Page last updated at 22:32 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Bulger killer Venables could be murdered, says ex-judge

Police handout in 1993 of Jon Venables
Jon Venables was given a new identity on his release from prison

Jon Venables could be murdered by vigilantes if his new identity is revealed, the judge who originally granted his anonymity has warned.

Baroness Butler-Sloss originally made the decision when James Bulger's two killers were released in 2001.

"Those who wanted to kill him in 2001 are likely to be out there now," she said in the House of Lords.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said earlier that the reason why Venables is back in prison will not be revealed.

He said divulging the reason why Jon Venables was returned to prison was not in the "interests of justice".

The 27-year-old was released on life licence in 2001, having been jailed alongside Robert Thompson for the 1993 murder of two-year-old James on Merseyside.

Denise Fergus, James's mother, had earlier called for more information.

Several media outlets have reported that Venables was recalled to prison on suspicion of offences related to images of child abuse.

'Very emotional'

Mr Straw had earlier hinted he may give more information about the recall to the House of Commons.

However, Mr Straw told the house he had given "active thought" to it but concluded it "would not presently be in the interests of justice".

He said the police and director of public prosecutions had advised him that revealing why Venables was back in prison could "undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system process".

Mr Straw said revealing more information was 'not in the interests of justice'

In questions from MPs, he did confirm he had seen "no allegations" against Venables that he has killed or seriously injured anyone.

Mr Straw said he fully understood the "frustration" of Mrs Fergus - who he mistakenly referred to as "Mrs Ferguson" at one point during his statement - and the general public.

Venables is not currently facing any charges but a criminal investigation is under way.

Giving her backing to Mr Straw, Lady Butler-Sloss, who retired as a judge in 2005, told peers: "This young man may or may not be tried. He may or may not have committed offences. There is, of course, at least the possibility that he has committed no offence.

"And consequently, he may therefore be allowed again to be out (of jail) on licence."

She urged ministers to "take into account" the enormous importance of protecting Venables' anonymity.

'Lynch-mob law'

Earlier, Mrs Fergus told ITV's This Morning she had a right to know about the allegations against Venables.

She said: "I am sick of them closing doors in my face."

The Venables' recall, she said, had left her "very emotional".

"My head has been all over the place," she continued.

"I have had sleepless nights and I am not eating again - I have had to pull my kids out of school.

"It is just one massive rollercoaster again for me."

Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10 at the time, snatched James from the Strand shopping centre in Bootle, Liverpool.

CCTV of James Bulger being led away by one of his killers
CCTV cameras showed James being led from the Strand shopping centre

They walked him more than two miles to a railway line where they beat him to death and left his body on the tracks to be hit by a train.

Responding to Mr Straw's statement, Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve called on him to respond to reports that Venables had breached the terms of his licence on several occasions.

He also sought reassurance Venables was being protected for practical reasons, rather than "as some sometimes fear, a broader creeping advance of privacy rights for criminals which comes at the expense of public transparency".

Mr Straw said he did not want to say anything which could jeopardise any potential future legal proceedings.

I think we have a right to know

He said: "Mrs Fergus... has herself accepted that whilst she is obviously very anxious to have full information, she doesn't want that information to arise prematurely in a way that could prejudice any future criminal justice process and that is exactly the position that I hold."

Tory backbencher David Davis called on Mr Straw to protect Venables' identity "so that we don't see lynch-mob law in this country, even in the prisons".

Mr Straw said Venables' safety in prison was "under active consideration".

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