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Crime and Punishment August 23, 2010

Posted by lapsippipm in Read n Learn.

Crime and Punishment

Posted by Peter 11 March 2010


James Bulger

Some of you have e-mailed me to say that you would like more podcasts about life and politics in Britain. The subject of the podcast today is a difficult and serious one. It is about a small boy who was murdered 17 years ago. The murder and what happened afterwards are still very controversial and arouse strong emotions in this country.

In February 1993, James Bulger was nearly 3 years old. He lived in Bootle, which is a town north of Liverpool in the north-west of England. One day he went shopping with his mother Denise. She went into a butcher’s shop to buy some meat. James stayed outside. When Denise returned a few minutes later, James was gone.

Some children found James’s body on ground beside a railway line a few days later. He had been beaten to death with bricks, stones and an iron bar. Whoever had killed him then placed James’s body on the railway line, so that it would look as if he had been killed by a train.

There were CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras in the shopping centre where James had disappeared. The police found pictures of James. He was holding the hand of an older boy or a young man. Together with another boy, they were leaving the shopping centre. The police published the photos in the press, and a member of the public was able to identify the people who had taken James. They were two 10-year old boys, called Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The police arrested them, and they were later found guilty of the murder of James Bulger.

The story was headline news for many weeks. The whole country was horrified, both by the mindless murder of a small child, and also by the fact that the killers were themselves children. In Liverpool, feelings ran particularly high and the families of the two 10-year old killers were forced to go into hiding.


Robert Thompson and Jon Venables

After the trial, Jon and Robert spent 8 years in secure children’s homes, where they received an education. Then, when they were 18 years old, they were let out, but with strict conditions about where they could live and what they could do. They were given new identities (new names etc), to protect them from the media and from people who might want to kill them. Was this the right punishment for them?

James’s mother, Denise, describes Jon and Robert as pure evil. She says that they have never been sorry for what they did, and that the justice system let them off lightly. She, and many others, think that it was wrong to release the two young men so soon; they should have been sent to prison for many years when they were 18. At one point, indeed, the government tried to have Jon and Robert kept in prison at least until they were aged 25, but the courts said that the government had no power to interfere.

Now the case is back in the news. A few weeks ago, the police arrested Jon Venables and he is now in prison. The government have refused to say why, but the press have reported that it is connected with pornographic images of children. Immediately, the old controversy started again. Many people say, “I told you so. It was a mistake ever to release Jon and Robert. They are dangerous and ought to be in prison for many years. And it was a mistake too to give them new identities. People should know who they are and what they have done.”

What does this tell us about the sort of country which Britain is? We send a lot of people to prison – in fact, we have more people in prison in relation to population than anywhere else in Europe. But we still do not feel safe. Sometimes it seems that crime is a national obsession. At the same time, we know that many prisoners, when they leave prison, go back to a life of crime. A government minister once remarked that prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse. A recent survey showed that most people agree that it is important to help people who have committed crimes to re-organise their lives,to stop using drugs,to get an education and a job. But cases like the murder of James Bulger create a very strong emotional reaction, and this make rational discussion of how best to deal with crime and criminals much more difficult.

There are some new phrasal verbs in this podcast. I have posted a separate grammar and vocabulary note about them.




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