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Last year (18th September 2008) my wife Julie received a circular email (repeated below) forwarded from one of her Christian friends that I found more than usually disturbing for a number of reasons. It related to an alleged proposal to ship off to Australia with new identities the killers of Jamie Bulger, now that they are grown up. Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
Subsequent to writing the bulk of this Blog, I decided to have a look on the web – something I should have done before starting. This Link (http://www.breakthechain.org/exclusives/bulger.html) seems to share the stance I’ve adopted, and points out a number of factual errors in the email. The Wikipedia (Wikipedia: Murder of James Bulger - Defunct) entry provides useful information and links to other sources. Anyway:-
- The email was a petition, originally emanating from Australia, protesting about the matter. The text included some disgusting details of what the 10 and 11-year old boys had actually done to the 3-year-old, which were new to me and very sickening (however, it appears that the supposed facts I found most sickening were in fact either fabrications or exaggerations). The text noted that the boys had tried to cover up what they were doing and so “knew they had done wrong”. Consequently, they deserved locking up for life. Some petitioners hoped that their identities would somehow be revealed so that some avenging angel could do to them what they’d done to Jamie.
- What I found particularly disturbing about the email was the thought that this wasn’t a moral dilemma, or a difficult case, but an example of moral relativism or laxness where the correct way forward – presumably one of eye-for-eye vengeance – is perfectly clear.
- It turns out that this email has been circulating since 2001, when the proposal to release the boys was made, and indeed implemented – though they were released with new identities in the UK, not Australia. It is interesting that people can sign and send on such requests without making any investigations into their veracity or relevance.
- There are lots of things I don’t understand about this event. Some are due to ignorance, and others are due to an inability to connect emotionally either to the wicked or the righteous in this case.
- Firstly, the Australian connection. I had thought that sending convicts to Australia had ceased over a century ago. I can sympathise with the Australians for not wanting British psychopaths deposited on their shores. In any case, it looks as though this claim is false, though presumably the original signatories feared it might be true.
- Incidentally, I see that there are moves afoot, being favourably considered by the Australians at the end of 2008, to ship off former inmates of Guantanamo Bay to Australia, to provide them with a new and safe life if return to their native land should prove dangerous for them. I can see why the Australians might be sympathetic to receiving those controversially supposed to be subjects of penal injustice, but it seems they are unwilling to bend their immigration rules (see, for instance1,Link - Defunct.
- In both cases – very different with respect to proved guilt, though similar in respect of exposure to the wrath of vigilantes – it is presumably Australia’s size and perceived remoteness that is the key factor in its choice as a safe haven for the potentially victimised. That said, the US have apparently contacted 100 countries as potential hosts for their liberated detainees, so the assumption that the Bulger killers would be released to Australia was presumably based on it being a likely choice, and the assumption that anonymity could not be preserved in the UK (as has, in fact, proved to be the case, though not yet with any adverse consequences for the boys themselves).
- With respect to the Bulger boys, one presumes that Judge Butler-Sloss has taken the view that the boys should now be released, that they should be released into a safe environment, that they are no longer a danger to the community, and so on. The same situation applies to all sorts of people detested by vigilantes, including those formerly housed in Guantanamo Bay.
- Then we come to the vigilantes themselves. Now I don’t imagine most of those signing the petition are vigilantes, and even those making threats or hoping for vengeance might not turn out in the flesh to make them good.
- But it doesn’t take much for a crowd to form to attack the homes of paedophiles (or paediatricians) or to shout at criminals post-sentencing, or even at the accused on the way to court when one would have thought them “innocent until proved guilty”. Similarly, public executions – even gruesome ones – were once popular spectacles and an excuse for a grand day out. Now, I’ve no doubt that some people correctly think that it is important that the guilty have it pointed out to them that what they have done is wrong. So, they turn up to do this. Some disagree with the leniency of the penalties meted out by the judicial system – just as there is disagreement about just what the purpose of punishment is – retribution, reformation, deterrent and so on. So, holders of this view may turn up to inflict a bit more suffering. And, of course, some will be personally involved – and it is entirely understandable that they should feel resentment at those accused of, or inadequately punished for, harming their loved ones.
- But, presumably, the majority turn out just for the fun of it – because they enjoy inflicting suffering, or watching the suffering of others, when they think the subjects of that suffering are fair game, and “had it coming to them”. I have no statistics, but lynch mobs don’t seem to be recruited from the ranks of the virtuous and gentle of spirit. Also, such self-proclaimed judges seem to have no sense of the adage “there but for the grace of God go I”. Yet maybe the failure to care about such things unless they touch us personally is the attitude that sets us on the slippery slope to moral dereliction. But one suspects that it’s easier to resist the weak and wicked than the strong and wicked. It takes more courage to protest against the powerful than the weak.
- Even so, the objects of wrath in such cases should be the law-makers, or the law-dispensers, rather than those correctly processed by the system. Returning to the Bulger case, maybe the complaints against Judge Butler-Sloss are justified. This would depend on whether she was right about various facts of psychology and law. In this sense, the email has the correct target, though it appears to be ignorant of the high-profile arguments about the appropriate sentencing in this case with the Wikipedia (Wikipedia: Murder of James Bulger - Defunct) article reminds us of.
- We don’t know what the boys now think of what they had done. From a legal perspective this only matters with respect to their likelihood of re-offending. Presumably, as they are being “released early”, the psychiatric view is that this risk is low. In fact, they aren’t (or weren’t) strictly being released early at all; though one might opine that 8 years custody was insufficient retribution for their crime.
- In case I’m misunderstood, I’m not being sentimental towards the murderous boys. C.S. Lewis asked what the duty of a Christian was if he had committed murder, and it was “to be hanged”, in the days when this was the state-appointed penalty for murder. I don’t know what C.S. Lewis’s views were on capital punishment, but his point was that the Christian malefactor should submit to the punishment of the state, whatever that might be. I think he held that this submission would apply even if the murder had been committed pre-conversion. God’s forgiveness is orthogonal to the state’s forgiveness, or lack of it. Interestingly, the Wikipedia (Wikipedia: Murder of James Bulger - Defunct) article mentions the rumour, probably false, that one of the boys had become a Christian. But such things are possible. Fred Lemon (Link (http://positivechristian.org.uk/fred-lemon-christian-preacher/)), a reformed villain beloved of evangelicals, admitted that he once hit a householder over the head with an iron bar during a burglary, and that it was touch and go whether the man survived. Had he died, Fred would have been hanged and the “3 men in suits” that allegedly turned up in his cell would have only prepared him for an early death rather than for a career on the conference circuit.
- The “Bulger” boys should have been (and were) punished in accord with what the state proscribes, and if still dangerous as men when due for parole, they should have been kept locked up. Indeed, their sentence allows for their re-incarceration in case of recidivism. But if neither of these conditions is satisfied – that is, they had served their legal term and are deemed not to be of future danger to society – then they should be released. There are all sorts of dangerous and violent characters about who have committed no crime and as such are beyond the reach of the law until they break it and are convicted, however much we might wish them to be incarcerated. So, the fact that someone is a nasty piece of work is no reason to keep them locked up for life.
- Any failure of repentance is only relevant if it increases the likelihood of recidivism – and it should preclude any early parole. As they were being released as soon as their minimum term was up, when their sentence was open-ended, one presumes they had – as the Wikipedia article suggests (Wikipedia: Murder of James Bulger - Defunct) – given some evidence of a change of heart. However, I would support the view that those that have committed abominations should suffer the full rigour of the law, whether they are subsequently repentant or not. Indeed, if they are truly repentant they should want to do so, knowing that any remission brings extra pain to the friends and relatives of those they hurt in the first place. Quite how this applies to a detention “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure”, I know not. It appears that, while for adults this allows the indefinite detention of those on life sentences who continue to be a danger to the public, for juveniles it allows “early” release (after the minimum term has been served) in case of a change of character – partly on account of the fact that “life” for a juvenile is likely to be considerably longer than for an adult. See Wikipedia (Wikipedia: At Her Majesty's pleasure (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_Her_Majesty%27s_pleasure)).
- If we don’t think the law is adequate, or consider the judges or psychiatrists delinquent, then we should take this up with the authorities via the democratic process – always assuming that we have sufficient reason to think this the case.
- Assuming that it is fair and rational to release those that have served their appointed sentences for abominations, the question arises what to do with them. It is just on account of people such as those moved to violence by the email under discussion that a life of anonymity has to be found. Maybe the law should be that those who have committed abominations should be executed or incarcerated for life; but as it isn’t, something has to be done with them that doesn’t involve either of these alternatives. Physical relocation as far away as possible seems the only alternative. The wrath of the vigilantes is likely to cool if the object of their wrath isn’t easily accessible. It does, however, seem that the “as far away as possible” was considerably less far than the email imagines.
- There is still some justification for moral outrage, but there were no facts or allegations in the circulated text as to what the now grown-up boys thought of what they had done, nor of their backgrounds and situation at the time of the crime (which for the “lead offender” was pretty terrible). It is possible to find evidence for the various possibilities here, by following the links above, though it will always be difficult to determine the truth. I got the impression that the petitioners didn’t really care about such matters.
A summary of the email is as below; personal details have been removed.
- Original Text
- For His Memory: Do you remember February 1993 in England, when a young boy of 3 was taken from a Liverpool shopping centre by two 10-year-old boys? Jamie Bulger walked away from his mother for only a second, Jon Venables took his hand and led him out of the mall with his friend Robert Thompson. They took Jamie on a walk for over 2 and a half miles, along the way stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his mummy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him, threw 20 stones at him, rubbed paint in his eyes, pushed batteries up his anus and cut his fingers off with scissors. Other mutilations were inflicted but not reported in the press. N.B. :- Remember, a 3year old cannot possibly defend themselves against a 10 year old, let alone of 2 them. What these two boys did was so horrendous that Jamie's mother was forbidden to identify his body. They then left his beaten small body on railway tracks so a train could run him over to hide the mess they had created. These two boys, even being boys, understood what they did was wrong, hence trying to make it look like an accident. This week Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys (now men), anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new identities. They will also leave custody early only serving just over half of their sentence. They are being relocated to Australia to live out the rest of their lives. They disgustingly and violently took Jamie's life away and in return they each get a new life!
- Please ... If you feel as strongly as we do, (and if you haven't already signed this petition) that this is a grave Miscarriage of justice - Hit the forward button and add your name at the end, and send it to everyone you can ! If you are the 700th person to sign, please forward this e-mail to: email@example.com and mark it for the attention to Lady Justice Butler-Sloss. Then continue on until it hits 1400, before you email her the list again. There is power in numbers & these petitions do help. Maybe it'll prevent another child from a violent death & maybe it'll get greater, more appropriate convictions for these criminals, whatever their age. Please take a few seconds to forward it to your mail list & don't forget to add your name to the list. Thank you.
- Email Topic: Please read: This is heart rending.
- Email Statistics: the email had bounced a bit, originally emanating from Australia before finding its way to the UK. There were no actual dates prior to 15th September 2008, but presumably it started out in 2001. If not, it is very silly.
- Australia: 128
- Canada: 151
- Cyprus: 3
- Fiji: 40
- Netherlands: 1
- New Zealand: 47
- South Africa: 21
- Spain: 3
- UK: 157
- USA: 2
- Selected Annotations:-
- (UK): I don't usually pass these things on, but this one needs seeing to ....
- (UK): This is just terrible. Please read this and sign it before posting it on to as many people as you can …
- (UK): IF YOU BELIEVE IN JUSTICE AND PAYBACK, SIGN THIS AND FORWARD IT ON, DON'T JUST DELETE IT …
- (UK): Someone, somewhere, one day will recognise them. God willing, and then........................
- (UK): Our son is the same age as Jamie would be & his plight hit us hard; since then we have both been active in the scout movement to ensure kids have something constructive to do with their lives!
- (UK): HANG THE BASTARDS
- (UK): A horrendous crime. 3 mothers lost their boys that day.
- (New Zealand): Makes one wonder what is our world coming to?
- (New Zealand): Having young children of my own reading what was done to this innocent boy makes me ill. The world deserves protecting from these now adult psychos and you are hiding their identity. Sorry but Lady Justice Butler-Sloss you are a DISGRACE.
- (Canada): THEY SHOULD BE IN PRISON FOR THE REST OF THEIR SORRY LIVES!!!
- (Canada): How could Australia accept these two murderers?
- (Canada): How could a person with your education and power be so thoughtless and stupid. 10 year olds know right from wrong. What I don't understand is how Australia would accept these two murderers.
- (Canada): Anonymity in Australia ?!! Why inflict these murderers/terrorists on the poor Australians. I'll bet if they had the identities of these 2, justice would prevail - it isn't at this moment. These 2 are NOT victims, they are perpetrators!! Quit protecting them.
Footnote 1: This is the correct link, as you’ll find by searching the news.com.au site, but it’s now broken
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Timestamp: 01/12/2019 15:59:03. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.