Justice will only be served if Jon Venables remains anonymous

9 Mar

The news that Jon Venables has been returned to prison* has, unsurprisingly, caused something of a feeding frenzy amongst right-wing tabloids and their readers focused around an alleged “need to know” why he has been recalled. So far, the “need to know” brigade have been unable to explain precisely why anyone unconnected with the case has any need to know anything about it, preferring to deflect such questions with emotive and inflammatory arguments about it being in the public interest, and all about justice for the family of James Bulger (along with lots of silly remarks about NuLiebor** secrecy). However, I can provide a very good reason why not only do we not need to know, but it is actually far better if we don’t. 


Venables is, apparently, accused of child pornography offences. This means there are now a whole new set of victims who have suffered either directly, or indirectly, because of his actions. These children deserve justice every bit as much as James did. 


It’s commonplace to assume that looking at photos of children being abused is, in some unfathomable way, less serious than actually doing it. This is a completely bogus argument. Anyone who looks as such material for enjoyment is complicit in the acts depicted. End of! The children in those images are real, they aren’t ‘posed by models’, they aren’t computer generated. They are real children who suffer for the gratification of others. They deserve to have their suffering recognised, and their abusers prosecuted. As anyone with half an idea about the British legal system knows, these children will not get justice if tabloid newspapers are allowed to print identifying information about Venables because, once identified, there would be little chance of him receiving a fair trial. The Crown Prosecution Service will be forced to drop the case, he will go unpunished, and may even end up back on the streets. 


And no, that’s not because of some left-wing plot to promote criminals’ rights, it’s because our legal system attempts to ensure everyone who appears before a court is tried without favour or prejudice, no matter who they are, and no matter what they may have done in the past. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s a system that’s worked well over many centuries and only the stupendously stupid would consider it should be overturned simply to satisfy the prurient curiosity of armchair vigilantes. 


Furthermore, arrests in such cases often come as part of a wider investigation. It’s entirely possible that, if guilty, Venables is only one link in a very long chain, and that identifying him to the public will compromise the whole investigation. 


Bearing all that in mind: if you genuinely believe you “need to know”, do you also think that should be accommodated at any price? Even at the price of letting guilty people go untried? 


*Technically, it’s not a return because he didn’t serve his original sentence in a prison.


** Not my spelling, but that of the oh-so-witty ranting righties who seem to have overlooked the fact that Venables was last tried under a Tory government when he was named by a judge, leaving the Home Office no choice but to give him a new identity. 

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