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Daily View: Jon Venables' anonymity

Clare Spencer | 09:50 UK time, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Jon VenablesIn a statement to the Commons, Jack Straw has resisted demands for information on one of the killers of James Bulger, Jon Venables. Commentators are split as to whether they agree with him.

Mary Riddell in the Telegraph argues that Venables' treatment reflects an attitude to rehabilitation which has already trickled down to offenders of lesser crimes:

"But the broader question is less about Venables's actions than about the light this shadowy returnee shines on the British soul. Though his crime was terrible beyond understanding, he is also a reminder of the shame of others. Just as no one knows what made him kill James Bulger, nobody knows what Furies drove him, hated and hunted, to where he is today. His actions, whatever they may be, do not justify the vindictive instincts of those, journalists included, who never knew his victim but whose object is to destroy Venables the man in a way they could not destroy Venables the child."

The Independent editorial supports Mr Straw's decision, pointing out that if Venables' real identity were revealed it could make him "untriable" by a jury:

"[R]eleasing information on Venables could leave us in a still more unsatisfactory position if it blew the court-ordered anonymity of an innocent person (we must remember that Venables has not yet been found guilty of any new crime) or disrupted criminal proceedings that could be in the pipeline."

Raymond Tallis in the Times makes the case that anonymity is more important now:

"If Venables lost his anonymity, he would spend the remainder of his life in fear of being killed by vigilantes who feel that death alone is sufficient punishment for his crimes. Ensuring that such an extrajudicial killing did not take place would probably be beyond the capacity of those charged to protect him. Those who have expressed outrage at the cost to the public purse of keeping Venables safe should reflect that protecting him after his cover has been removed would not only be more difficult but also probably more expensive."

Max Hastings in the Daily Mail links the withheld information to what he sees as a government which takes more and more information about the public but is stricter about its own information:

"How many people suppose the details of Jon Venables's reimprisonment are being concealed merely to serve justice? How many, instead, think the justice department's overriding concern is to shield those who released him in the first place?"

Melanie Phillips in the Mail says no good can come from hiding the truth about Venables' crimes:

"[T]his secrecy is far from desirable. First, we have every right to know the way in which taxpayers' money is being spent on the treatment of criminals.
More pertinently, such secrecy allows incompetence to flourish. It means we have no way of knowing whether the treatment of young offenders is going wrong; no way of holding childcare or psychiatric professionals - whose record hardly inspires much confidence - to account."

Lawyer Duncan Lamont in the Sun dismisses the idea that revealing Venables' identity would result in an unfair trial:

"The legal system can, and if called upon will, provide a fair trial for the person previously known as Jon Venables - even if Mr Straw gives us some official information now. Mr Venables does not exist anymore. He has a real new identity.
It is very convenient for the Government and Mr Venables' support team to have no scrutiny at this stage - because clearly something very serious has gone wrong."

Ken Macdonald in the Guardian says that even if calls to reveal more information are sincere, they still shouldn't be granted:

"It's possible that, in outraged newsrooms, writers are genuinely affronted by the justice secretary's refusal to see things their way. They may feel that in a battle between accountability and fair trial, accountability should win. They may believe that some fleshed-out detail on tomorrow's front page is really more important than the steely progress of a criminal case to its just conclusion, whether that is conviction or acquittal.
In which case, Jack Straw is right. The more we're told about what Jon Venables may have done, the more likely he'll stand unmasked before his court - and the more unlikely that any trial will take place. The government should hold its nerve."

Links in full

IndependentIndependent | Disclosure is not always in the interests of justice
TelegraphMary Riddell | Telegraph | Jon Venables proves vengeance does not work
TelegraphTelegraph | The Venables case has not been handled well
TimesRaymond Tallis | Times | Anonymity for Jon Venables is all the more crucial now
TimesTimes | Grown-up Justice
MailMax Hastings | Daily Mail | From Labour's cult of official secrecy is an insult
MailMelanie Phillips | Daily Mail | No good can come from hiding the truth
MailDaily Mail | Who really benefits from this secrecy surrounding Jon Venables?
MailSuzanne Moore | Daily Mail | Jon Venables is serving life, whether he's in jail or not
GuardianKen Macdonald | Guardian | Jon Venables: the right to know

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