Monday, July 4, 2011

Convict TV

So Venables didn't get released at his first parole, as I predicted months ago.

The idea, thought, that he could give a TV interview from prison is new legal territory - and ground that the Ministry won't ever vacate.  It won't happen.

But should it?  Would prisoners appearing on TV help society?


  1. Prisoners can give TV interviews in the US. Perhaps Venables meant on release (and he will be released - if not next year then certainly the year after) he would do the interview. To be honest, I can understand why since his identity/pictures are all over the internet. What does he have to lose?

    But it would also provide some insight into a shocking and bewildering crime which can't be a bad thing.

  2. Anon 6.21.

    "and he will be released - if not next year then certainly the year after"

    I would be very surprised if Venables was released as soon as you suggest.

    The fact that he was originally sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, (which in effect is a life sentence for juveniles) means that even when he's completed this latest 2 years, he will remain in jail for the breach of his 'life' licence terms until he can convince the parole board (again!)that he's safe to be freed.

    I personally think he will remain in jail for many years.

  3. 'I personally think he will remain in jail for many years.'

    I think this is extremely unlikely. Firstly, the small number of images (57) and the extremely low number of ones at the more serious levels (8) would not have even attracted a custodial sentence in first offenders.

    Secondly, to hold him for 'many years', there would need to be a substantial risk that releasing him would be a risk to 'life and limb'. Venables' conduct since leaving prison simply does not indicate this risk. Barring a fight outside a pub (in which he was allegedly the victim), there has been no violent incidents at all.

    Moreover, the increased level of supervision which formed part of the sentence (computer surveillance, sex offenders register, etc) would mean that a lengthy period of incarceration would be pointless (and even counterproductive) - the order started from July last year so already the amount of time he needs to sign the SOR after release is decreasing.

    The only way in which he can be detained for as long as you think is if he is sectionned.

    His legal team could well take his case back to Europe if they think he is simply being made an example of.

    He will be released within two years. I think even the parents of James Bulger realise this as Denise Fergus has started talking about having him detained under the mental health act.

  4. Oh, and by the way , 'detention at her majesty's pleasure' is NOT the same as a life sentence. This case underlined that when it was taken to the house of lords. It was the reason why Michael Howard's 15 year tariff was declared unlawful.

  5. "'detention at her majesty's pleasure' is NOT the same as a life sentence"

    Try telling that to Ben.

  6. Well Ben shows another way you can continue to be held - piss off the system. It's difficult to see how Venables will be given the opportunity to do this as he is being held in isolation apparently. And we all know Ben should have been released two decades ago!

    That is another reason why the prison service and the authorities will want him released as early as possible rather than detained long-term in my opinion. He can't associate with other prisoners and his latest offence does not fit with keeping him in solitary confinement. His legal team would be perfectly within their rights to claim his human rights are being grossly violated and he is being subjected to disproportionate punishment.

    He has shown no violent impulses since his release in 2001 and his latest offence is not only on the lowest rung of sexual offences but the lowest of the lowest rung - barely enough to get a 'normal' person more than a caution. The sentencing judge has already said that on no occasion did Venables show any inclination to groom any young person. Moreover, the offences were quite recent - I believe only dating back two years and occured at a time when Venables was arguably experiencing a mental collapse.

    So they can only go down the mental health route. Either he has to be declared a dangerous psychopath (which would be extremely difficult) or he has to be sectionned for his own welbeing (or being an immediate risk to others). If neither of these things apply, at some point he has to be released.

  7. 'the small number of images (57) and the extremely low number of ones at the more serious levels (8)'

    Considering the type of crime Venables was convicted of initially, the figures above tell me that he really should be detained under the mental health act.

    It's not the 'level' (of his latest offence) that we should concern ourselves with, but the category.

  8. 'Considering the type of crime Venables was convicted of initially, the figures above tell me that he really should be detained under the mental health act.'

    For that to happen, you need to prove that the latest offence can be linked to the index offence. While there was some concern that there may have been a sexual motive to the murder, this was never a part of the trial (and seemed to be more of an obsession with the investigating officer) and the pathology report doesn't really support any serious claims of sexual assault/motive.

    For Venables to be detained under the mental health act he needs to be an immediate risk to either himself or others. The offence indicates that he probably does not fulfil this requirement. Indeed, according to pre-sentence reports, he hasn't even been classified as a 'high' risk to children but a 'medium' risk and that was only because his downloading fuels demand.

    Problem for those who want him to remain locked up indefinately is his age at the index offence. If he had been six months younger, he would never have been charged (much less convicted) of anything.

    He will be released within two years. Of this I have absolutely no doubt. And authorities will not want this to go back to the European Court of Human Rights.

  9. Oh, and as for the 'category'. As I said, in normal circumstances, even having 8 at Level 4 would not usually merit a custodial sentence.

    This guy was spared jail despite having thousands of images - hundreds of them at Level 5.

    Anyone who thinks Venables is looking at being inside for more than five years in total (from the point of being recalled) is living in cloud cuckoo land.

    And when a lifer is recalled, the average time spent by them in prison again is something like 2 years I think. So unless people are suggesting that Venables should be treated far more harshly than any lifer before him or anyone else accused of the same crime, then release is inevitable.

    Unless of course he really is clinically insane or can't behave himself while inside.

  10. 'you need to prove that the latest offence can be linked to the index offence'

    The link is the abuse of children.

  11. 'The link is the abuse of children.'

    Not nearly enough. Particularly given the age of Jon Venables at the time - barely at the age of criminal responsibility. And particularly as Venables didn't seem to have the inclination to abuse children for years after release. And he has shown no inclination to groom children. And the photos were limited and very few at the more serious categories.

    And Venables may yet have a trump card - Robert Thompson. If Thompson is approached by the authorities to give his account and says categorically that the index offence was borne out of panic and fear after a horrid prank gone wrong rather than anything more dviant (particularly if he once again denies any sexual motive as he always has done), the reason for keeping him locked up indefinately sinks.

    Thompson is the only other one alive who can give a genuine account.

  12. Being familiar with the workings of the Parole Board, have to agree with several posters upthread.

    The Parole Board almost always refuses on the first application. This is mainly to see how the offender copes with being let down. Also, Venables would have had to have shown that he has a place to live and show how he expects to make his way in the community. Given that he now needs a new identity, there can be no way he can have shown this.

    Although media outlets have said the Board refused Venables parole on the grounds of 'public protection', they didn't actually say this. They didn't even give statement saying what their decision was. We know he has been refused parole but we don't know if he was refused a move to open prison.

    Moreover, the Parole Board have said that unusually, they will consider the case again next year. Normally, a lifer gets to apply every two years but the fact that Venables appears to be getting another crack at the whip within 12 months is a clear signifier to me that Jon Venables is being prepared for release.

    In addition, if he was held longer than what might be deemed necessary, his defence will be over it like a rash. One of his defence lawyers is Edward Fitzgerald for whom this will be an absolute matter of principle. He WILL take it to Europe if he has to and he has won with this case before. People often forget that not only did Venables and Thompson win their case in the ECHR in 2000 but they were awarded monetary damages. If Venables' punishment becomes disproportionate (and holding him in solitary confinement for years for this latest offence IS disproportionate), he may be in line for tens of thousands of pounds in compensation. This is a situation the MoJ will want to avoid.

    There is also the issue of the sexual offences prevention order that Venables is on. It runs for five years - one of those years has already expired. By next year, there will only be three years of the order left. If Venables is held for five years, it means when released, he will not be subject to any sexual offending supervision at all beyond signing the sex offender's register. If he isn't released for ten years, he won't even have to do this. The prospect of releasing Venables into the community with no supervision is clearly bonkers. He will be released by 2013 at the latest unless he is either certifiably two olives short of a pizza or if his behaviour while incarcerated falls short (and yes, this would include mobile phone offences Ben!!)

  13. What an interesting and educational discussion. More like this please: I've learned a lot reading this.

  14. Recall on an HMP sentence entails very harsh treatment, even though it may not be linked in similarity with the index offence. The fact that a further offence has been committed means that the release licence is terminated and the whole parole process starts from scratch and this could a long time. I predict that Venables will be very lucky if he and his legal team manage to secure release within the next 5 years. If the case were to be taken to Europe it may even delay any earlier release plans. It takes several years to get the case finalised at that level. There are several stages that have to be fulfilled before a full hearing takes place at the highest level, and each stage takes time. I know Edward Fitzgerald and even he can't wave a magic wand.
    The Venables case is a very difficult case since it has come to grip the public imagination. All murder cases are serious and evoke disgust from the general public BUT we must not forget that Venables himself was a child at the time of his offence.

  15. Then the sexual prevention order expires. Venables will be released with no restrictions/monitoring on his computer use. This can't be sane.

  16. @ Anon - July 11, 2011 2:37 PM

    Venables HAS been treated harshly here. He has been given a sentence that would barely merit a community penalty in another case. If what has been mentioned upthread is true - that he is being held apart from other prisoners in virtual isolation, then arguably, his punishment is even more severe.

    You are wrong about license being terminated. It is actually suspended on recall. The conditions which are contained in the license continue to be extant which is why the judge presiding over the latest case said that the new conditions (sex offender's register and the prevention order) are IN ADDITION to his current license. Venables is STILL on a life license - it is just suspended while inside.

    The interesting thing about this case is that it has been treated differently from the start. Venables' case didn't go through the normal route (magistrates - crown) but was put through a very rarely used legal exception. When it came to court (at the Bailey rather than whatever local crown court he would have attended), sentencing came right after the pleas which meant the judge had ALREADY viewed the pre-sentence reports and IMO there had been an agreement on the sentence between prosecution and defence.

    Then we come to the Parole Board which met on a Friday and announced their decision on a Monday - a staggeringly fast turnaround! Which signifies to me that there perhaps had ALREADY been a decision not to release Venables (a decision which he was probably already aware of).

    And all the stuff upthread about it being taken to Europe. God, this would be the WORST outcome for the MoJ because Venables' legal team would almost certainly win the case (much harsher sentence that is usually given, kept in conditions reserved for far more dangerous prisoners and in solitary confinement, index offence committed when he was just months over the age of criminal responsibility). It would set an awful precendent for future Parole Board decisions.

  17. To go back to the conditions for re-release of a recalled lifer. According to the manual (see the bit on release, supervision and recall)

    • The Parole Board panel will either consider:

    (i) that the risk presented is still unacceptable and the licensee will remain in prison until such time as the level of risk has sufficiently reduced to warrant re-release, in which case LRRS will set the date for the next review given the merits of the case; or

    (ii) if at the hearing the panel deems the risk to have sufficiently reduced or in immediate recall cases do not agree that the original recall decision was justified, it will direct the immediate re-release of the licensee.

    • The test to be applied by the Parole Board in satisfying itself that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined, is whether the lifer’s level of risk to the life and limb of others is considered to be more than minimal.

    • The Parole Board will look to re-release the prisoner as soon as is practicable based on the manageability of the risks they present in the community.

    There you go. The rules are VERY CLEAR. To remain in prison much beyond the sentence there must be a CLEAR RISK TO LIFE AND LIMB. And the Parole Board is supposed to release the recalled prisoner 'as soon as is practicable'. Venables has not been shown to have a tendency for violence - the factors needed to keep him inside for a long time are SIMPLY NOT THERE.

    So there are several ways this could go. Firstly - he is released either next year or the year after. Secondly, he remains in prison COUNTER to the rules of the Parole Board and ends up with a whacking great sum of compensation money and the thing is taken to Europe and the Ministry of Justice loses its case. Thirdly, he is pronounced mentally incapable and sectionned indefinately to a secure mental health unit.

  18. The Life licence is actually REVOKED. On any future release a new licence is put in place.
    The issue about the parole meeting on Friday and Decision being given on Monday is NOT unusal. What the Parole Board is actually deciding at this stage is merely ratification of the Ministry's decision to recall.
    This direct quotation from the manual is a far cry from the reality. Take it from someone who has a mail bag full of material relating to recall. Anyway, the offender need not have committed any further offences in order to be recalled! Mere potential risk would deemed to have increased for the offender to be supervised in the community. This is a powerful tool and open to absue. If you don't believe me then take some time out ( like 20 years ) to examine recall cases...... you would be shocked! Offenders on Life licence are disempowered to much larger degree than people realise.

  19. 'What the Parole Board is actually deciding at this stage is merely ratification of the Ministry's decision to recall.'

    Actually, it was deciding on release or move to open prison. It actually mentioned this on the statement it gave.

    I realise the theory is different to the reality for many prisoners. I just don't think it will be in this case. We aren't dealing with a person who is clearly a dire physical risk to the public. (Although to be fair, I am not privy to the dossier of course - his flat could have been a bomb making factory for all I know). I have to admit to being rather unsure of the value of a 'life licence'. They don't even have such a thing in most states in the USA (I believe) and it does seem rather draconian. Particularly for an offence committed at just ten years old.

    I also noted on the Omand review that the supervision element of Venables and Thompson licence (which is usually dropped after a certain period of time in most cases) was for life which seems inexplicable and unfair.

    I genuinely don't think these two were treated leniantly at all. I think they were VERY heavily punished given their age and circumstances.

    I would agree though that if Venables does end up staying in prison, it will most likely be because of the web of procedure that it takes to move through the system rather than his supposed risk to the public.

    Also, we are assuming he wants to be released. If I was him, I think I'd rather not be!

  20. Why would the Parole Board be in any hurry to release Venables when they clearly made a mistake the first time.

    The fact that he has to be held in isolation is just as much about his latest conviction as it is the index crime, and should therefore have no bearing on when he's released.

    There are many people (serving life) languishing in our jails having been recalled for the most petty of infractions.

    Why should Venables get preferential treatment?

  21. 'Why would the Parole Board be in any hurry to release Venables when they clearly made a mistake the first time.'

    I think it is far from clear they made a mistake. Do you think they made a mistake with Robert Thompson? And they are NOT in a hurry to release him - they've just refused him! However, unusually, he gets another shot next year.

    'The fact that he has to be held in isolation is just as much about his latest conviction as it is the index crime, and should therefore have no bearing on when he's released.'

    Actually this is not true. Jon Venables is NOT on a vulnerable prisoner unit, he is allegedly is isolation. VERY different. I have heard he is in a Closed Supervision Unit which is the only way they could guarantee safety but wholly over the top in terms of punishment of this latest offence. And it would be perfectly reasonably to use this to make a claim under the Human Rights Act.

    'Why should Venables get preferential treatment?'

    Perhaps a better question would be why shouldn't everyone else be able to access a more sensible process? He won't get preferential treatment. The fact is the factors which would necessarily keep him inside ARE NOT PRESENT (the latest offence was not violent, he has shown no real violent impulses). Moreover, the index offence was committed when HE WAS JUST TEN YEARS OLD.

    The Parole Board is there to assess risk. That being the risk to life and limb. The fact that they are sometimes a laborious load of old gits who get tied up on technicalities is another issue. If Jon Venables is not a risk to life and limb, according to the rules he should be released (and I would say this same for any other recalled lifer).

  22. Interesting debate...

    Another recalled juvenile killer is up on a robbery charge (Learco Chindamo) - case in court at the moment. If he is convicted (and I stress IF - he is pleading not guilty), it will be interesting to see what happens to him after his sentence is up.

    You could argue that he has shown himself to be of far greater risk to the public than Jon Venables (allegedly the robbery included threat of violence although I should say again that he is denying the charge) and he was recalled only months after being released. Venables managed over 8 years without being recalled which, given the stress of living under an assumed identity is actually NOT that bad.

    Anyway, it's clearly a matter of 'when', not 'if' released with Jon Venables. He'll need a whole new identity for one thing. And won't he have to attend some kind of sexual offender treatment programme before being released which he probably can't do without a new identity/back story as I believe this involves group sessions.

  23. Darby, the reason Jon Venables should be treated differently to most adult lifers is that he was only ten years old at the index offence. If you cannot see that this should make ONE HELL OF A DIFFERENCE, then, frankly, there is nothing more to say to you.

    Had he been just six months younger, he would never have been charged with anything. There is a good body of opinion who thinks that he should never have found himself in the dock of a Crown Court AT ALL.

    And there is relevant case law which stipulates that a person on HMP sentence who was significantly young at the time of the offence must only be kept in prison longer than their tariff on reason of dangerousness. Now Venables is on a recall, this is true, not his original tariff but the case law may set the precedent here in the way he is treated also.

    God, even Denise Fergus seems to realise he's not going to be locked up for eternity.

    You've asked why he should be given preferential treatment, yet you (bizzarely) seem to think he should be treated MORE HARSHLY than other recalled lifers. Forget it. He has to go through a tonne of procedural hoops in order to secure release (including behaviour/offender management courses) but he WILL be released.

  24. Anon

    ‘the reason Jon Venables should be treated differently to most adult lifers is that he was only ten years old at the index offence’

    Of course, I agree that he should have been treated differently (at the time) because of his age – and he was. He was mollycoddled through what amounts to no more than a glorified children's home, (with no doubt copious amounts of mumbo-jumbo therapy thrown in for good measure!) and given every opportunity to proceed in life whilst trying to put the horror of his past actions behind him.

    What I don’t agree with is, that he should NOW be treated any differently to any other ADULT who, having been released on licence for murder - goes on to download inappropriate images of children. Some people spend many years back inside (on revoked life licence) for far less than the ‘worrying’ (considering the index offence!) type of crime Venables pleaded guilty to.

    I have never implied (as you seem to suggest) that Venables should be treated any harsher than anyone else. On the contrary, I’d be happy if he were treated EXACTLY the same, as from experience I know that this will mean he isn’t going anywhere soon.

    Unlike Ben, Venables index crime was nasty and sadistic.

    Unlike Ben, Venables ‘sentence’ was geared towards release from day one.

    Unlike Ben, Venables has been given every opportunity to make amends for his past ‘mistakes’.

    Venables won’t be going anywhere for a long time. And the practicalities of him having to stay in isolation will (and should) not play any part in deciding his suitability for release.

  25. I'm reading all this with a degree of sympathy for both sides. I think what will happen eventually is somewhere in the middle.

    Venables has to 'prove' himself to the Parole Board first which is a labourious, (and often wasteful) process. Getting out when being returned has got harder over the past few years.

    But he will eventually have to come out and they'll want this to be as quickly as possible without looking overly leniant (the longer it becomes, the harder it gets - particularly as if they leave it five years, he is looking at being released with no limits on his computer use).

    Recalls have grown significantly over the past 10 years or so (apparently they now account for 20% of the prison population - partly because more people are being recalled for less, and partly because they are being kept in prison longer). Apparently the average time spent on recall for a lifer is around 2-3 years (although it's difficult to get accurate data because the MoJ don't release it I think). And not all those recalls will be down to further criminal offences (however, summary recalls for minor infractions tend to get dealt with more quickly now and often don't involve the parole board).

    Venables was sentenced to 2 years. He was refused parole at the 50% stage which theoretically should have been it for two years (it is for other lifers!). Instead, it seems he's going to be considered again next year. Personally, I think it is doubtful he'll be successful then.

    If he is unsuccessful, then the Parole Board is perfectly within its rights to refuse to look at his case again for another two years (that's June/July 2014). I think that keeping Venables in longer than this is simply untenable - it won't happen for a non-violent crime unless he can't behave and starts getting a load of adjudications.

  26. Anon 1:50pm

    I'm obliged for your input and corrections.

    Happily, I can only base my own base my own contributions on how things were when I was involved with the CJS some years ago.

  27. Apologies for the stutter!

  28. What stutter? :-)

    No worries. The Parole system is a maze of various things - incomprehensibility, pointless time-wasting, worthless 'behaviour management' courses, legal minefields and generally a pit of sorry despair.

    Jon Venables is a unique case and in my opinion, will be treated uniquely. This may not seem fair but then you could argue that sticking an extremely young child in the dock in full view of press/vengeful public and trying him as an adult wasn't fair but a perversion of everything 'justice' is supposed to be about. The EcHR was right that the trial wasn't fair - it was little more than a show-trial, where the verdict had practically already been decided beforehand. The jury were only there to rubber stamp it.

  29. "The Parole Board almost always refuses on the first application. This is mainly to see how the offender copes with being let down." How can they justify this psychological experimenting on prisoners? In extreme cases, such a let-down could result in a suicide. Prisoners are there to serve a sentence, not pose a laboratory animals to be played with.

  30. Jon Venables killed a 2yo baby in a horrible sick mercyless way. Jon is sick and he will never be cured. His childporn is proof enough that the murder was sex related and in time he will abduct rape and kill another child. Im from the USA and if a Ten year old child kills anyone rather adult or child he is giving life once 18 he will be sent to adult prison not released. Some will be executed on the 18 bday. The USA nolonger sees a child as a child when he comitts murder in the courts eyes he is an adult and a monster and will not get released. The only sure way a child murderer will get released here is maby if he murdered someone who was molesting him then he may have a chance at release. I heard someone say a life license is unfair in a way i agree when being supervised your being punished and it can lead to extream stress and worry and may result in reoffending. in the usa the only way to get on parole for life is if you were sentenced to life. Or 15 to life if you hear the judge say either life or 5 years to life then be assued when u make parole it will be for life. Now if ur sentenced to 10 years max and paroled after five years you will be on parole for 5yrs. All murder cases are life parole some sex crimes get lifetime probation some minor sex crimes will get u lifetime probation. If jon venables committed his crime in the USA he would have never been released ever! Being age 10 does not matter even at age 10 you know killing someone is wrong! I always believed and will always believe they took james for sex. You dont get an urge to go kill someone unless there is another motive. I saw a 7yo boy being molested in a shopping center bathroom here a few months ago by his dad i gave chase and police got him but they didnt charge him because the boy was erected aint that some shit?