Kieran O’Hagan believes Thompson and Venables’
rehabilitation is based on deception and lies.
Few would dispute that Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the
killers of James Bulger, were emotionally and psychologically
abused in their early lives.
Such abuse involves physical and mental pain, but the abuse
itself stems from and is sustained by deceit, dishonesty, betrayal,
immorality and incomprehension. Young children cannot understand
why they are being abused. The predominant and all-pervading
characteristic is betrayal.
Thompson and Venables helplessly internalised these
characteristics. They became the living personification of them and
they were all crucial in their ensnarement and torture of James
After they were sentenced, the authorities embarked upon a
comprehensive reform programme. The objective was to emotionally
and psychologically reconstruct them, to create an environment that
would eradicate the all-consuming need they had for deceit,
dishonesty and betrayal. There were replaced with constructive
beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviour towards their fellow human
beings. Their new identities would be forged on these principles.
The authorities claimed that they had succeeded sufficiently to
enable Thompson and Venables to be released.
Astonishingly, however, the authorities have, unwittingly,
undone any success they may have achieved in these areas. Thompson
and Venables have been prepared for their release through a
gigantic complexity of deception and immorality.
The early years of their reform programme rid the boys of the
compulsive need to lie, deceive, betray and destroy within human
relationships. Following this, the authorities have spent the past
two years convincing them that the only way they can survive in the
outside world is through lies and deceit.
Apparently, monumental efforts have been made in teaching them
how to lie and deceive. Their very existence from the moment of
release – a new name and imaginary past – constitutes a massive
It is difficult to quantify the enormity of the state’s crime
against Thompson and Venables. The earlier abuse they suffered
pales into insignificance in comparison to subjecting them to two
such opposed regimes.
It is thought one of the boys cried profusely at the prospect of
release, a more intelligent response than the nauseating platitudes
of home secretary David Blunkett and his minions.
Thompson and Venables should not have been released. In their
vulnerability and terror, compounded by the lies, deceptions and
betrayal so assiduously instilled in them, they will be more than
capable of greater destruction. The psychological strain will
become unbearable. Their awful crime against James Bulger will be
no reason to cheer if they self-destruct. CC
Kieran O’Hagan recently retired as reader in the school
of social work at Queen’s University. He is a former child
protection social worker.
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