In 1993, two 10-year-old British boys named Jon Venables and Robert Thompson did the unthinkable. The classmates abducted a 2-year-old boy named James Bulger, tortured him, and eventually murdered him. Venables and Thompson were both found guilty of the horrific crime but were released at the age of 18 with the guarantee of lifelong anonymity and new identities.
The arrangement seems hard to believe, considering the crime – after all, here in America, this type of protection is usually only awarded to crime victims, not convicted perpetrators. But in the United Kingdom, it is apparently not unheard of – most likely because the perpetrators were minors at the time of the crime. Now Venables is making headlines again, asking for a second facial surgery, as it seems his new identity has been revealed online.
So, what does the court really owe people like Venables who have committed a crime and have been awarded protection of this kind? Does he deserve a second procedure at the taxpayers’ expense? Or should he live with the consequences of the photo leak?
According to Dr. Bruce Chau of Berkeley, Michigan, there’s really no easy answer in this type of situation.
“I’m obviously not a legal expert, and certainly not in United Kingdom law, but it doesn’t feel right to ask the taxpayers to foot the bill for a second surgery of a convicted child killer,” says Chau. “He was already given one surgery, and it’s not the public’s fault he was unable to keep his identity hidden.”
Further complicating matters, with the United Kingdom facing momentous budget cuts to its National Health System, it seems even more controversial to grant a second plastic surgery to Venables.
“There are literally children all over the United Kingdom on wait lists to be seen by a dentist – children who are going to school in pain because they have tooth decay and the NHS cannot afford to pay to have them seen sooner,” says Chau. “To be using public funding to change the face of a man who murdered a child seems like a huge slap in the face to those children. And that’s without even taking the ethics of letting these men have new identities into consideration.”
The kicker? Venables is currently back in prison for more child-abuse-related charges, and he is fearful for his life because his identity is now known.
“I understand his fear, but perhaps he could be kept away from other prisoners until he can afford to pay for a procedure like this himself. I don’t see why a prisoner should get priority over a sick child. Especially a repeat offender,” says Chau.