The Power of Unforgiveness

It is the story that just won’t go away. Jon Venables, one of the killers of Jamie Bulger, was returned to prison for violating the terms of his license. Venables was 10 years old 17 years ago when he committed this crime. He was allowed out of prison after eight years, after appealing to the European Court of Human Rights, which said you can’t lock up 10 year olds forever.

Other than the media, the person who comes out looking the the worst in all of this is Denise Fergus, the mother of Jamie Bulger. She is constantly demanding that she has a right to know the details of what Jon Venables has done to get his parole revoked. Now she has demanded that Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England be sacked. Fergus didn’t like the way Atkinson referred to Jamie’s murder, and worst of all Atkinson opined that the age of criminal responsibility be raised from 10 to at least 12 and that Jamie’s killers should not have been tried in adult court.

I don’t make it a habit of agreeing with the Government or their appointees. There are arguments to be made for and against Atkinson’s views. But who is Denise Fergus to demand that someone agree with her or be sacked? She honestly seems to believe that she should hold the fate of her sons killers in her own hands and that she should decide the fate of anyone who dares disagree with her.

She has demanded that the Justice Secretary reveal why Venables has been recalled to prison. Under unrelenting pressure from the media, Jack Straw agreed to meet with her, but wouldn’t tell her why Venables was back in prison. First of all, it is none of her business, and second, once he were to tell her, she would tell the world and jeopardise the course of justice.

Fergus will want to make a statement to the parole board when Venables is referred to them. What’s the point? Whatever Venables has done to have his parole revoked is entirely unrelated to the murder of Jamie Bulger 17 years ago. It is as if she believes she can reduce her pain by puting a little more of it onto Venables. Sadly for her, it just doesn’t work that way.

Denise Fergus is an example of the power of unforgiveness. She is the one who has been eaten alive by it all these years. Her knowledge of what Jon Venables may have done recently will not bring Jamie back. Her opinion regarding any new offence he may have committed will not bring Jamie back. Her participation in the process will not protect anyone in the future.

The same is true of the British media and the public. Just leave it all alone. It was sad. It was tragic. It was 17  years ago. Move along, people. There’s nothing to see here.

8 Responses to “The Power of Unforgiveness”

  1. CC Says:

    I really have a problem with people saying Denise should just “get over it” and move on. What kind of mother would she be if she didn’t stand up for baby’s right to live? What kind of mother would just say “oh well” and write off her son’s life as if it meant nothing? And why does everyone act like the individual who committed this crime doesn’t even exist anymore? Like it or not, Jon Venables inextricably tied his destiny to Denise Fergus when he chose to steal something that belonged to her. It doesn’t matter that he was a child. Let me put it in terms that you might understand….if a child stole your puppy, wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you at least expect the child to take care of the prized possession that they went out of their way to rob you of? Wouldn’t you hold the child responsible for whatever happened to your puppy thereafter? Wouldn’t you expect the child to receive consequences if he tortured and mutilated your puppy? And wouldn’t you argue that a child who kills an innocent puppy is a future risk to society?

    You see, Jon Venables’ problem is the decision he made 17 years ago. Yes, 17 years is a long time, but when he chose to be the last person that Denise’s baby laid eyes on before suffering unimaginable horror and subsequently being cut in half by a train, he connected himself to her for life. If he didn’t want his destiny to be intertwined with Denise Bulger he should have murdered a child whose parents loved them less or were more supportive of criminals’ rights.

    If someone saved your life, wouldn’t you consider yourself to be indebted to them for life, even if you were “merely a child?” Doesn’t it then make sense that if you TAKE someone’s life, you should be indebted to THEM for life? Shouldn’t that be the natural order of things? In a humane society, shouldn’t responsibility go both ways?

    • sol Says:

      CC, I did not say that Denise should “get over it” with regard to the loss of her son. As far as who should move on, see my reply to Deb below.

      What you present is a false dichotomy. It is not an matter of Denise either getting involved and insisting she has rights and a veto power over everything that every happens to Venables or Thompson on the one hand or forgetting the loss of her son on the other. She is not saying “oh well” about her sons life if she doesn’t demand the sacking of everyone who takes a different view regarding juvenile justice public policy.

      Thank you for simplifying the whole thing in terms I “might understand”. I have two small children, but fortunately for your simplification, I also breed dogs. So to answer you questions:
      1) Yes, if a child stole my puppy, I would be angry.

      2) No, I would not expect said child to take care of the puppy. Being a thief does not necessarily make one a good care-giver to the property stolen. I’ve known of a lot of cars stolen and then burned out and a lot of jewelry stolen and fenced. I suppose it helps that I practiced for a number of years as a criminal defense attorney.

      3) Yes, I would hold the child responsible for what happened to the puppy. Not for what might have happened to all the other puppies he may have stolen, tortured, and mutilated, of course, because those weren’t my puppies.

      4) I would like for the child to receive consequences if he tortured and mutilated my puppy. Having been involved in the criminal justice system, as both a lawyer and victim in the US and as a vicitim in the UK, I have to say that my expectations would not be particularly high.

      5) I would agree with the likelihood that a child who kills an innocent puppy (especially if it involves, as you indicate previously, torture and mutilation) probably poses a future risk, to puppies at least. I would not suggest that this means he should be locked up indefinitely at Her Majesty’s Pleasure and the Her Majesty’s taxpayer’s expense. I also do not think that I should find a newpaper or television reporter every time he commits a further offense, even if it involves downloading photos of puppies. Nor do I think I should appear at his parole hearing when he’s been accused of owning pictures of puppies just to remind the parole board of what he did to my puppy 17 years ago.

      Now to move on to your other straw man argument. Your first proposition is false. If someone saved my life, I would be very grateful, regardless of my age at the time. I would not consider myself indebted to them for life. Therefore your “then” statement is also false. However, even if your “if” statement held up, your “then” conclusion is false because if you take someone’s life, by definition you cannot be indebted to them for life. Their life has ended.

      However, it is true that if you unlawfully take someone’s life, your life should be taken. This is inherent in natural order at indicated by both the Noahic and Mosaic covenants in the Old Testament and by Romans 13 in the New Testament. It could be argued that as Venables and Thompson were over the age of criminal responsibility in the UK, they should have been executed. However, the UK has not executed children since at least the 19th century and has not executed anyone since 1964. In a humane society, society is neither blamed for the actions of the abberrant, nor is it expected to pick up the tab for feeding and housing those who are a menace to society.

  2. debd Says:

    Hi Solomon…while I don’t think Denise is right in this matter, I also think it is a bit heartless to say “move along..” to a mother who has lost her child (especially in this horrific manner). I think there must be a place for fair justice and comfort for those who mourn.

    Even though this crime didn’t happen in my country, I still think of it from time to time and pray for Jamie’s parents and the perpetrators.

    • sol Says:

      Deb, I wasn’t trying to be heartless. For one thing, I think the interests of Denise Fergus are different from those of the media and the public. I say “move along” to the public and the media, because in reality it is nothing more than rubber necking at the scene of a traffic accident. The media want to re-hash the murder of Jamie and re-vilify Venables (as they would Thompson, given the excuse) because it sells papers. Bad news sells papers, and a new spin on a 17-year-old story is just money for old rope for the tabloids. They are not putting it on the front page just so Christians remember to pray for Jamie and those associated with him. I would never suggest that there is anything wrong with the prayers. May his memory be eternal, not the memory of his murder. May God have mercy on the aggrieved and the assailants.

  3. trino Says:

    Agree with CC. Not only should responsibility go both ways, but FORGIVENESS should go both ways. Those who insist that Denise should forgive Thompson and Venables should, by the same token, be willing to forgive Denise for having difficulty doing so. Forgiving someone for brutally murdering your child is not an easy thing to do. In fact, I’d venture it’s a bit more difficult than forgiving someone for holding a grudge, which is what you accuse Denise of doing. Where is your forgiveness for Denise? Why would God call upon us to forgive muderers but not bereaved mothers?

    You say that “Other than the media, the person who comes out looking the the worst in all of this is Denise Fergus.” Oh my. I’m not sure how two sadistic murderers can come out looking better than an angry mum, but if that’s your opinion I won’t try to talk you out of it. I’d just ask for a little of the same forgiveness for Denise that you’ve been willing to give Thompson and Venables. While her outrage at her son’s murderers and those who support them may be difficult for you to accept, you might try to understand that your annoyance with Denise’s inability to forgive is difficult for HER supporters to understand. Perhaps if the government had given Denise as much counseling and support as they gave her son’s killers, she WOULD be able to “move along” and let go of some of her anger.

    • sol Says:

      Trino, you also follow CC’s logic by presenting false dichotomies and straw men.

      No one suggested that Denise needs to be forgiven for anything, least of all having difficultly in forgiving Thompson and Venables. Whether she forgives them is between her and God. I don’t hold a grudge against Denise. Thinking someone is unwise in doing something, or that they make themselves look bad is simply an observation. Likewise, to say it is not the place of a particular person to demand other people have a particular public policy view or else be sacked does not mean that the person has to be forgiven of anything.

      And while I forgive you for not being able to read for comprehension (you do get that I don’t really forgive you, as you don’t really need forgiveness, don’t you?), and as I have clarified elsewhere in this thread, I said “move along” to the media and the public. The media trying to sell papers on the back of an old story is different than an individual interjecting themselves into a case and at the same time demanding that everyone agree with them or be unemployed.

      And lastly, it is not my place to forgive or not forgive Thompson and Venables. This is related to the problem with the media. People assume upon themselves the right to forgive or not forgive others with whom they have had no personal interaction and from whom they have suffered no personal loss. To forgive or not forgive is entirely within the perogative of Jamie’s mother and father and perhaps extended family and friends. They have been wronged. They choose whether or not to forgive. They live with the consequences of that decision.

      This brings us back to the original point, whether or not Denise ever decides to forgive her son’s killers has no bearing on the objective propriety of intervening in the justice system or demanding that other agree with her on public policy or face the sack.

  4. Margaret Says:

    No-one asks anymore, everyone ‘demands’, it’s the language of the age like it or not and I don’t. I do think, however, Denise is entitled to be concerned about children murdering smaller children with impunity which is basically what Ms Atkinson is suggesting should be allowed to happen.

    • sol Says:

      I’ve got plenty to disagree with Maggie Atkinson about, but I don’t think she was suggesting children should murder children with impunity. She is suggesting that it might be appropriate to have a discussion about the age of criminal responsibility.

      Having taught school for some years now, I think 10 is probably okay as such a determination goes. However, we may need to look at how we then deal with criminally responsible 10-year-olds. Do we then try them in the same way we try adults? In one sense we don’t anyway. If people are normally entitled to be tried by a jury of their peers, who are the peers of 10-year-olds?

      I think things are not helped by the lynch-mob mentality that accompanies such grevious and highly publicised crimes. For example, there was a 27-year-old man who had to flee his home because someone started a rumour that he was Venables. He, his family, and his property were being attacked based upon this rumour, even though Venables was already in custody.

      This is not unlike recent history in this country, replete with examples of people who have been wrongly identified as paedophiles and seriously injured in attacks.

      I do not think society is to blame for the actions of criminals. However, I think that there are elements within society have have to learn how to deal with criminals (and suspects, rumours, etc).

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