think should happen, but there has to come a point, surely, when the actual decision is left to the legal process itself.

    The other point I’d make is that there is an assumption that the serious sexual offence alleged to have been committed by Venables (and it hasn’t come to court yet) is assumed to be somehow related to the murder all those years ago. It may be, but it may not. There are many serious sexual offences committed by those who haven’t killed.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I completely disagree that ten-year old children aren’t aware of the difference between right and wrong.

    Of course they are. The question is whether they had any true appreciation of the gravity of their crime, and that is very doubtful. The ten-year-old mind is not subtle and has very little sense of proportion.

    For instance, if you tell a ten-year-old he’s grounded because he got detention at school, he’s more likely to consider this a horrendous injustice than a minor reprimand.

    I’m fairly sure that having being caught and locked up was more significant to Thompson and Venables than what they’d done. So, quite correctly, the law did not regard them as responsible adults. It’s not that they didn’t know what they were doing. It’s that they didn’t, really, know how bad it was.

  • http://www.technorati.com Dawn

    I guess I have a hard time believing a ten-year old didn’t know how bad killing another person is. I can remember being ten and I can’t imagine ever considering the act of killing to be anything but the gravest sin imaginable. I was hardly a sophisticated ten-year old, I did however understand the finality of death and the consequences of murder.

    I think my point is, there are some individuals, regardless of their age, who are destined to do bad things, and when they start doing them is irrelevant, the point is they are GOING to do them, because, quite simply, they are evil and devoid of humanity like most normal people.

    I am not suggesting ALL ten-year old children who have committed serious crimes be treated the same – I am saying some actions are so unbelievably heinous they must be dealt with accordingly.

    Had these boys been playing and accidentally killed a playmate and even tried to cover it up, I wouldn’t feel the same punishment was deserved as I do in the Bulger case. The outcomes could be identical, but motive and intent is the key to determining punishment. These two “boys” set out to do harm, planned it, executed and reveled in it — that is, until they were caught.

    Premeditated murder, regardless of the age of the perp, is at the heart of this. Are the parents culpable? Hell yes, but ultimately these are two vile individuals who committed a deadly act and some criminals, not unlike those who commit violent sex crimes, are untreatable and need to be locked away forever.

    In this case, these Venables and Thompson are damaged goods, what they did was horrific enough for them to lose their freedom forever. Seems fair and just.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [I think my point is, there are some individuals, regardless of their age, who are destined to do bad things, and when they start doing them is irrelevant, the point is they are GOING to do them, because, quite simply, they are evil and devoid of humanity like most normal people.]

    Dawn:
    I have a really hard time going along with the notion of evil, the idea that some people are inherently bad and will eventually do bad things and I’d like to to try to explain why I feel that way.

    Our ideas of evil and sin depend on socially accepted values such as religious ideas, legal assumptions, social rules that are generally accepted. These change dramatically both throughout societies and within the same society historically. Things that were considered evil and bad by one society can, even with very similar religious beliefs, be considered acceptable. The religious justification for slavery, including the execution of slaves, is a classic example.

    Children undergo an incredible transformation and generally accept their values from many sources including parents, peers, institutions like schools and governments, role models, and lots of others. In doing so, as they develop critical faculties they challenge those values often criticising their parents, expressing doubts, breaking rules and checking the consequences.

    The idea that some children are inherently bad or evil is an incredible prejudgement given that such values of bad and evil are socially determined. In one historical context a child would be normal and yet in another would be judged evil – indeed the Spanish Inquisition was based on such a prejudgement. But children’s ideas and beliefs are very malleable and they change and develop over time. The assumption that for some individuals that won’t or can’t happen is to condemn the child to a fate over which they have no control. That seems to me the height of prejudice.

    Even if a child commits an horrendous act, they still have before them the opportunity of development, of changing their mentality, their beliefs and ideas. To decide in advance, that certain children are going to commit crimes and therefore deserve continuous punishment means that you cannot afford to make a mistake in that judgement. To make that assumption is akin to expecting to find a gene for evil and in the meantime locking up all suspects.

    Can you really be so sure that disturbed and derranged children are simply evil, beyond any kind of treatment now or in the future? And can you really defend your idea of evil such that it should form the basis of a legal judgement?

    For those reasons, I don’t trust the notions of evil and sin. They are relative values determined socially, often through religious indoctrination, and don’t form any kind of absolute against which you can judge other people and their actions. I suspect that’s also why such terms have no legal status or currency.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I guess I have a hard time believing a ten-year old didn’t know how bad killing another person is. I can remember being ten and I can’t imagine ever considering the act of killing to be anything but the gravest sin imaginable. I was hardly a sophisticated ten-year old, I did however understand the finality of death and the consequences of murder.

    Dawn, the point is not whether you (or Thompson, or Venables) understood the gravity of murder. I’m sure the two boys understood that very well. The question is why they understood it.

    They knew it was a serious crime, since they tried to cover it up, were aware that if caught (and I’m prepared to bet they assumed that wouldn’t happen) they would get the book thrown at them, and had probably been told at some point(s) that murder was Very Bad.

    I don’t know about you, but my understanding of murder at age 10 was not that it was bad because it was evil and deprived another human of life. Of course I was taught that, but I don’t think I truly appreciated the truth of it. It was bad primarily because of the consequences to me if I were to do it.

  • ernest de cugnac

    Agree with Dawn. I can remember being 10 and both my daughters at that age. In fact they knew at 6 the difference between right and wrong.

    Venables and Thompson knew the difference between right and wrong – they just didn’t care about the difference between right and wrong. That makes them dangerous to this day in my opinion.

    Our language has been downgraded in that we seem afraid to use words like good and bad. Stealing a sweet from the store is bad. But once you murder, in a ghastly way, society seems unwilling to use the word bad any more.

    One last thing; entertain the idea of someone being born bad. Crazy? Why? Some are born timid, some bold, some are born mild, some wild – ask any parent. Why is it so unlikely that people vary innately along the good – bad dimension?

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [Venables and Thompson knew the difference between right and wrong – they just didn’t care about the difference between right and wrong. That makes them dangerous to this day in my opinion.]

    Ernest, let’s accept that at the time they didn’t care about the difference between right and wrong, though it’s more likely to have been as Dr.D said, that they were self-focused rather than having any sense of social consequences.

    Even if they were dismissive of the difference at the age of ten, there’s no reason to assume that they are still like that, nor that they remain dangerous today. I don’t know whether they are still dangerous because that requires a psychiatric assessment that none of us have done.

    There a suspicion that because Venables has been arrested, that he isn’t completely rehabilitated, but we don’t know his psychiatric state.

    I don’t think it’s a case of society not wanting to use the word bad any more. It’s more a case that we know now how relative such a word is. We now understand that when people use words like bad and evil, they are generally appealing to some absolute notion which we shouldn’t trust any longer.

    For example, a wonderfully well-behaved and cooperative child will be described as “good”, “an angel” even, but that is absolutely no indication that they will remain so throughout their life. In just the same way, words like “evil” and “bad” are just value-laden words used to describe behaviour, and that can change dramatically depending on circumstances, the child’s experiences, and so on.

    It’s just too prejudicial an attitude to claim some innate goodness or badness in children who are beneath the age of understanding the social consequences of their actions. As Dr D said, most ten-year-olds have a very personal and judgemental conception of how actions affect them. Their morality is about themselves because they have yet to be socialised to the extent of understanding social consequences.

  • ernest de cugnac

    Thank you for a carefully reasoned reply, but I contest two issues.

    You say “We now understand that when people use words like bad and evil, they are generally appealing to some absolute notion which we shouldn’t trust any longer.” But that’s not a given. Relativism is one philosophical orientation. Absolutism another. You can have your point of view, but you are wrong to imply that it is “the one”.

    Second “As Dr D said, most ten-year-olds have a very personal and judgemental conception of how actions affect them. Their morality is about themselves because they have yet to be socialised to the extent of understanding social consequences.” This is manifestly not the case otherwise “most” 10-year olds would go around killing toddlers, and they don’t.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Ernest, I offer evidence to back up the contention that sin and evil are socially mediated values. There are very many examples historically and one that is very clear is the christian and muslim justification for slavery in which, to justify extension of the slave trade, the religious authorities appealed to the notion of the stain of Ham, an alleged innate evil and sin in races of people with black skin. A totally and utterly abominable position, socially mediated and made acceptable in societies in the sixteenth century. The same applies to any such absolutist notion of sin and evil. All viewpoints are not automatically equivalent because some have evidence behind them.

    And an personalised, individualist sense of morality typical of ten year olds would not cause them to go around killing each other, any more then sense of charity would cause all christian ministers to give away their wealth.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Ernest, it’s not a quesation of whether Thompson and Venables were disturbed and wicked ten-year-olds. It’s clear that they were. But the law recognises (or should recognise) that children are not done developing. This is why there are different sentences for young offenders, why they are not sent to adult prisons, and why juvenile criminal records are usually expunged when the child reaches majority.

    When I was ten, I trespassed regularly, vandalized the occasional car or building and once participated in arson. Does that mean I am a trespasser, vandal or arsonist now, more than thirty years later? Of course it doesn’t.

    The gravity of Thompson and Venables’s crime is not really relevant in this context. Arson is a more serious offence than trespass, for example, yet I practice neither now.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Shucks, Dreadful.

    I thought I was the only one troubled with a juvenile delinquent’s past.

    Never tried arson, though, except once – on a cat.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Nah, Roger, it was nothing compared to some of the kids I ran around with – especially the one whose idea the arson was. We set fire to a railway embankment. Fortunately there was only one train an hour in each direction on that line, so the fire brigade were able to get things under control before they got too interesting.

    At least, I assume they did. We heard the sirens but didn’t stick around to arouse suspicion.

    I’m sometimes curious as to what became of him. I’m almost certain he’s heard the slam of a prison door at least a few times in his life.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    But those were exciting times, you’ve got to grant that.

    My offenses too were rather minor – like participating in a car theft once. I guess I didn’t have what it takes to become a “hardened criminal,” although one never knows of course what one would do if the circumstances were different.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    BTW, we just took it for a joy ride, nothing more.

  • ernestdecugnac

    But Bob, your evidence that sin and evil are socially mediated argues both ways. Yes, society once accepted slavery (relativism) but for one person to enslave another is always wrong (absoultism).

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Ernest, I’ve heard that excuse many times, and it really is an excuse used to justify condemning others. It’s the old claim that my morality is better than yours because it’s right, and it’s right because in my society, I and others say it is. Such a claim to absolutism necessarily is itself relative. In another society, or another time, you and others would be saying something different with equal justification to your views being absolutely true.

    But I think you misunderstand what I mean by relativism. I mean that moral and ethical values are by definition, relative values and that’s the case whether people accept them or not. All moral values are relative values, their very existence being based on comparison with those values accepted in that particular historical society at the time. In other words, any judgement about whether or not enslavement is right or wrong, has to be based on a comparison with accepted values. It is inevitably relative to the accepted values of the society considering it.

    Slavery in ancient Greece was not seen as wrong in terms of that society’s values (i.e. relatively) since no-one considered there to be case that it was wrong, but compared to our present values (again relatively) we think it is wrong. That’s not an absolutist position, just a recognition of the relativism, that relative to our society, we judge it to be wrong.

    It’s ironic that religions that have such an absolutist definition of evil and sin somehow find it perfectly consistent with their religious principles to find ways of justifying what those same values indicate as being evil and sinful.

    Slavery is an excellent example because it shows that the view of absolute values itself is socially mediated and pretty malleable. Most everyone in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries believed in the literal truth of the bible, just as some people still believe in the absolute nature of evil and sin. They believed the myth of the curse of Ham and hence justified slavery and racism. Others believe in absolute evil and therefore find it possible to condemn ten-year-old children indefinitely on the basis of their derranged mental state.

    Those looking to religion for the source of their absolute values found the curse of Ham, the stain of sin, even original sin, and this was used to justify subjection, punishment and even enslavement. This belief in absolutism is very closely related to a justification for prejudice.

    Historically, religious dogma has been consistently interpreted to justify the action of powerful people. And historically the notion of absolute values gave plenty of scope for colonial exploitation. The notion of absolute values gives justification for condemning certain people without understanding the causes for those individuals having very different, and potentially dangerously different values. In the case of killer children, the notion of evil and sin is a very simple and easy route to condemnatation. But it does conflict with the equally important value of justice. Now is justice similarly an absolute value?

  • BeNice

    I cannot believe that 2 people are allowed to discuss committing crimes like trying to set a cat on a fire on a forum for an article about a baby (yes baby) being brutally murdered by 2 disgusting boys that should never see the light of day again.

    This is why people commit crimes, theres always some physco willing to excuse it so the offender(s) think it’s ok to re offend just like jon venables has by being none other than a paeodophile and downloading and distributing child pornography despite already molesting a little boy and being punished, he has re offended as most mentally disturbed individuals do.

    Its about time life for a life was introduced. 15 years or so isn’t life, being in that prison until you die is life and thats what should happen. If no-one can work out what makes these sick killers offend then its certain no-one can say whether they can re offend so dont run the risk that they may well do.

    This story has saddend me and i would be distraught if this happened to anyone in my family and i think poor James’ family have the right to the where abouts of venables and thompson, they should not be protected, who was there to protect James that sad day? Whether they were 10 or not, James was just 2 and endured the torment of these sick boys and they will only learn (mostly venables for his new crimes) if they experience just what poor little James had to suffer or at least hear what his family had to endure hearing there little boy was dead, cut in half and had been molested.

    Sickos to you that are talking about alighting cats, show some respect and get some help

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    BeNice:
    [This is why people commit crimes, theres always some physco willing to excuse it so the offender(s) think it’s ok to re offend]

    As far as I can see, no-one has excused any crime. Unfortunately there are some people who treat attacks on animals as childish pranks and that reflect very badly on them. Doubtless some make reference to such acts to shock and create a reaction but to my mind, attacks on animals during childhood is a particularly worrying symptom.

    But the problem with child murderers is that we either have to assume they can’t be changed and throw away the key, which seems to be what you are suggesting, or else acknowledge that there are cases where they can and do change. Both of the comments about their childhood crime indicates that some people can and do change even if they still get some vicarious pleasure from mentioning it. To my mind, for the reasons you’ve identified, such comments add little to the discussion.

    But it seems to me that throwing away the key is ignoring the fact that people can and do change, effectively saying that rehabilitation doesn’t matter. That might sound plausible in the case of an habitual reoffender, but it becomes a far more difficult decision when talking about children who have yet to grow up and mature. For them, their moral and value system is still very pliant, very flexible, and constantly changing.

    It is therefore possible to reshape at least some of those individuals into responsible members of society. Throwing away the key is effectively saying that we won’t try to do that. It’s a position of course that some take, but one very hard to justify on any moral grounds.

    These issues give rise to very strong emotions but at the heart of the case was two ten-year-old boys and a two-year-old victim.

    Saying “they will only learn (mostly venables for his new crimes) if they experience just what poor little James had to suffer” is factually questionable. It is most unlikely that they could even comprehend what the baby James suffered, far less experience it themselves. They were ten years old and in a very disturbed mental state. But it is reasonable to expect that they might have learned some empathy, some understanding of their responsibility.

  • Parfait_One

    I think we all have it in us to be killers. What creates a child killer? Obviously, it’s the society they grow up in. It’s amazing to me that more focus hasn’t been directed on this society and the public have treated these 2 boys as separate elements, as if living on little islands away from the rest of the world. They played violent video games, watched violent movies, talked with violent mates at school, witnessed violence at home… etc. Similarly, they were not exposed to kind, wise elders, not taken to church, not taken to orphanages and shelters to be shown the value of charity, not taught to do chores and good deeds… their evil sides were fostered while their good sides were suppressed. It’s natural they should grow up to be killers. When a plant grows sickly, the farmer looks at the soil it grows in. When it grows crooked, it is brought right, but through pains. What we can see in the case of these 2 boys is a society that couldn’t be bothered to right the tree and can’t be bothered to this day.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    P_O:
    [What we can see in the case of these 2 boys is a society that couldn’t be bothered to right the tree and can’t be bothered to this day.]

    Although I think the general point is well-made, I think there’s a problem in allocating blame to “society” in general. When we use the word society, it is very easy to assume that it is a collectivity that has an individual responsibility, an individual will. That often disguises the fact that social values form a spectrum, often contested between different groups.

    In just the same way, people talk about the church as if it was some unity with a single will. Of course it is made up of individuals, some of them pretty malicious indeed. The catholic church is currently making rather feeble efforts to clean out its stables.

    “Society” as a whole isn’t to blame for these two child killers, but sections of society who profit from the exploitation of violence certainly bear some responsibility. I think it is difficult to offload all the responsibility onto parents too, because they too may well have suffered the emotional and psychological damage.

    I think that if this case demonstrates anything, it is that a simplistic and naive judgement in terms of good and evil, or the failure of this or that person or institution, is inadequate as an explanation. That these children were in such a state to be able to commit such a crime demands that we look at the commercial exploitation of violence and the market manipulation of children and their attitudes. There are no easy answers – instead there are some very difficult and searching questions.