The anonymity debate surrounding Jon Venables, who was jailed in 1993 for the murder two-year-old James Bulger, was reignited today after news that Venables has been sent back to prison for two years for downloading and distributing indecent images of children.
Venables served just under eight years behind bars for the murder of James Bulger with friend and accomplice Robert Thompson. Upon their release in 2001, both men were granted new identities under the Mary Bell order.
Venables, however, was arrested again in March this year, appearing in court today via video-link.
He is reported to have pleaded guilty to three offences under the 1978 Protection of Children Act, for downloading 57 indecent pictures of children, distributing three images between February 2009 and February 2010 and 42 images in February 2008.
The conviction has re-ignited the debate over Venables’ continued anonymity, and he appeared in court today under his original name.
Protection of his new identity was renewed following his arrest, over fears he would be at risk of physical harm if the public knew his identity, although a judge lifted reporting restrictions in June relating to the new charges brought against him.
His lawyers Irwin Mitchell Solicitors sent a copy of the gagging order to all publications across the country in June, reminding them of the legal restrictions preventing them from reporting the details of Venables’ new identity.
Media law consultant David Banks told Journalism.co.uk that while it will probably be widely debated, his anonymity is likely to remain in place, both now and upon his release.
“I suspect the anonymity will continue because firstly, he’s going to be in prison until the authorities are satisfied he is no longer a threat, and then, when they decide he poses no threat, the court will take some convincing that, if he is no longer a threat, he should be identified and therefore put at risk of death or serious injury at the hands of vigilantes.
“It’s a balance – his right to life versus the public’s right to protection. The courts, thus far, have taken the view that the public is protected by means other than letting everyone know who he is and where he lives. This case might change that view, but I suspect it will not.”
Earlier this year, following Venables’ arrest, Lady Butler-Sloss gave her support to Jack Straw’s decision to keep his offence and identity a secret.
“This young man may or may not be tried. He may or may not have committed offences,” she told peers. “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.”