Saturday 16 December 2017

Child-murderer, paedophile, drug addict: so they left Venables living near a school

Killer spent hours downloading hardcore porn on a computer he built himself, writes Gordon Rayner

Jon Venables at the time of his arrest in 1993 for the murder of James Bulger. Photo: Getty Images
Jon Venables at the time of his arrest in 1993 for the murder of James Bulger. Photo: Getty Images
James Bulger

JON VENABLES was living a few hundred yards from a school when he spent hours at a time downloading hardcore child pornography.

The child killer, who had told police that his "ideal" sexual fantasy involved "girls aged 15 to 17" had schoolchildren walking past his window every day.

He was allowed to settle in a red-brick terrace that was also close to a playground after the parole board decided that he was "unlikely to reoffend" after his release in 2001.

The house where he lived under an assumed name was in Cheshire, just a short train ride from the scene of James Bulger's murder and from the home of his victim's mother, Denise Fergus. He was given such freedom that he was not only able to download child pornography on a computer that he had built himself, but also become addicted to cocaine and mephedrone, the 'party' drug known as 'miaow'. He also drank to excess.

Incredibly, Venables was even schooled in counter-surveillance by the police to help him avoid having his identity disclosed.

Mrs Fergus has called on Kenneth Clarke, Britain's justice secretary, to hold an inquiry into why Venables, 27, was not recalled to prison earlier after it emerged that he was cautioned by police for possessing cocaine in 2008, and was charged with affray after a fight.

For the first time, a revealing picture of Venables' life since his release on licence was given to the Old Bailey as he was jailed for two years for child-pornography offences.

A strict court order protecting his new identity prevents precise details of his life being published, but throughout his nine years of freedom, he has been living and working in the same part of Cheshire and keeping in contact with his family.

After a period under close supervision, Venables began "independent living" in March 2002, when he was 19.

He held down a steady job for the minimum wage, and was working "unsociable hours", according to his solicitor, John Gibson.

But under the terms of his licence, he had to tell any girlfriends his real identity if he got into a serious relationship.

Venables' legal team blamed his isolation for his subsequent descent into drink and drugs.

His barrister, Edward Fitzgerald, said "things started to go wrong in 2007."

By 2008, Venables was drinking heavily and taking cocaine, visiting pubs in Cheshire and reportedly going into Liverpool for nights out.

In September of that year, Venables was charged with affray after a fight with another man outside a pub. The charge was dropped after Venables claimed he had been acting in self defence.

He was warned by his probation officer that his behaviour was inappropriate and risked compromising his anonymity. But just three months later, he was cautioned after being stopped in the street carrying cocaine.

It was a clear breach of his life licence but he was not recalled to prison -- a decision that will be at the centre of the ministry of justice's review of his supervision. It left Venables free to scour the web for child pornography and swap horrific images with other paedophiles, one of whom was named as Lesley Blanchard.

Blanchard, 52, who was convicted of 11 counts of child pornography in an unrelated case last year, was contacted by Venables in February 2008.

Venables posed as a 35-year-old mother called Dawn Smith from Liverpool, with an eight-year-old daughter.

Venables had also downloaded dozens of other images of children from filesharing sites, of which 57 were recovered by police. He had deleted many other pictures.

His secret was discovered only by chance, when he was forced to flee his home earlier this year because a friend had discovered his real identity and was understood to have sent a text message making clear that he knew the truth.

Venables rang his probation officer on February 22 to tell him he believed that his real name had become known and he "feared for his safety".

Within half-an-hour, his probation officer arrived at his flat, having already told him to gather his belongings.

"His intention was to take the defendant to a secure, safe address," said Mr Mably.

"He found the defendant in his bedroom sitting at his computer, saying he was trying to reformat the computer to delete his personal information."

The computer had already been partly dismantled and, after trying to remove the hard drive with a knife, "the defendant struggled to remove it and used a tin opener to try to prise it from its mounting".

A police officer arrived later and the computer was found to have contained 57 indecent pictures and videos of children, some as young as two. Some of the videos showed a girl being raped.

Venables admitted downloading the images, telling police: "I'm not a fool. I know the police can still get things off the hard drive."

He told detectives that he regarded looking at child pornography as "breaking the last taboo" and that he felt guilty, thinking to himself: "How could I be looking at these?"

However, he denied using chat rooms to contact other paedophiles until he was confronted with evidence of his exchanges with Blanchard, at which point he refused to answer any more questions.

Sunday Independent

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