Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Jon Venables: the penalty for murder

On Friday Sky News was full of a story about Jon Venables, who, as a child of 10, with a friend, Robert Thompson, murdered a younger child. The point of the story was never clear, but they had the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying that the justice system must take its course and that he would not interfere. It seemed that Jon Venables, now 27, had been releaced from prison and given another identity, and then was back in prison after committing another offence, and that some people were demanding details of his new identity and offence.

They kept showing the pictures of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, and I thought that Robert Thompson looked like a bit of a thug, the kind of kid I would have been scared of if I had been at school with him, while Jon Venables looked quite a sweet kid, miscievious perhaps, but not malicious. But appearances can be deceptive.

But this kind of story raises all sorts of issues that do not appear on the surface, and some of them are brought out in this post by Poliphilo Eroticdreambattle – Jon Venables:

The authorities may be desperate to keep Jon Venables’ identity a secret, but the man himself seems to have been trying- even more desperately- to out himself. The story that’s seeping through the official firewall reveals a haunted, young man- often the worse for booze and drugs- who has been buttonholing strangers and workmates and confiding his horrible secret to them- and then getting into fights when they reject him. We all find it difficult to live alone with our secret selves; how much more terrible when the secret self is a notorious murderer. Venables is not a psychopathic monster. A psychopathic monster doesn’t reach out for acceptance and understanding. A psychopathic monster is sufficient unto himself and lives easily in his own skin.

And later Poliphilo says, in response to a comment:

Our society has decided that there is something sacred and untouchable about victimhood – and that the vengeful bitterness of people like Denise Fergus [the murdered child’s mother] is never to be challenged.

In South Africa we had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for people who committed cruel murders for political reasons, but what do you do when people do such things just for kicks? That is the theme of Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and punishment, where the protagonist planned and carried out a murder just for kicks. And then in spite of himself he began to be plagued by feelings of guilt, and the need to confess. From Poliphilo’s account it seems that something similar has happened to Jon Venables. But what does society, and the law, do with people like this?

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