Should young offenders be granted anonymity?

31 January 2010

Yes – Charlotte Granville

The recent case which has been dominating our headlines about the attack and attempted murder of two boys in Doncaster by two other boys aged just ten and eleven years old immediately reminds us of the murder of James Bulger in 1993.

Quite rightly there has been a lot of public anger towards the two brothers in Doncaster, and calls for them to be named and shamed like the child-murderers Venables and Thompson.

This call for identifying the brothers is of little long term use; despite Venables and Thompson being named, they still received new identities once released from prison.

Therefore naming such children will not help the public to keep vigilant against further attacks from the same people. The desire for the disclosure of criminal’s identity is an emotional response to the situation, such as when Bulger’s mother told the Sun newspaper that only in identifying the killers did she feel that justice was done.

Yet in such sickening cases of children attacking or murdering other children this idea of justice is misplaced; we must remember that however depraved the actions and mindset of these children are, they are still children.

Their backgrounds reveal a complete lack of parental guidance and love. By naming and shaming the children, we are attributing all the guilt on a named person and failing to consider the wider influences that helped create such a child; no child is born evil, and thus the lack of nurture in such children’s cases must be responsible for their warped personalities.

Although the children need to be told what they have done is very wrong, pity should also be extended to such lost childhoods. The public shaming of one child or household may be our natural response to such a situation; this witch hunt ignores how our society is interconnected.

These children’s problems are, to an extent, problems for all of us. The presence of such dysfunctional families in our communities poses a threat not only to the family itself, but also to society as a whole.

If we were to point the finger of blame by identifying families like the one in Doncaster, we are detracting from our own failed responsibility to such violent households. Every child deserves a childhood free to violence.

As a welfare state we aim to provide this and such child criminals are a product of our failure. The Doncaster children regularly saw their mother being beaten and although the care workers knew about this, they failed to do anything.

Perhaps if they had acted sooner and taken the children out of a dysfunctional setting quicker, such a horrendous crime could have been avoided. Ultimately nothing positive can result from naming and shaming the children involved in such horrendous crimes.

The fact that these children are so young should allow for some level of diminished responsibility. They should and do have a right to a prison sentence which aims to correct the inhumanity of such children.

Anonymity will give such children a chance of a better life which they were deprived of by their previous upbringing. By naming and shaming such children we would be recanting from the belief that no one can be saved from evil.

The evil was not the children’s own fault, as they and their parents have been trapped in a cycle of violence, lack of affection and structure.

These children deserve anonymity. Such a policy rightly gives the hope of a second chance to all of us.

No – Harriet Russell

Child criminals are disturbing, there’s nothing more to say. No one can possibly deny that James Bulger’s killers deserved punishment for their actions. In my view, ten year olds know what they are doing and if they know what they’re doing, they should live with the consequences. That does not include being given a complete second shot at their lives by being granted complete anonymity along with an early release. Most of us would want that and we didn’t commit a crime!

If we’re going to argue that they are oblivious to their own actions and it’s purely the fault of “society” we are going to open the floodgates to a whole heap of excuses.

In my view, Venables and Thompson actually got a swift ride through their jail experience in the 1990s. So, yes, they were exposed to harsh discipline and a strict regime but they also got a thorough education programme and the psychological help they needed to help them put what they did behind them.

I cannot find it in myself not to feel aggrieved that come 2001, the then-teenagers were fully equipped to convince parole officers that they were ready to be freed. Fully equipped to enter the outside world as different people, it’s like these two never did it. Forgive me if I find that hard to swallow.

All I’m saying is that there’s probably only one person we can really blame in this situation and that is the perpetrator. I’m also not saying that parole is a completely implausible idea for child criminals. The addition of anonymity just really seems like the ultimate slap in the face to the justice system.

 If “society” is to blame as Cameron this week so put it, then I think this would be a much more regular occurrence. The fact that we only have cases like this once in a decade is a sign that this is more of an anomaly than simply a “broken society”.

Also, if society is so terrible then how do the rest of us manage to resist the urge to do what the brothers behind the Edlington torture case did?

As far as anonymity is concerned, I can’t quite bring myself to allow them such relief. Serving time and being released on parole for good behaviour inside is one thing, but being given a complete second chance at life after doing something that horrendous is another altogether.

They should have to at least live with their sullied names if they are going to end up on early release.

Are their parents to blame? I’m not sure I can fully agree in all cases. We’ve all seen those programmes about unruly children where we pity the parents for being so long-suffering and despairing at the unchanging behaviour of their children.

It is also a very presumptuous method to blame parents as we can never be fully sure, as outside spectators, what happens behind closed doors. Parents are an easy way out for us as well; they act as a scapegoat. Heaven forbid that in today’s modern day and age we actually have children that are capable of such malice.

Well, I’m afraid we may have to face the horrible truth. If we keep granting young offenders anonymity we’ll be setting a very dangerous precedent. For example, we should ask ourselves, at what age do these children start being considered cold and calculating rather than just misguided and troubled? I personally couldn’t call that one and I think the courts will find it increasingly difficult if we start granting ten, eleven, twelve year olds anonymity. Is a thirteen year old more capable?

What message does that send to future generations? Anything goes as long as you’re under 16? Don’t worry; you’ll get to do it over…