James Bulger murderer Jon Venables’ lawyers received more than £100,000 for re-offences as parole hearing is granted

One of James Bulger’s killers, who has had his recent bid for parole accepted, has had more than £100,000 worth of legal aid granted since his initial release in 2001.

A freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice revealed Jon Venables’ legal aid cost £100,735.10 in anonymity and civil representation, relating to his re-offences after the horrific murder of two-year-old James Bulger, for which he was released in 2001.

Venables’ case will not be heard in public and will last for two days on Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 November – if accepted, it could result in the sexual offender walking free before Christmas, in what is most likely to be his last parole hearing before new parole reforms are implemented.

From when Venables and accomplice Robert Thompson tortured and killed Bulger in Walton, Liverpool on 12 February 1993 until February 2023, their lawyers representing the boys received £418,932.18.

Three quarters of that figure has been spent on Venables, sitting at £291,582.30, which includes costs relating to his other offences such as arrests for affray, possession of cocaine in 2008 and breaching the terms of his licence.

Additionally, Venables has revealed his true identity on two separate occasions, meaning that his lifelong anonymity order has cost £59,327.78 in legal aid, while Thompson’s has cost £26,037.93.

Venables’ first attempt at being granted parole was denied in 2020, with the parole board saying he still showed an attraction to sexual violence.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill was introduced by then Justice Secretary Dominic Raab in March 2023, proposing new parole reforms that would prevent a dangerous, reoffending prisoner from being freed. The bill is still progressing through the House of Commons. 

The former child criminal, now aged 41, is currently serving a 40-month sentence after being sent back to prison in 2018 after admitting to possessing child sexual abuse images on his computer and holding a paedophile manual.

From Venables’ initial offence in 1993 his legal aid costs were £183,885.33 until his release in 2001.

Investigative journalist David James Smith, who reported on every stage of the case at Preston Crown Court for The Sunday Times and wrote the definitive book on the case, said: “The figures are fascinating and reflect the scale of Jon Venables’ troubles as an adult.

“If I was on that parole panel, I’d be extremely concerned because Venables has come out twice and re-offended.

“Looking and collecting images of sexualized images of children, I think that’s very disturbing, and any parole board is going to want to be reassured that Venables is not going to offend again, but I think it would be really difficult for him to be released safely. 

“No one can be under any illusion now as to the kind of crimes that he’s gone on to commit as an adult.”

Speaking about the importance of the case he said: “I think the case still stands alone, not just for the terrible nature of the attack on James Bulger, but also for the public reaction. 

“There were very dramatic scenes outside the South Sefton Magistrates Court when the two boys were being brought to court for the first time, there were these crowds of people who looked like they would have turned over the vans and torn them apart if they could. 

“There was just this sense of anger from the public hatred that had been whipped up around the case and there was this just kind of mood of intolerance, so one can understand why the family of James Bulger is finding it very difficult to forgive or understand what happened.”

“For two young boys, to have carried out such an appalling crime was very hard for people to understand, and I used to hear all these stories about what the boys were alleged to have done to James – I always said what they did is bad enough.

“It doesn’t need to be exaggerated.”

Image: The Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, where James Bulger was abducted in 1993. © Copyright Mike Pennington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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