23 Jul 2010

Jon Venables jailed for child pornography

Home Affairs Correspondent

Jon Venables “extremely remorseful” for the murder of toddler James Bulger in 1993, as he is jailed for two years after pleading guilty to downloading and distributing indecent images of children.

Ordered to sign the sex offenders register for 10 years as a convicted paedophile, Venables has been barred from working with children for life.

Appearing via videolink from an unnamed prison at the Old Bailey, Venables pleaded guilty to downloading indecent photographs of children and distributing six indecent films and one photograph to other internet users.

He admitted downloading 57 pornographic pictures of children on to his computer between February 2009 and February this year.

The now 27-year-old Venables pleaded guilty to a second offence of distributing indecent photographs of February this year, and a third offence of distributing 42 images in February 2008.

Video monitors were turned away from the court in order to protect his anonymity – with his face visible only to the judge hearing the case.

The court also revealed that Venables was living in Cheshire at the time of his arrest in March, but Mr Justice Bean refused to lift the injunction banning the publication of his new identity.

Venables conviction is 'not the fault of the probation service'

"The track record of probation working with lifers in general is extremely good," Diana Fulbrook, chief executive at the Whiltshire probation service, told Channel 4 News.

"Out of nearly 1,800 who are actively supervised in the community last year only 90 were recalled and only 25 of those for further offences.

"One of the issues of locking young people up for their formative years is that when they come out into the community they very often recognise the time that they've lost. All those lost years are a real issue for them and they can get quite angry and resentful about having missed out on that.

"Whenever lifers are recalled back into prison, the clock starts ticking again in terms of assessing them and establishing with them the reason for the breakdown on the outside.

"One of the issues around lifers is them facing up to what they've done. Part of them accepting responsibility for their behaviour is being able to live with themselves and the guilt and the remorse and if you let that cripple yourself then there is no chance of any sort of rehabilitation and therefore the person concerned will be going through his own set of agonies.

"This particular person has been out in the community for nine years and I would say that in those nine years he was managed safely in the community. It's very difficult to measure success - I think it would be extremely unfortunate if there was a blaming element to this.

"There is no evidence, as far as I'm aware, that the probation service failed in its duties and at the end of the day people make their own decisions about the actions they take."

Venables, alongside Robert Thompson, was jailed for life in 1994 for the abduction and murder of two-year-old toddler James Bulger in Merseyside the previous year.

James’ mother Denise Fergus was in court this morning to hear Venables admit to the fresh charges against him. She issued a statement after Venables’ sentencing saying a two year sentence was “simply not enough” to meet the gravity of his crimes.

“We are surprised and concerned that he was not recalled under the terms of his parole licence when he committed an offence in 2008,” Mrs Fergus said.

The youngest people to be charged with murder in the 20th century, Venables and Thompson were released in 2001 and given new identities.


The indecent images were discovered by police on Venables’ computer after he alerted his probation officer over fears that his anonymity had been compromised.

Venables’ probation officer called the police after telling Venables to gather up his belongings, ready to move immediately in case his secret location and identity had been compromised.

When the probation officer arrived shortly afterwards, Venables was sitting at his computer trying to delete personal information. He attempted to use a knife and a tin opener to remove the hard drive before using his foot unsuccessfully.

Police then arrived and seized his computer, which contained eight images at ‘level four’ – the second most serious level of indecent images.

His computer contained 44 images at level one, three at level two, two at level three and eight at level four.

Police also discovered evidence of internet chat logs with a convicted paedophile, during which Venables posed as the 35-year old mother of an 8-year old girl.

The judge seized the laptop Venables built himself from second-hand parts and imposed a sexual offences prevention order for five years.

Jon Venables: a failure of rehabilitation?

Inevitably there will be some who will claim that Venables has now forfeited his right to his new identity and, indeed, even today, the secrecy surrounding this case has been incredible, criminology expert Professor David Wilson writes for Channel 4 News. I’m not certain that this level of secrecy can be justified much longer, especially as keeping us all in the dark will only undermine faith in the justice system.

Honesty and openness is just as important for Venables for if he knew that his behaviour were subject to public knowledge and scrutiny, it might make it much more likely that he would stay on the straight and narrow.

This raises the question as to whether someone in Venables’s position can ever be rehabilitated, especially as the pressures that come from maintaining an assumed identity can be immense. Having been granted anonymity since his release in 2001, Venables has been required to eradicate every trace of his past identity. Even for a well-balanced person this would be difficult. For a troubled young man, though, it must be especially hard.

And he was and remains a troubled young man.

This bans Venables from owning or using a computer that does not have specialist software installed, blocking images of child abuse.

It also prevents the paedophile from using peer-to-peer software of the kind he employed to commit the offences, or using internet chat or social networking sites.

Mr Justic Bean said: “Accessing child pornography on a computer is not a victimless crime, since people who do it encourage the exploitation of children who are filmed or photographed.”

The court heard today that Venables had previously been arrest on suspicion of affray after a drunken street fight in September 2008, and had also been cautioned over possession of cocaine in December 2008. Neither incidents prompted his recall to prison however.


Nine years after his release, Venables returned to prison in March having breached the terms of his release. The charges were revealed after a judge at the Old Bailey lifted the ban after an application by the media.

The details of the breach were not immediately made public, as a court injunction prevented the identification of Venables.

The Ministry of Justice said he had been returned to custody “following a breach of licence conditions”, adding: “There is a worldwide injunction in place that prohibits any reporting, including reporting on the internet, that could identify him or his location.”

Mr Justice Bean said today: “I am satisfied that Mr Venables should only be seen by me during this hearing assuming that he is about to plead guilty to the charges.

“It is not necessary for anyone other than me to be able to see him. There is evidence of a considerable risk to Mr Venables’ life if his identity becomes public.”

Jack Straw MP, who was Home Secretary in the run-up to Venables’ release in 2001, said today that his release was a matter for the parole board with some involvement from the justice secretary at the time.

He said: “I’m not going to say what they could or should do in this case, they act very responsibly. Their prime responsibility is for the safety of the pulbic and to show respect to the…victims and I’m sure they will accept and acknowledge these responsibilities in full.”

‘Extremely remorseful’

In court today, Venables spoke only to confirm his name and plead guilty to the three offences, in his first court appearance since being recalled to prison in February.

But in a statement read by his solicitor after the hearing, Venables promised to turn his life around and “never go back” after this latest prison sentence.

Venables’ solicitor John Gibson said he was “extremely remorseful” and feels he has “badly let down” those that have helped to rehabilitate him.

Mr Gibson said: “He puts forward no excuse for his conduct. He is genuinely ashamed, but he has and continues to express his remorse, and has come to an understanding of how children are harmed by those who have even a passing interest in such material, let alone by those who pass it on.”

He said Venables has accepted responsibility for the murder of James Bulger and the consequences will be with him for life.

He added: “He has said that every day since what took place in 1993 he has thought about how different life might have been for all those affected, who he appreciates have also had their own reasons for reflection.”

Mr Gibson said Venables realised that those with whom he has made friends over the eight years under his new identity will be “hurt and angry”.

The solicitor said Venables felt like a “canary down a mine” after being released and returning to prison was “something of a relief”.