Identities, hide and seek

The British media is all nuts about the case of Jon Venables, who together with his friend Robert Thompson murdered a 2-year-old boy, James Bulger, in Merseyside in 1993. Venables was 10 years old at the time and was incarcerated until 2001. Now he's locked up again, for something "serious", allegedly child pornography.

Many people have expressed that they want capital punishment to be brought back, but I don't see how it would solve anything here. No civilized society can execute a 10-year-old criminal however awful he is, and whatever he has done - or an older boy for crimes committed at the age of 10, or an adult who has this background and has now committed some offence that normally carries a minor prison sentence. He may be damaged beyond repair, but the kind of death penalty I endorse is locking dangerous people up in a prison or a ward.

However, the case has implications. As the practice is in Britain, Venables and Thompson have been schooled while in the custody of officials, passed their exams, and been released on parole in early 2000's. A British peculiarity is that they have been taught to speak without the accent that would betray their locale and class background and thus possibly reveal who they are.

The boys have received new identities, complete with officially forged birth certificates and a clean criminal record. They have then tried to start new lives, while secretly being in touch with the parole officers - this makes sense, for who would expect someone to survive in a society, if he was neglected until 10 years old and imprisoned after that, and then suddenly released?

But there is a consequence. People are not happy that taxpayer money is used for protecting murderers, even murderers who were very young minors at the time. There are plenty of vigilantes who have little regard for organized society and who simply want to kill or maim Venables and Thompson. Naturally, this must not happen.

The arrangement with new identities leads to a phenomenon: people can't be sure that their new neighbour is who he says he is. Of course, in a country like Britain where people generally have no official identity papers anyway, this doesn't anyway work in the way it works in the Big-Brother Nordic societies like Finland, where "sans papiers" is just a plain impossibility, not to mention a legal resident who has no papers. But anyway, forged identities give a new twist to the issue.

People start to suspect that a new neighbour is the famous killer. They set up hate groups. They make threats. And as a result, a completely innocent person, who is of the right gender and age and approximate physical looks, will be haunted in real life, as well as in Facebook.

Or is he innocent? Could it be that he really is Venables, but the authorities are making up a story about Venables being in custody elsewhere? Since they can legally make up identities for people, can't they also protect these artificial identities by setting up a phoney imprisonment of someone who doesn't even exist?

This kind of secrecy and protection leads to conspiray theories and speculation.

It looks like it would be just better to face the facts. The killer's life was ruined when he committed a murder when he was 10 years old. Trying to protect him with a new identity seems to cause more mayhem to others. Perhaps it should be acknowledged that the boys' normal lives were over when they killed 2-year-old James Bulger, and no one else needs to be made vulnerable?

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