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Bulger killing anger revived as killer back in custody

  • Jon Venables back in police custody after breaching conditions of his release
  • Venables and Robert Thompson were just ten years old when they murdered James Bulger
  • Two-year-old was tortured before his body was dumped on a railway track
  • Killers' release in 2001 after just eight years provoked public outrage
  • United Kingdom
  • Crime

London, England (CNN) -- Nearly two decades after the killing of toddler James Bulger by two 10-year-old boys in a suburb of Liverpool, what remains one of Britain's most notorious child murders this week proved once again it has the power to shock and outrage.

Seen at the time as symbolic of a flawed society, the killing of Bulger -- whose poignant last moments being led to his death were caught by security camera -- continues to be dissected by a country still struggling to comprehend the crime.

This came to a head nine years ago when British authorities provoked anger by releasing the killers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, just eight years into the life sentences they received for attacking and torturing Bulger and dumping his battered body on a railway track.

And the fury resurfaced this week with confirmation that one of the two boys, Jon Venables, now a 27-year-old man, was placed back in police custody after breaching the conditions of his release.

The pair were jailed for an indefinite period in 1993, but were released after Britain's National Parole Board ruled that they were no longer a threat to the public.

The British government has so far declined to reveal why Venables had been recalled into custody.

Legal commentator Alan Caplin told CNN police would not have acted lightly given the amount of money the authorities have spent on giving the boys new homes and identities.

"I think one can surmise reasonably that... it must be quite serious if there's some intervention in that reset life," he said.

The conditions imposed on the boys on their release banned them from contacting each other, Bulger's family or from returning to the region of Merseyside, in northwest England, where the crime was committed .

British Home Secretary Alan Johnson told Sky News the reason for the recall would be revealed in time.

"I believe the public do have a right to know and I believe they will know all the facts in due course," he said.

However, British Justice Secretary Jack Straw was quoted in the Times Wednesday as saying it was in the public interest to withhold the details.

"I have no interest in gratuitously or unnecessarily withholding information, but there are good reasons to withhold it at the moment and that is in the public interest," he said.

Venables and Thompson were school boys when they abducted and killed two-year-old Bulger in a crime described by the trial judge as "unparalleled evil and barbarity."

In 1993, grainy CCTV images showed the boys leading the toddler away from his mother at a busy shopping center in Liverpool, England.

Public anger grew as details emerged of the chilling attack in which the boys tried to drown Bulger before beating him with rocks, bricks and iron rod. His battered body was left on a railway line to be cut in half by an oncoming train.

In November 1993, after being tried in an adult court, the boys were found guilty of murder and ordered to serve at least eight years of an indefinite prison sentence.

The following year, their minimum sentences were increased to 15 years by then-UK Home Secretary Michael Howard who had received a petition signed by more than 275,000 people in support of life sentences.

However in 1997, the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament, overturned the increase and the boys were freed in 2001 on the condition that they could be recalled to custody at any time during their lives if there was "any evidence that they present a risk to the public."

The boys were given new identities and passports and since 2001 have been protected by an injunction banning publication of their images taken after 1993, and anything that could reveal their current names and locations.

Both the boys received death threats and it was feared they would be targeted if their whereabouts were divulged.

The first reaction from James Bulger's mother, Denise Fergus, to Venables' detention was posted in a Twitter message that read: "would like to let everyone know jon venables is were he belongs tonight behind bars is this my sons justice."

The British parole board will now determine whether Venables should remain in custody or return to the life he has been given since his release from jail.