The Identity of Jon Venables

How many people know Jon Venables’ new identity? Well, for a start, everybody who was in court 14 of the Old Bailey last Friday morning.

Given the number of times we were told his life was under threat, it was a big surprise to hear the name he adopted in 2001 being read out by the prosecutor.

We also got to hear the exact address where he had been living when he was accessing child porn on a personal computer. Not that we could report either of these details, thanks to an injunction.

One person who was in court was Denise Fergus, James Bulger’s mother. There were many others – about 40 members of the press, the judge, the clerk, the usher, a shorthand writer, a handful of police and probation officers as well as about a dozen laywers (representing the prosecution, defence, Cheshire Constabulary, Media and Attorney General).

None of these people is likely to start travelling the country shouting out Venables’ current name from the rooftops – but it does make you wonder why the Attorney General and Venables’ barrister were so keen to maintain the injunction.

A third identity now seems inevitable, particularly as ‘Jon Venables’ blew his cover so spectacularly. Those who knew him in Cheshire will put two and two together, and the likelihood is that someone somewhere will broadcast his assumed name over the internet, on Twitter or Facebook, just as someone named the mother and stepfather of Baby P before the court order was lifted.

Fellow prisoners are also likely to guess who he really is, meaning he’ll probably be kept in isolation for fear of attack.

In a few weeks we might be in the ludicrous situation where everybody knows Jon Venables’ name but the media will still be unable to publish it for fear of being taken to court.

Jon Venables, meanwhile, will go on being Jon Venables, the the killer of two year-old James Bulger.

Murder Statistics

Every year there are over 700 crimes initially classed as murder in the UK.

According to official figures, this is close to double the amount recorded in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Does this mean that Britain is a more dangerous place? How much of this increase is down to population growth and changing society and how much to better detection and classification of crime?

Homicide offences by year for England and Wales

Looking more closely at London in particular, it appears the murder rate is actually decreasing despite concerns about the influx of criminals from abroad.

It dropped from around 180 in 2000 to under 160 in 2008. In the 12 months up to February 2010 it reached a 20-year low of 119.

This was partly due to the ‘exceptionally low’ total (in the Met’s own words) of just 13 murders in January and February this year.

What lies behind this recent trend remains to be seen.

It may be argued that the recent decrease in the murder rate is down to improved policing, including the high strike rate of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Murder Squad’ – also known as the Homicide and Serious Crime Command.

There have also been large increases in the life sentences handed out to murderers since the introduction of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act.

Another deterrent is the prevalence of CCTV cameras of some kind or another now tracking our every move throughout the city.

One interesting explanation recently offered was the growing expertise of NHS doctors and surgeons at saving lives, partly due to their exposure to life-threatening injuries on the frontline in Iraq and Afghanistan. (http://timesonline.typepad.com/crime/2010/03/comment-of-the-moment-6.html)

Surgeons are often flown straight to the scene by London’s air ambulance (HEMS) to operate on victims of knife and gun crime before they bleed to death.

But it may be the recent drop in the murder rate is just a statistical anomaly, much like the temporary peak caused by the 7/7 bombings in 2005 and the massive spike caused by serial killer Dr Harold Shipman in the 1990s.

Indeed in March this year there were at least 11 murders, including the murder of 15 year-old Sofyen Belamouadden at Victoria station, a very public crime that again gave the impression that youth crime is spiralling out of control. In April there were at least 13.

It is well known that there are more homicides in the summer months, perhaps because the hot weather raises tempers and brings people out on to the streets.

We hope to return to this subject at the end of the year to look at the numbers thrown up by our database.

Whatever the answer, London has one of the lowest murder rates in the Western world.

In the late 1990s it was calculated that there were roughly 1.8 murders per 100,000 population, in comparison to Washington DC with 69.3, New York at 16.8 and Amsterdam at 7.7.

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For more detailed information on the UK murder rate and its statistical breakdown, further details are available in a 1999 House of Commons Research Paper: (http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-056.pdf)

The Metropolitan Police also provide a map of London detailing the number of crimes, including homicide, by borough: (http://www.met.police.uk/crimefigures/)