10:08, March 04 335 0 theguardian.com

2019-03-04 10:08:08
James Bulger's father loses bid to overturn Venables' anonymity

The father and uncle of the murdered toddler James Bulger have lost a legal challenge to overturn the lifelong anonymity protecting one of his killers, Jon Venables.

Ralph and Jimmy Bulger argued that information about Venables that they claimed was “common knowledge” should be made public. But on Wednesday the president of the high court’s family division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, ruled that the injunction granting anonymity should be maintained.

Venables and Robert Thompson were 10 years old when they carried out one of the UK’s most notorious child murders. They were convicted of killing two-year-old James in 1993. Before their release on parole, they were given new identities, protected by a court order.

Venables has since been sent back to prison on charges related to indecent images of children. In February last year he was jailed for three years and four months after admitting surfing the dark web for extreme child abuse images and possessing a paedophile manual.

During the challenge to the 2001 injunction, lawyers for James’s father and uncle told the high court that something had “gone wrong” with Venables’ rehabilitation and that the men, as victims, should be able to scrutinise his handling by the authorities.

The solicitor-advocate Robin Makin, for the Bulgers, stressed they did not want the order to be discharged altogether but wanted it to be varied so that some information could be revealed without the threat of prosecution.

However, Edward Fitzgerald QC, on behalf of Venables, said: “There have been successive judicial findings … that there is a real risk of serious personal violence, if not death.”

Sir James Eadie QC, representing the attorney general’s office, argued there was “a clear and accepted need and justification” for maintenance of the injunction.

The judge said the injunction was designed to protect Venables from “being put to death”. He said: “As Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss [a former family division president] held, [Venables] is ‘uniquely notorious’ and there is a strong possibility, if not a probability, that if his identity were known he would be pursued resulting in grave and possibly fatal consequences.

“I accept that normally the public and parliament should be able to debate important matters relating to future policy on the basis of full disclosure of relevant information. For the reasons I have given, that is simply not possible in this case without compromising [Venables’] right to be protected from serious violence.”

James’s mother, Denise Fergus, distanced herself from the application when it was lodged, saying she feared it could lead to vigilante action.