New children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson walked into a media storm at the weekend after she said the age of criminal responsibility should be raised from 10 to 12 years of age.
Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger, the two-year-old who was murdered in 1993 by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, called for Atkinson to be sacked following comments made in The Times newspaper on Saturday.
Atkinson, who took over the job at the beginning of this month, said she empathised with the pain and anguish felt by all the families of the victims involved in horrific crimes.
“But the age of criminal responsibility in this country is 10 – that’s too low, it should certainly be moved up to 12. In some European countries it’s 14. People may be offenders but they are also children,” she told The Times.
“The statistics show that we are in danger of criminalising too many children and young people by locking them up for committing far less serious crimes. Some children and young people do commit terrible crimes and are a danger to themselves and to others. Children who carry out such atrocities and other serious offences need to understand the severity of their actions. They should undertake intense programmes appropriate to their age in secure facilities where they are helped to make positive and lasting changes to their behaviour.”
The Ministry of Justice rejected the idea of raising the age of criminal responsibility.
“We believe that children aged 10 and over can differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing. We do not intend to raise the age of criminal responsibility. It is not in the interests of justice, of victims or the young people themselves to prevent serious offending being challenged,” a statement said.
Fergus told reporters: “This woman owes James and me an apology for her twisted and insensitive comments. Then she should resign, or be sacked.
“To say that his killers should not have been tried in an adult court is stupid. They committed an adult crime – a cold-blooded murder that was planned and premeditated – and they were tried accordingly.”
She added: “It is a shock to people like Dr Atkinson that children can be truly evil by 10. But it is a fact and I fear there will be more of them and we need laws to be tightened up so we can deal with them.”