HC Deb 22 June 2001 vol 370 cc15-6W
Mr. George Howarth

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he will receive the Parole Board's decisions in the cases of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables; and if he will make a statement. [770]

Mr. Blunkett

The Parole Board has informed me today of their decision, subject to conditions, to direct the release on life licence of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables who were convicted in November 1993 of the murder of James Bulger. At the time of the murder both were 10-years-old and James Bulger was two. I would wish to make it clear at the outset that this means that Thompson and Venables will be on licence for the rest of their lives. They will be subject to strict licence conditions and liable to immediate recall if there is any concern at any time about their risk.

First, I offer my deepest sympathy to the family of James Bulger. The circumstances of the killing were horrific and had a profound impact throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. We will never forget it and I can well understand how distressing it is for James's family now to hear this news. We all understand that their grief for the loss of their son in such horrible circumstances continues and our thoughts are with them as much today as over the whole period.

Decisions about the release of those convicted of murder when under the age of 18 are the responsibility of the independent Parole Board. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, decided on 26 October 2000 that the tariff for both Thompson and Venables should expire immediately. Before arriving at his decision he had carefully considered reports on Thompson and Venables and information provided by James Bulger's family. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, accepted this recommendation as he was bound to do, for the reasons he gave in a statement to the House on 13 March 2000, Official Report, column 21.

The tariff is the minimum period a person must serve for retribution and deterrence. Once it has expired an offender is released only where the Parole Board after a very thorough consideration is satisfied that there is no unacceptable risk to the public. A Parole Board panel under the chairmanship of a senior High Court judge and including a consultant psychiatrist and an experienced independent member considered both cases. I know that they will have given very careful attention to the detailed reports compiled in each of these cases. The panel also heard evidence from expert witnesses and will have reached its decisions about risk in accordance with its statutory responsibilities.

It is not appropriate for me to comment on the arrangements for the release of Thompson and Venables as there is a High Court injunction in force to protect their identities and whereabouts from being revealed. However, I can say that the call on public funds will be the minimum necessary to ensure their self-reliance, further education and training and the safety of themselves and the public.

The murder of young James Bulger was a terrible event for his family and the whole nation, but no public interest would be served by pursuing the perpetrators now that the Parole Board has decided that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that they should be confined. The injunction was granted because there was a real and strong possibility that their lives would be at risk if their identities became known.

Thompson and Venables are not free—as I have said, they will remain on life licence for the rest of their lives and are liable to be recalled to custody at any time if there is any evidence that they present a risk to the public. The life licences include conditions which prohibit Thompson and Venables, whether directly or indirectly, from contacting or attempting to contact the family of James Bulger or each other. They will also be prohibited from entering the Metropolitan County of Merseyside without the prior written consent of their supervising officers.

The national probation service now has the duty to supervise them and to review routinely the risk of re-offending. There are grave doubts about whether this duty could be carried out effectively without some degree of anonymity. I am assured that Thompson and Venables will be kept under very close supervision and scrutiny by the probation service whose principal aim is to ensure the protection of the public.