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BRITISH teen-agers who killed toddler will be released

Updated:

LONDON (AP) _ The mother of a 2-year-old kidnapped and killed by a pair of 10-year-olds in 1993 said she was ``disgusted'' by a decision to grant her son's murderers parole.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both now 18, will be given new identities when they are released to secret locations, which a judge has barred the British media from disclosing.

``No public interest would be served by pursuing the perpetrators now that the parole board has decided that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that they be confined,'' Home Secretary David Blunkett said Friday in a written statement to Parliament.

Denise Fergus, mother of slain toddler James Bulger, said she was ``disgusted with the government and the Parole Board.''

``The murderers have walked away with a life of luxury, have been bought homes, given a bank account and 24-hour protection,'' she said.

James' father, Ralph, who last year threatened to find the teen-agers and exact revenge, said in a statement that he felt ``angry, frustrated and completely let down by the system.''

Venables and Thompson lured James from a shopping center in Bootle, near Liverpool, as the boy waited outside a butcher's shop for his mother. A video camera captured images of the toddler being led away by the two older boys, scenes replayed countless times on British television.

The boys dragged the 2-year-old through town to a railway line, where they hit him with bricks and metal bars, poured paint in his eyes and finally placed him on the tracks, where a train cut him in half.

The decision to release Venables and Thompson came less than two months before they faced likely transfer to an adult prison _ a move a judge warned would be harmful for their rehabilitation.

The pair have spent eight years in a secure children's unit after being convicted in November 1993 of abducting and murdering James.

A three-member parole board _ consisting of a judge, psychiatrist and an independent member _ considered the teen-agers' cases separately this week. The panel questioned the young men, studied psychiatric reports, considered statements from criminologists and doctors and reviewed school records.

As a condition of their release, Venables and Thompson are not permitted to contact each other or any member of James' family. They are also not allowed to enter the Liverpool area in northern England without permission from probation officials.

For the rest of their lives, the pair ``are liable to be recalled to custody at any time if there is any evidence that they present a risk to the public,'' Blunkett wrote.

The murder shocked the nation, and the release of the teen-agers has divided public opinion.

Venables and Thompson were initially sentenced to a minimum of eight years for the crime, described by the trial judge as an act of ``unparalleled evil and barbarity.''

The sentence was later increased to 15 years by former Home Secretary Michael Howard, but in October, a judge restored the original sentence, saying it would not be beneficial for the two to be in the ``corrosive atmosphere of an adult prison.''

Both teen-agers came from poor families. Since their confinement, they have gained academic qualifications and taken part in activities ranging from theater trips to whitewater rafting.

The lawyer representing Thompson said his client ``has changed as a person.''

``He has accepted responsibility for his part, he has shown great and real remorse over a long period of time in a genuine way,'' said lawyer Dominic Lloyd.

A High Court injunction bans publication of their photos or their whereabouts for the rest of their lives. But there are concerns that their identities will be impossible to conceal and that their lives will be at risk from vigilantes intent on retribution.
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