The British Schools Secretary said the Children’s Commissioner’s comments about the two-year-old’s murder were “ill-advised”.
Dr Maggie Atkinson described the killing at the weekend as “exceptionally unpleasant” but said it was wrong Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were 10 in 1993 when they were charged with the boy’s murder, were tried in an adult court.
She called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 12, and her comments were condemned by James’s mother Denise Fergus as “twisted and insensitive”. Balls said he “disagreed” with Atkinson’s comments, but insisted she was independent of government and it was her job to stand up for children. Referring to Ms Fergus as Mrs Bulger, Balls said: “I thought it was ill advised, not just for Mrs Bulger but for many people, the scars of what was done to James Bulger are very deep.” He said there needs to be criminal proceedings in place for children. “In this case my sympathies are with Mrs Bulger, not the Children’s Commissioner.” Balls did say he agreed with Dr Atkinson about labelling children as “evil”.
“Children are very affected by what happens to them as they are growing up... I think what they did to James Bulger was evil, but I’m not willing to say the children were intrinsically evil.” Balls said he believes in rehabilitation and helping a child to change. It came after Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the retired president of the High Court’s family division who granted Venables and Robert Thompson new identities after their release from prison, said the public would never accept 10-year-old murderers escaping punishment. Butler-Sloss said she favoured an effective approach towards dealing with the 10 and 11-year-old serious offenders without putting them necessarily into secure accommodation.