Two Liverpool teenagers who were schoolboys when they bludgeoned a 2-year-old to death have been granted their freedom and new identities but face lifetimes on parole, the government announced Friday.
The release of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were 10 in 1993 when they shocked Britain and the world with their brutality, was ordered by a parole board following a High Court decision last year that they had fulfilled their minimum sentences.
They are prohibited from contacting each other or the family of James Bulger, whom they lured away from his mother in a shopping center, fatally beat and dumped on railroad tracks, where his body was run over by a train. They are also banned from entering the Liverpool area, where they committed the crime.
Home Secretary David Blunkett said the convicts, now 18, will be on parole "for the rest of their lives and are able to be recalled to custody at any time if there is any evidence that they present a risk to the public."
That guarantee was insufficient for Bulger's divorced parents, however, who issued separate condemnations.
Ralph Bulger, the boy's father, said he had braced himself for the news but nonetheless felt "angry, frustrated and completely let down by the system."
The boy's mother, Denise Fergus, who had lobbied against the release with letters and television interviews, called the decision "justice denied."
"Thompson and Venables may think they have got off lightly and that they can go and hide. I know different," she said in a statement read by a friend, Lesley Halligan. "I know that no matter where they are, someone out there is waiting. There will be no stone unturned."
Fergus also said she fears sending her eldest child to school. She has demanded 24-hour protection for her family.
"Denise is absolutely devastated and stunned," said her spokesman, Norman Brennan. "There has to be a punishment element for such a crime, but all Denise sees is Venables and Thompson being rewarded."
Fergus had argued that the youths should remain in jail for 15 to 20 years. But the teens would have been transferred to an adult facility where, advocates of their release said, they would face abuse by other prisoners for having brutalized a child.
"The danger of going on to an adult prison far outweighs anything they experience now," said Tony Marks, a spokesman for the London-based group Youth at Risk, which helps young offenders. He added that it will be difficult for Venables and Thompson to hide.
Thompson's attorney said that his client has changed tremendously during his eight years in custody.
"He has accepted responsibility for his part, he has shown great and real remorse over a long period of time in a genuine way, and the parole board feels it is no longer necessary to imprison him for public safety," said the lawyer, Dominic Lloyd.
It was not immediately known when Venables and Thompson might be released or if, in fact, they already have been freed. It is believed that they will be resettled abroad.
Fearing attack, the teens won a High Court injunction protecting their new identities and prohibiting the British media from publicizing any photographs of them taken since the time of the murder or any details of their new lives that might lead to their being recognized.