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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 12:31 GMT
Paper guilty of Bulger contempt
The Manchester Evening News has been found guilty of "significant" contempt of court for publishing an article about the whereabouts of the killers of toddler James Bulger.

The newspaper was fined 30,000 and ordered to pay costs of 120,000.

The publishers have said that they are considering an appeal.

Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith QC, acted against the newspaper after a report appeared which was alleged to have breached an injunction protecting details of the movements of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.

The newspaper had denied knowingly breaching the High Court injunction but were found guilty on Tuesday.

Details about the pair were published by the paper hours after the Parole Board ruled the two teenagers could be released from secure accommodation in June this year.

Private hearing

President of the Family Division at the High Court, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, heard the case against publishers Greater Manchester Newspapers Ltd (GMNL), in private last month.

The judge said almost the entire hearing had been behind closed doors "in view of the extreme sensitivity of the evidence adduced".

Dame Elizabeth said that on 22 June the Manchester Evening News (MEN) published an article in its second edition and supplied the same information to the Manchester Online website managed by its sister company.

The information was published on the website the same evening.

'Physical safety'

Dame Elizabeth said in her judgement that GMNL was in breach of her order made on 8 January 2001.

She said she had granted the order "to protect the lives and physical safety of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson after their release from detention pursuant to the provisions of section 53 (1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933".

The Attorney-General applied on 23 August to commit GMNL for contempt on the ground that the article breached her 8 January order.

GMNL defended the application and asserted that the newspaper article was not in breach of the order.

Letter of apology

Dame Elizabeth said the impending release from detention of the two murderers of James Bulger considerably increased the publicity around them.

"Between the date of my order and June 22 there continued to be regular articles in the Press on the young men and their future," said the judge.

GMNL was not a party to the injunction proceedings nor served with a copy of the order, she said, but it was made "contra mundum" (against the whole world) and had been widely-publicised.

Solicitors for GMNL wrote a "long and apologetic" letter to the Attorney General, said the judge.

The letter said the board and the editor acknowledged that there was a "grave error of judgment on the part of a member of the Manchester Evening News' staff, a subsequent failure of its internal controls and an inexcusable breakdown in communication between those who, together, should have prevented publication".

Following the judge's ruling, a statement issued on behalf of the newspaper's publisher said that it reasserted its support for the original order and repeated that it would never knowingly contravene a court order.

"This was not a deliberate breach of the order.

"Counsel has advised that there are substantial grounds for an appeal and the Manchester Evening News is considering that course of action."

The BBC's Nick Higham
reports from the High Court
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