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New lives but hounded ones

Courtroom sketch
Thompson and Venables in court during their 1993 trial  

By CNN's Graham Jones

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The release of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson under new identities now sets in motion a likely chase by their enemies to find them.

The teen-agers have had death and injury threats.

And James Bulger's father Ralph, who recently failed in a High Court bid to block the early release of his son's killers, said he had been denied justice and pledged to do his best to "hunt them down."

Rumours in the Liverpool area say a "bounty" will be offered to anyone who finds the pair, and there has been a threat to publish up-to-date pictures of them on the Internet.

Some elements of the British press also have seemed insatiable in their pursuit of more information on the perpetrators of one of the country's most horrific murders.

bush The James Bulger Case
  • Case overview
  • Killers' new lives
  • Internet threat
  • Memories of horror
  • Killers and victims
  • Blunkett statement
  • Timeline of events
  From TIME
  • Killer boys grow up
  • Photo essay

  Court rulings
  • 1997: House of Lords
  • 1999: European Court
  • 2000: Lord Chief Justice

  Related sites
  • Justice for James
  • UK Parole Board

  News archive
  • Pleas for restraint
  • Press breach probed
  • Reformers welcome move
  • Parents' fury at release
  • Freedom for killers
  • Killers face hurdle
  • Anger at decision
  • Sentence review due
  • European court ruling


Merseyside police were forced to launch an internal inquiry into how police photos of the pair taken in 1993 were recently leaked to the press.

Simon Creighton, solicitor for Jon Venables, said threats on the killers' lives had been taken extremely seriously and that an injunction preventing their identification had been granted largely because of the risk.

"It was so important to seek protection for them," he said. "It was one of the overriding features of the case."

In her ruling, Britain's top family judge, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, said "the law of confidence may, in exceptional circumstances, be applied to protect individuals who are seriously at risk of injury or death if their identity or whereabouts became public knowledge."

The leading-selling British Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, recently carried a story about the future life allegedly awaiting Thompson and Venables.

It said a "secret life of luxury" costing taxpayers 1.5 million ($2.1m) awaited them and that they had been given the names of dead people, new passports, medical records and even credit cards.

The paper described details of a semi-detached house in a town in the North of England where Venables allegedly will live with his parents, who settled there with new identities in 1996.

The article chillingly added the detail that the house is not far from a railway line (James Bulger's mutilated body was found on a railway track).

Thompson and Venables
Thompson (left) and Venables  

Years of preparation by care experts and officials have gone into providing new life stories for the two teen-agers and their families, who have kept in touch during the eight years Thompson and Venables have been kept in detention centres.

According to The Observer newspaper, Thompson has been taken to see Manchester United play at Old Trafford, to see the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon and to visit shopping malls such as the Trafford Centre in Manchester and Meadowhall in Sheffield.

Venables has been taken to pubs, to play five-a-side football and on day trips to go abseiling and white-water rafting.

Both have made advances in their education, The Observer said. Thompson has five GCSEs, A levels, and is interested in textiles and fashion design. As a special project he made a wedding dress.

Venables gained six GCSEs with good grades, plus A levels. He was overweight at one stage but has lost weight to prepare for his release.

Lord Chief Justice Woolf, in his judgment setting their sentence back to eight years, quoted psychiatrists' reports on the teen-agers.

A consultant adolescent forensic psychiatrist said of Venables: "He has made exceptional progress ... with personal development, acknowledgement of the enormity of his offence, understanding of his actions as a child, and in his 'normal' adolescent development in 'abnormal circumstances.'"

A similar report in the case of Thompson said: "Robert has made exceptional progress in his current placement with regard to maturity, education and insight gained in therapy. Robert accepts responsibility for the grave acts he committed in the offence and shows great remorse for the pain and suffering he caused."

Lyn Costello, co-founder of the pressure group Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, which protested outside Parole Board headquarters as the board considered the teens' release, said it had been decided some time ago that the killers would be released this summer.

August is their 19th birthdays, and they would otherwise have to be transferred from their secure units for young offenders to adult jails.

James Bulger  

Lord Chief Justice Woolf talked of the "good work" likely to be undone if this happened.

"They are unlikely to be able to cope, at least at first, with the corrosive atmosphere. There is also the danger of their being exposed to drugs, of which they are present free."

There is however another possibility on how the identities and whereabouts of the two could be revealed -- they could bring it about themselves.

This could be accidental, deliberate -- or by reoffending. More than 80 percent of those released from the type of young offenders unit which have held Thompson and Venables commit crimes again.

As abnormal young people suddenly turning to lead "normal" lives, it might only take a scorned girlfriend or a few angry words and a scuffle in a bar and their carefully crafted and expensive anonymity could be at an end.

One thing is certain -- they will not be doing things together. It will be a condition of their release that they do not associate with each other and never return to Liverpool.

• Parole Board
• Lord Chief Justice's recommendation on sentences

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