Bulger Mother’s Fury At Call To Lift Crime Age To 14

The mother of murdered toddler James Bulger voiced outrage last night over proposals to raise the age of criminal responsibility from ten to 14 years. A senior Government advisor on youth crime claims thousands of young teenage offenders should be spared jail and instead be offered counselling and placed in the care of social services, without being labelled as criminals.

Jamie Bulger’s mother Denise, whose won was abducted and brutally murdered by Robert Thompson and Jon Venables – both then aged 10 – attacked the plan as a ‘disaster’ that would prevent evil young thugs from receiving the punishments they fully deserve.

The softly-softly approach to youth crime is set out in a study published today by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and written by Rob Allen, who as a member of the Youth Justice Board has provided expert advice to four Home Secretaries since 1998.

Mr Allen argues that Britain has a far younger age of criminal responsibility than most other Western countries, and that children aged 10 to 14 accused of crimes should be dealt with by family courts instead of magistrates and Crown Courts, and dealt with using civil orders and compulsory care or supervision rather than criminal sentences.

The scheme would mean some of Britain’s most notorious offenders would have escaped public trial and long custodial sentences. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were 10 when they murdered two-year-old James Bulger in a crime which shocked the nation, and served eight years apiece.

Mary Bell was 11 years old in 1968 when she was jailed for murdering two young boys, and served 12 years. Currently children must be 10 in England and Wales or eight in Scotland to face criminal charges, compared with 12 in Canada, 13 in France, 14 in Germany, Japan and Russia and 15 in Italy.

In 2004 more than 18,000 children aged 10-15 received court sentences. Of the 600 aged 12-15 sentenced to custody, most had committed burglary, robbery or theft.

In his report entitled From Punishment to Problem Solving Rob Allen, Director of the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College who has just completed an eight-year spell as a Youth Justice Board member, argues that the current system demonises and criminalises young offenders without tackling underlying problems.

He calls for a move away from the world of ‘cops, courts and corrections’ towards an emphasis on meeting the health, educational and family difficulties which lie behind so much offending.

The report also advocates ‘residential training orders’ of up to five years for serious crimes, an end to prison custody for 15 and 16-year-olds and new facilities for 17-year-olds.

Mr Allen claims: ‘A genuine shift from punishment to problem solving as the guiding principle for tackling youth crime would help to produce a society that is both safer and fairer.’

But Jamie Bulger’s mother Denise Fergus said the age of criminal responsibility should be lowered to take account of children who ‘grow up too fast’.

She said: ‘That evil pair who killed James knew exactly what they were doing and they deserved to be punished for it.

‘The only so-called punishment they got was to be mollycoddled and rewarded in a children’s home with computers and TVs in their rooms.

‘They lived a better life there than they had before.

‘It does not bear thinking about what will happen if kids capable of murder got to know that the maximum sentence they can get is five years in a children’s home.’

She added: I have heard of kids daring the police to arrest them and saying ‘You can’t touch me I’m only eight.’

‘Lifting the age of criminal responsibility could mean many more evil children getting away with murder.’

Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust and a serving British Transport police officer, said crimes that 30 years ago were being committed by those in their late teens were now being carried out by those years younger.

‘Youngsters as young as 12 or 14 are carrying firearms and knives. Some of them even know their lawyer by their first name.’

The Home Office said last night that while custody should always be a ‘last resort’ for young offenders there were currently no plans to review the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales.