When compassion disappears

Submitted by AWL on 7 December, 2007 - 9:44 Author: Chris Leary

Reviews of Boy A (Channel 4)

Who could forget the murder of James Bulger by two teenage boys, Jon Venables and Roger Thompson? That was Liverpool 1993.

After they were released from jail, Venables and Thompson were given new identities and injunctions were taken out to protect them from reprisals. Blake Morrison wrote a fantastic and scrupulously objective book about the case. As If, told the story of the media and public hysteria of the time. Boy A, shown on Channel 4 (2 November), goes over the same social and emotional ground.

Boy A tells the story of Jack, who was imprisoned for aiding and abetting the murder of a young girl (although Jack’s actual involvement in the murder is ambiguous). Terry, Jack’s social worker, helps him to build a new identity and a new life in Manchester.

Jack’s flashbacks tell a history of abuse and neglect at home, and a difficult childhood at the hands of bullies at school. The adjustment from an institutional life to one in the outside world is difficult, and Jack’s new life is unravelled when Terry’s jealous son exposes Jack to his workmates and his girlfriend, as well as to the press.

While the story asked questions of whether people with traumatic lives can put their inner demons to rest, and whether people can really move on from their pasts, it also raises questions about the contradictoary nature of media morality.

Newspapers like the Sun are quick to jump on bandwagons after horrific child murders like that of Sarah Payne and James Bulger; they make hypocritical demands on organisations like the BBC to make media more family friendly, but their “page 3” portrays women as no more than mere sex objects.

British justice is, in theory, based on systems of rehabilitation and compassion. We are told that people who break the law repay their debt to society, and are then helped back into the fold. However, if the case of Venables/Thompson and that of Mary Bell, who was granted anonymity for herself and her daughter under assumed identities for life in 2003 show anything, it is that such values go out of the window when there are newspapers to be sold. Profit comes before justice.

There is a chance that Boy A might be shown again on More4; if you haven’t got a digibox yet (and you’ll need one soon anyway), get one, and keep an eye out for it.

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