Angela Wrightson Hartlepool murder
Angela Wrightson, 39, had over 100 injuries on her body allegedly inflicted by girls aged 13 and 14Facebook

As two teenage girls were sentenced to life in prison for the torture and murder of Angela Wrightson, it was inevitable that comparisons would be made to the horrific murder of two-year-old James Bulger 23 years ago.

In 1993 I represented one of his killers, Jon Venables, and even all these years later it remains the worst case I have ever been involved in. I didn't work for months after the verdict and am sure I had PTSD. I didn't have children then, but if that case came up now it would be even more difficult.

The world is very different now compared to the early 1990s. While the vast majority of children are brought up well by their parents and never commit a crime, there exists a small, diseased section of society which I can't help but feel is beyond cure.

There are portions of our society where disrespectful parents give birth to disrespectful kids, where young people have no respect for the authorities, other peoples' property – even the lives of others. The fact is that people have less respect for the law than they did three decades ago. Teachers are berated by angry parents for trying to discipline children and there is an almost total disrespect for the police.

Upbringing and a lack of core family values clearly play a role. When you go abroad to Mediterranean countries you see complete families eating together - grandparents, parents and kids. In the UK, parents don't know where their kids are during dinner, there's no communal family time. Many children are probably sitting on a couch somewhere eating McDonalds.

Some will argue that education is the cure, but some of these children are beyond education. Take the children in the Angela Wrightson case; why weren't they cared for better?

And now they have been convicted, who is going to rehabilitate them? The same people who weren't capable of controlling them in the first place? It has to be said that social services have got a lot to answer for. But so has the internet.

Thompson and Venables
Robert Thompson and Jon Venables killed Jamie Bulger

Children are exposed to a thousand times the violent content that was available in the 1990s. One of the most sinister aspects of the Angela Wrightson case was that her killers shared images of their abuse on Snapchat.

What has the internet become to disturbed young people that would make them so brazen even in the most horrific of acts? The killers then called the police – twice – for a lift home, while telling the operator to hurry up as they were cold.

There have been questions about whether the murderers of Angela Wrightson should have been identified, but in reality social media has made rulings on anonymity superfluous. It is so easy to get around court injunctions and these girls will probably be revealed. People have no hesitation whatsoever in breaching an order on social media. They think they have distanced themselves to the extent that they can't be caught.

But nevertheless I agree with the judge that they should not be. I was furious when the court decided to reveal the identities of James Bulger's killers. I had no sympathy for John Venables and I would never defend what he did, but he had two sisters and a very nice mum and dad and once his identity it was revealed, so was theirs.

I don't know what type of family the girls had – maybe they had siblings that they didn't want to be revealed and maybe the Bulger case was part of the reason the judge chose not to. But the girls' lives would have been in danger and that is not justice – it is the rule of the mob.

We had the mob in 1993: after the first remand hearing for Venables and Thompson dozens of baying protesters surrounded the van that they thought contained the boys and chanted that they should be set free, no doubt so that the chanters could dispense their own brand of justice. It was scary – but it is scarier today.

Social media has the capacity to dispense its own kind of justice – one that is more harmful than the mob. It is extremely dangerous. It can whip up hysteria and it can multiply in its thousands in seconds. It can become national, international in no time. It is a lynch mob.

And it is just as well there wasn't social media back then, because Venables and Thompson would've been ripped limb from limb.


Laurence Lee is a criminal defence lawyer who represented Jon Venables in the case of the 1993 murder of James Bulger