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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Young know what is wrong

It is 16 years ago this month since one of the most horrific crimes many of us will remember, the brutal murder of toddler James Bulger. James was a few days short of his third birthday when he was snatched from a shopping centre in Bootle by two 10-year-olds, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, and killed.

If they hadn’t abducted and killed him, James would be an 18-year-old man today.

The two killers were sentenced to 10 years in prison, and released after eight. Many thought this was far too lenient.

But what seems worse to me is that if they had been a few months younger they might have got off scot-free.

In England and Wales the age of criminal responsibility is set at 10. If you are under 10, the law states, you are too young to be blamed for any criminal act.

Now Rod Morgan, the former head of the Youth Justice Board, is suggesting that 10 is too young, and the age of criminal responsibility should be set higher.

But Thompson and Venables knew exactly what they were doing – and must have known it was wrong. According to the police reports they had deliberately gone looking for a child to kill.

Police said they had been planning to push one in front of a car on a busy road before abducting James. They left his body on the railway line to make it look as if a train had killed him. You don’t cover up a crime if you don’t realise that it is one.

Background reports later showed both killers came from chaotic families and had difficult upbringings. But it’s ridiculous to suggest they were too young to understand that torturing a small child to death was wrong.

In Scotland, the age of criminal responsibility is eight. That makes sense. You should know right from wrong before the age of 10.

If Mr Morgan disagrees, perhaps he should explain why to James Bulger’s parents.

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