Crowdsourcing win! Media encourages public to out Jon Venables

The media is baying for details about exactly why Jon Venables has been locked up again, several years after he was released from prison, where he served nine years with Robert Thompson for the murder of James Bulger.

I don’t have any connection to the sorry affair, apart from reading the challenging As if – a superb account of the case by Blake Morrison – and living in Liverpool.

But I do feel a deep ambivalence about attitudes towards the case, especially those pursued by the media.

This has been reignited today with the news that Venables has been returned to prison for unspecified breaches of his parole licence. The media is barred from reporting what Venables has done and may not even seek to discover why, such is the blackout on information relating to the two boys’ new identities.

Various figures in the media are outraged that they cannot report these details, arguing that it is in the public interest to make them known.

I’m unclear on exactly why they believe this to be the case, beyond the principle of the matter. There are some important questions to be asked about the unprecedented nature of the anonymity afforded to the two, but I don’t think this is the best time to ask them.

It seems likely that the case will generate a lot of publicity, which media outlets tend to like. Further, it seems not unreasonable to suggest that the reasons many editors want the Venables details made public are rather less high-minded one that the principle of publicity as part of the judicial process.

To my mind any further details that are released about Venables, even down to exactly why he’s been banged up, make it more likely that he is IDed. When that happens, it’s only a matter of time before Venables is attacked, and possibly killed.

The alternative is that the probation services, police, judiciary and Home Office go through the process of creating a whole new identity for Venables.

I don’t think either of these options are in the public interest, and I don’t believe the notional trade-off – that public interest is satisfied – is worth it on balance.

Nevertheless, the media has blown its top and adopted its usual ‘pressure grows’ and ‘speculation is rife’ echo-chamber reporting on the issue in an effort to get at the details.

But it’s adopted a new technique too. The media is, in no uncertain terms, banned from going anywhere near the case so, in the case of Sky, appears to be actively encouraging the public to do its work for them.

Now, how long before a fellow inmate guesses who’s next to him in the dinner queue and fronts him up?

And whips out a mobile phone and takes a snap and makes a call and…you get the picture, or at least the Sun will.

Or somebody nicks the custody photograph, like they did with Fred West, and flogs it?

Venables was supposedly banged up again sometime in the past 10 days, along with around a thousand new prisoners.

Shouldn’t be difficult to identify a 27-year-old with a hint of a Scouse accent and a chip on his shoulder.

It could earn you more than your next armed robbery. And no risk of getting shot.

So there you have it – get a snap of Venables to the Sun and you could be rich. If you’re at a loss as to how to do this look at what happened with Fred West, or whip out your camera phone should you come across a new cellmate with a scouse accent in his late 20s.

It’s hard to have much sympathy for Venables given his track record, maybe he’s brought this on himself.

But ultimately the equation is a simple one. The more details about Venables that come to light, the more likely it is someone sticks a knife in him. I don’t see how that’s in the pubic interest either.