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The BBC's Torin Douglas
"Demon Internet feared it could have been held responsible through no fault of its own"
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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Net firm wins Bulger ruling
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
An open-ended injunction protects Venables' and Thompson's identities
An internet service provider (ISP) has won protection from being punished if its users breach the injunction protecting the new identities of the Bulger killers.

Demon Internet went to the High Court to argue that it would be unfair if ISPs were automatically found to be in contempt, even if they were unable to prevent the disclosure of banned material.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division, who imposed the original injunction, has now approved changes to give ISPs a measure of protection if contemptuous material is posted on web pages.

Happy would not be the word, but we have all signed it

Michael Tugendhat QC
For Demon
Dame Elizabeth was told all the parties represented in court agreed that the original form of the order was "inappropriate" for the internet.

She approved alterations which mean ISPs will not break the injunction if they "take all reasonable steps" to prevent publication of banned material.

The alterations were agreed by Demon and lawyers acting for Venables and the attorney-general.

Foreign media

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who brutally murdered Merseyside toddler James Bulger in 1993, have recently won parole.

Although the new identities they will be given after release are protected by the injunction, it has been widely speculated that foreign media and the internet will reveal their whereabouts.

There is a considerable degree of protection to internet service providers in it

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss
Mr Michael Tugendhat QC, for Thus plc, which operates Demon, hinted, when the judge asked if he was happy with the agreement reached, that the company would have liked even more protection.

He said: "Happy would not be the word, but we have all signed it."

Dame Elizabeth reassured him: "There is a considerable degree of protection to internet service providers in it."

Libel case

The judge gave her permission for ISPs to receive the altered injunction via e-mail.

Demon last year settled a unique and costly libel case with Dr Laurence Godfrey after he was libelled on a newsgroup hosted by them.

Prior to settlement, they argued they could not be held responsible for defamatory material posted by its users.

The case centred on whether the ISP had been asked and was obliged to remove the offending item.

The ISP previously faced a fine or even jail if the Bulger injunction was broken via its website.

Complex structure

Thompson was photographed during a trip to Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield before the Parole Board's decision to free him, and there were threats to publish pictures on the internet.

The government and the courts have difficulty controlling information on the web because of its complex international structure.

In March former MI6 agent Richard Tomlinson published his spy book The Big Breach on the web although it was banned in Britain.

Renegade MI5 agent David Shayler also used the tactic to disseminate allegations about the secret service while he was in exile in Paris to avoid prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

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See also:

30 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Demon settles net libel case
31 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Piggy in the middle fear for ISPs
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