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The BBC's Jane Peel
"There is nothing to stop the media elsewhere publishing information"
 real 56k

Jon Venables' solicitor, John Dickenson
"There is a substantial risk to his physical safety"
 real 28k

Ralph Bulgers solicitor, Robin Makin
"The alleged threat by Ralph Bulger has to be considered in context"
 real 56k

Victims of Crime Trust Director, Norman Brennan
"The British media should behave responsibly"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 00:29 GMT
Bulger killers win secrecy ruling
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
Venables (R) and Thompson will get new identities
The killers of the Merseyside toddler James Bulger will have their anonymity protected when they are released, a judge has ruled.

The identities of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, now 18, will be kept secret after they leave custody because of their "almost unique circumstances" which put them at serious risk of attack, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss ruled.

Several media organisations had opposed the move to extend reporting restrictions covering the killers now that they are adults. They have been given leave to appeal.

James Bulger
James Bulger was two years old when he died
James' mother Denise Fergus, who was not in the High Court, said she was disappointed with the decision.

"If there's any such thing as a living hell I and my family live it daily," she said in a statement read by Norman Brennan, of the Victims of Crime Trust.

Dame Elizabeth ruled that no new photographs or details of the whereabouts and new lives of Thompson and Venables could be published.

She said: "I am compelled to take steps in the almost unique circumstances of this case to protect their lives and physical well-being."

Dame Elizabeth said she recognised "the enormous importance" of upholding freedom of expression.

There are concerns that the information will make its way into the public domain via foreign newspapers and lawyers have already speculated it could be published on the internet.

These young men are uniquely notorious and are at serious risk of attacks

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss
The injunction does not cover Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Venables and Thompson were both aged 10 when they abducted and battered to death two-year-old James in February 1993, leaving his body by a railway track.

They were found guilty at Preston Crown Court later that year and detained at Her Majesty's pleasure.

'Lives in danger'

After a ruling from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf last year, the pair are eligible for parole and it is thought likely they will be released later this year.

Ralph Bulger
James Bulger's father Ralph has threatened to track the killers down
Summarising her lengthy judgment, Dame Elizabeth described how the murder of James Bulger had caused "a widespread feeling of moral outrage".

She said information she had received from the Home Office, press reports and judicial observations had "convinced me that these young men are uniquely notorious and are at serious risk of attacks from members of the public as well as from relatives and friends of the murdered child".

The judge said she had come to the conclusion "that certain sections of the press would not wish the two young men to remain anonymous".

She said: "In my judgment if any section of the media decided to give information leading to the identification of either young man, such publication would put his life at risk."

But she also said that after 12 months it would no longer be necessary to restrain disclosure of information about the boys' past, including their time in detention, which was not already covered by rules of confidentiality.

The editor of one of the newspapers involved in the case described the anonymity ruling as the most "wicked, cowardly and stupid legal decision there has been in recent legal history".

Speaking on the BBC's Newsnight programme, Sunday People editor Neil Wallis said the judgement would set a precedent that could allow anonymity for other notorious killers such as Myra Hindley.

The most wicked, cowardly and stupid legal decision there has been in recent legal history

Neil Wallis
Sunday People editor
Gitta Sereny, author of a book on child killer Mary Bell, said the ruling was necessary because of the public mood in the UK but said that suggestions the boys were likely to be the subject of vigilante attacks were "hysteria".

Albert Kirby, the former police detective who led the Bulger investigation, welcomed Monday's ruling, saying it would be a "backward step" to identify the pair.

Lawyers for Thompson and Venables had argued that their lives would be in danger if their new names and addresses were made public.

At a hearing in the High Court in November Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Venables, pointed to a threat by James Bulger's father, Ralph Bulger, to hunt the killers down.

But Desmond Browne QC, representing a number of news organisations, said the courts should prosecute those who make threats against Thompson and Venables, rather than try to gag the press.

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