| 7.4°C Dublin

Freed Bulger killer is sent back behind bars

One of the killers of toddler James Bulger is back behind bars today.

Jon Venables (27) was recalled to custody after breaching the terms of his release from prison, it is understood.

The convicted murderer, who was controversially freed under a new identity in 2001, was just 10 when he and Robert Thompson abducted and battered the two-year-old to death in a crime which shocked the world.

Precise details of the nature of Venables' breach were not released by the UK Ministry of Justice.

But the detective who led the Bulger investigation said it would have caused "a whole load of anxiety" for James's mother, Denise Fergus.

A department spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that Jon Venables has been recalled to custody following a breach of licence conditions.

"Offenders on licence are subject to strict conditions; if they breach those conditions they are subject to immediate recall.

Venables and Thompson snatched James from a Liverpool shopping centre and killed him on a railway line in February 1993.

The toddler's battered body was found by children playing on a freight railway line, more than two miles from the shopping centre.

Both Venables and Thompson were given compulsory life sentences for the murder and remain on licence for the rest of their lives.

Albert Kirby, who headed the Bulger investigation, said he had spoken to James' mother about the revelation.

He told BBC News: "There's always been a lot of anxiety as to where both boys are and to hear something like that this evening it brings back to her a lot of the concerns, quite understandably, that she and any other parents in these sorts of circumstances would have."

At the home of Mrs Fergus in Kirkby, outside Liverpool, a family member said she and the family would not be making any comment on the development.

He added: "She will not be saying anything. We only found out from the police about four hours before it came on the news."

Barrister and criminal law expert Michael Wolkind QC said he thought there was a "significant chance" the breach had been serious.

He said: "Licence is a means of controlling people once they are released.

"Now this has been publicised, I think there must be a possibility of his new identity being exposed in prison and the inference must be it was a serious breach.

"To go to all the trouble of building him a new identity and a new life, there must be a significant chance it was serious."

Laurence Lee, who was Venables' solicitor at the time of the crime, said he was "shocked" by the news.

He told BBC News: "If I were a betting man and someone said to me, 'One of the two killers of Jamie Bulger had been arrested and returned to prison', I would have put a lot of money on it not being Jon because he was, by unanimous agreement, the lesser evil of the two."

David Blunkett was Home Secretary when he informed MPs of the Parole Board's decision that Venables should be released in 2001. He said he had heard of his return to custody "with great regret".