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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
The future for Bulger's killers
Mary Bell
The case of child-killer Mary Bell set a legal precedent
The possibility of the killers of toddler James Bulger being freed from prison within months raises a crucial question: what awaits them in the outside world?

They may strive for anonymity and time to re-adjust to life outside but journalists are unlikely to leave them alone.

Draconian restrictions prevent anyone giving the new names and addresses of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson or anything else which might identify them.

Regardless of those new identities, it seems certain the teenagers would be traced by newspapers mindful of massive public interest in the case and the resultant effect this would have on their circulation.

New life

The precedent for protecting the identity of child killers stems from the case of Mary Bell. She was jailed in 1968, at the age of 11, for the manslaughter of two boys, aged four and three.

Ms Bell, originally from Newcastle, built a new life under a new identity on being freed from jail in 1980 but reporters tracked her down eight years later.

In 1998 there was renewed media interest after Ms Bell was paid for her help in a book on her life by the author Gitta Sereny.

Home Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw: No sympathy for Bell
Ms Bell's teenage daughter had been unaware of her mother's past until reporters besieged the family home.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said Ms Bell had "herself to blame" for the intense media scrutiny which forced her to seek police protection.

Probation officers and social workers face an even more difficult task in resettling Venables and Thompson because of the higher profile of the Bulger case and the intense public emotions it still provokes,

BBC lawyer Valerie Nazareth said both Venables and Thompson have apparently made much progress in custody and the authorities are keen for them to "be able to get on with their lives".

She told BBC News Online: "Otherwise, if their identities were known, they would never get a job or a house, who is going to employ Jamie Bulger's killers?

Press gagged

Ms Nazareth said the tabloids would probably run stories saying: "We know where James Bulger's killers live - they live next door to a family with two children etc, etc - but they will not be able to name the town or give their new names."

Royal Courts of Justice, London
Stringent legal curbs on media
She said if the boys got into trouble with the law the media would be prevented from reporting it.

"They would be charged under their new name but the courts would have access to their records."

Ms Nazareth said the press would not be allowed to say the Bulger killers had been charged, or even convicted of an offence.

But she said if they were convicted of a serious offence the authorities may review whether they had forfeited their right to privacy.

It is not just Venables and Thompson who must maintain life-long secrecy about their past - moves to release them would also put pressure on their families to move home to another part of the UK.

They too - parents, siblings and even extended families of relations - would be forced to cover their traces.

James Bulger
The murder of James Bulger shocked the nation

Ms Nazareth said journalists might argue there was a public interest - that the boys' new neighbours deserve to know of their background.

The boys, who are in the care of social services rather than the prison service, will have undergone constant assessments by a panel of psychologists, educationalists and social workers.

If the duo are deemed fit for release a "highly experienced, highly motivated and senior figure" from the probation service will be appointed to ease their re-entry into the outside world.

What no-one can prepare them for is a life of continually looking over their shoulders, fearing discovery at every turn.

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