Jack Straw: Venables’ breach not due to new violent crime

Camilla Pemberton
Molly Garboden

Jon Venables did not kill or seriously injure anyone in breaching the terms of his life licence for the 1993 killing of toddler James Bulger, Jack Straw confirmed this afternoon.

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons today from Julian Lewis, shadow defence minister, the justice secretary said he had seen “no allegations” that Venables had committed this kind of offence.

Straw admitted that he was “frustrated” that he was not in a position to disclose more information, but said that to do so would risk compromising the integrity of future criminal justice proceedings and a fair trial for both the defence and the prosecution.

“Our motivation is to ensure that extremely serious allegations are investigated and justice is served,” Straw said.

He added that this had nothing to do with protecting the privacy of defendants, highlighting news today that Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger, had “accepted” that she did not want information to come out that could prejudice future judicial proceedings.

Straw said that no charges had yet been brought against Venables, but assured the House that if they were, a “thorough review” of Venables’ supervision arrangements would be conducted.

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said that had Straw explained the limits of what he was able to disclose, the “frenzy of speculation” may have been avoided, which Grieve said had “not helped public confidence in the justice system.”

Straw replied that it would not have been appropriate for him to appear earlier due to “serious consideration by the police and the crown prosecution service” of the case. He said that no statement from him “would have prevented the press speculation.”

Media coverage

Straw went on to say that newspaper editors needed to reflect on whether media coverage can compromise fair trials and make it impossible for courts to secure convictions. “This is not a decision for politicians,” he said, “but [editors] need to reflect on the consequence of coverage”, adding that editors, “may achieve the opposite of what they intend to.”

Venables, now 27, was convicted along with Robert Thompson, for killing toddler James Bulger after abducting him from a shopping centre on Merseyside seventeen years ago.

The pair were released, on life licence and with new identities, in June 2001 after serving eight years in secure children’s homes.

On the 22nd February 2010, the Ministry of Justice, learnt that Venables’ new identity may have been compromised, and of allegations that he had breached the terms of his release. Venables was recalled to custody soon after.

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