Robert Thompson and Jon Venables are the most hated teenagers in the Britain. Their crime, murdering two-year-old James Bulger, shocked a nation. The tabloids have condemned their 'holiday camp' treatment. Now, as their release becomes imminent, Dispatches investigates whether they are ready to return to society, albeit under the cloak of anonymity.
Thompson and Venables lured James out of a shopping centre and led him onto a railway line where they stoned him to death. At the time of the murder both boys were ten years old, just above the age of criminal responsibility. They have been locked in separate local authority secure units for the last eight years. But the tabloid press have slammed the 'luxury' lifestyle the boys have 'enjoyed' in their units and condemned their reported trips to soccer matches, shops and the seaside. Sean Sexton, solicitor for James' mum Denise, said: "It's like these boys have been rewarded for their crime and have always been given what they want."
Despite public feeling running high, Lord Woolf, the lord chief justice, recommended that Thompson and Venables should be eligible for release this August, when they will be 19. He declared that it would be wrong to transfer the two young killers to the 'corrosive atmosphere' of a young offenders institution.
The only question now facing the parole board is - are they still dangerous?
Stories in the popular press have implied that this is the case. In February, a Sunday tabloid claimed that Thompson had come to blows with another inmate at his secure unit. The evidence for this was dismissed by three senior high court judges as fabrication. The same court also heard that Thompson had in fact 'showed commendable restraint under what staff described as extreme provocation' when he was alleged to have strangled another boy with a length of flex in 1999.
However, James' father, Ralph has vowed to 'hunt down' the killers when they are freed. James' mother, Denise, is also campaigning to keep her son's killers locked up. She believes they have never been punished for the crime that shook the nation and says they have got away with murder in every sense.
But where does punishment end and rehabilitation begin? Reporter Deborah Davies investigates how inmates at secure units are treated and talks to leading experts who argue that eight years can be enough time to rehabilitate young criminals, even those who have committed the most horrific of crimes.
Running Time: 60 minutes (approx)
Database last updated: Today at 01:40