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N asty little juveniles. Those are just a few of the words used by our politicians and media to describe some of the country's children. It could be now, but this was inthe year that two-year-old James Bulger was murdered on Merseyside by two year-old boys. I grew up with what headlines described as "hooligans on holiday". Inmy parents set up Bryn Melyn, a home in north Wales to look after some of the most disturbed teenagers in the country. They included children who'd slice themselves open to push paper clips underneath their own skin; a girl who inserted shards of a smashed lightbulb inside her vagina; a boy whose guardians — his grandparents — would hold his hands in the fire to punish him; and a pubescent girl whose parents would drag her out of bed when they got back from the pub so their friends could have sex with her.
The "holiday" bit referred to the intensive one-to-one trips abroad my dad deed to kick-start their rehabilitation. These trips were incredibly successful. Before we sent the first boy away, he had regularly assaulted the staff and other teenagers. After returning from a three-month trip to France, he went to work with Alzheimer's patients. As part of my research for a book I am writing about Bryn Melyn, I've studied the newspaper coverage of to trace the path between the horrific Bulger murder and the way we view young people today. The Guardian reported a "lynch mob" outside the home of a wrongly arrested year-old suspect.
In the Sun, Richard Littlejohn screeched: "This is no time for calm. It is a time for rage, for blood-boiling anger, for furious venting of spleen. It was also the perfect opportunity for the Tories to reassert themselves as the party of law and order. Three days after James's body was found, the then prime minister, John Major, gave an interview to the Mail on Sunday, highlighting his tough stance on crime. He said: "Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less.
When it came to the two boys charged with the Bulger murder, the policeman in charge of the case, Detective Superintendent Albert Kirby, asked us "to remember that they are 10 years of age". But the law didn't. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were tried as adults. The Mirror went for "Freaks of nature". Despite the sensationalist, fear-mongering coverage of the Bulger case, my father was still taken by surprise when he first went on television to talk about his work. As it did, a huge 'Hooligans on Holiday' banner unrolled behind me.
Then three women in the audience stood up with pictures of their dead children, who'd been killed by joyriders. Our kids had never killed anyone, and many hadn't even offended, but the producers were quite happy to confuse joyriders, murderers, young offenders and children in care. But the kids themselves were very upset and angry. They felt they were being verbally abused by the whole country. In response to a Sun campaign, Michael Howard, who had become home secretary, illegally extended the sentences imposed on Venables and Thompson from 10 years to 15 years.
And in response to the media furore surrounding Bryn Melyn, Howard also banned therapeutic trips abroad for children in care. Woman seeking casual sex Bulger media attention has turned to Edlington, South Yorkshire, where two brothers, aged 10 and 11, brutally burnt, stabbed and sexually assaulted two boys, aged nine and This incident has the same ingredients as the Bulger case: the horrific attack, the disastrous parenting, the boys' escalating violence, and the failure of the relevant authorities to do anything about it.
It is a simple cause and effect; incidents like these don't just happen. But instead of tackling this problem rationally, we defer to hysteria and hollow accusations that solve nothing and protect no one.
These days, we have Facebook s and YouTube video montages dedicated to James Bulger, created by people who, apparently, never even met him. Nobody will say that these are mawkish, sentimental and ultimately extremely damaging in their creation of monstrous, unsubstantiated fears about young people.
Nobody will say to Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger, that it has got nothing to do with her swhen she demands that the Edlington boys be named. Nobody seems bothered that the media has casually dubbed the Edlington boys the "devil brothers" or "hell boys". But amid this fresh wave of moral panic, there is a glint of optimism. A new documentary by Spirit Level Films, The Fear Factory, was launched in London on Monday, and attempts to untangle the perceptions we have about our "dangerous" young people. Increasingly frustrated with the perpetuation of stereotypes and the way young people are treated in care, the criminal justice system, and even schools, three organisations — Safer Wales Ltd, Construction Youth Trust and Addaction — commissioned the film, which includes interviews with politicians, he of charities and teenagers.
A failure to intervene with a holistic approach early in the lives of young people at risk of offending has had stark consequences. We spend 11 times more on locking children up than on preventing youth crime. As a result of The Fear Factory, more than 40 charities have now formed a coalition to lobby the government to put a stop to our relentless demonisation of young people.
Seventeen years on, it still sickens me to remember the parents of the children in Bryn Melyn who gave newspaper interviews complaining that the way my father was treating their children was a waste of time, that what he was doing was wrong. Youth justice. Tainted by the James Bulger legacy.
Why does the horrific murder of a Merseyside toddler by two young boys in still have such a lasting effect on the way we demonise and stereotype disturbed children? A video still dated 13 February of James Bulger, aged 2, being led away in the New Strand shopping centre in the Bootle area of Liverpool. Helen McNutt. Wed 3 Mar Youth justice Children James Bulger murder Edlington attacks features.
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