Why the teenagers who murdered Brianna Ghey should have remained anonymous

The two teenagers convicted of the horrific murder of Brianna Ghey have received life sentences. The judge, Justice Yip, also made the decision to lift their anonymity, which is automatically applied to all children (defined as those under 18) involved in criminal proceedings.

Their anonymity was lifted in the name of “open justice”, and “public interest”.

The public might well have a short-term interest in the identities of Brianna Ghey’s murderers. But “public interest” rather refers to what is in the best interests of society. As experts in criminology and youth justice, we argue that it is not in the long-term public good or the best interests of society for their identities to be revealed.

Public interest or public outrage?

Justice Yip commented that the public would want to know the perpetrators’ names “to understand how children could do something so dreadful”. But naming children who have committed serious crimes will not necessarily improve understandings of serious youth violence.

Rather, it can harden misconceptions that children who commit crimes do so because of innate evil. It can raise long-discredited theories of criminal “types”, due to stereotyping and the over-simplification of complex situations.

Naming may also encourage vigilantism against the offenders or their families. It might potentially spawn further retaliatory criminal behaviour, motivated by vicarious hate and desire for retribution. Further crime is not in society’s best interest.

In 2009, two boys attacked and severely injured two other children in Edlington, South Yorkshire. They were given lifelong anonymity on the grounds they would be “at serious risk of attack” if identified.

The well-documented murder of James Bulger by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson shows the other side of this coin. Their identities were revealed after conviction, but the ensuing violent threats the have received have led them to be granted new identities, at significant public cost.

The issue is not the seriousness of the offence, which, in these cases and that of Brianna was undeniably horrific, but the possibility of long-term harm to the perpetrators and their families.

And a balance needs to be struck between their right to life and the right for children to have their best interests made paramount, even in criminal proceedings and even after committing horrific crimes.


For the full article co-written by Professor Stephen Case visit the Conversation.


Notes for editors

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