The Times: TV Review – James Bulger: The New Revelations November 20, 2018

James Bulger: The New Revelations sounded as if it might promise more than it delivered. Many programmes about this 1993 murder merely rehash details of unutterable horror. This didn’t. It offered fresh insights and details, chiefly from previously unseen documents. The judge had allowed Robert Thompson and Jon Venables’s anonymity to be lifted partly to enable debate on why — what had happened in two ten-year-olds’ lives that would make them so violent?

But, said the programme, this never happened. Discussion was silenced amid a narrative that the boys were simply “evil”. Parole papers from court and their rehabilitation units described the abusive, neglectful home from which Thompson had come. He spent all day on the streets, bunking off school and climbing the drainpipe after dark. At home he had once been stripped naked and told his penis would be cut off with scissors. He witnessed beatings and his father enjoyed not allowing him to comfort his mother.

Venables had siblings with special needs and was jealous of the attention they got, sometimes cutting himself. Nothing excuses their savagery, and other children suffer without murdering toddlers, but, as one expert said, it showed that unparented children can become dangerous. The most salient observation was possibly Thompson’s. Successfully rehabilitated at 18, he acknowledged this irony: “I’m a better person and have had a better life and a better education than if I had not committed the murder.” Therein lies a whole new debate.

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