U.K. probes Bulger murder identity leak

LONDON, Reuters

A British newspaper on Saturday faced possible prosecution for printing details on the location of two boys who brutally killed a toddler when they were 10 and now have secret identities to protect them from revenge attacks.

Britain’s Attorney General said the Manchester Evening News article appeared to breach an injunction protecting Jon Venables and Robert Thompson who abducted, tortured and then killed toddler James Bulger beside a railway track in Liverpool.

“No decision has been made yet in the Manchester Evening News case. A decision will be made in the next couple of days,” a spokesman for the Attorney General told Reuters.

The investigation began a day after a parole board said Thompson and Venables would soon be freed after serving less than nine years for a murder that shocked the nation.

The Manchester Evening News denied deliberately breaching the injunction and was in talks with the Attorney General.

But the case underlined how difficult it will be to keep secret the new names, addresses and backgrounds given to prevent vowed vigilante attacks by the public and Bulger family members.

Britain is still haunted by the grainy closed-circuit TV images which show Venables and Thompson casually leading James off by the hand after his mother lost sight of him for a moment in the Strand shopping mall in the northwestern town of Bootle.

After the two killed him they left his body on a railway track where it was run over by a passing train.

The 1993 killing of two-year-old James led to calls for his child killers to be jailed for life.

Last year a judge ruled it would not benefit them to enter “the corrosive atmosphere” of a young offenders’ institution when they reach the age of 19, as both do in August.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said “their lives would be at risk” if they lost their anonymity.

In a statement, the dead boy’s mother, Denise Fergus, said that “no matter where they go, someone out there is waiting.”

A particular concern for those trying to protect the pair is that newspapers, magazines and especially Internet sites in Europe and the United States would publish material that could identify Thompson and Venables because they are not bound by the strict rulings that control the British media.

After their release Thompson and Venables will be under close scrutiny by probation officers and subject to a swift return to prison in the event of wrongdoing.

Another condition of their release is that they make no attempt to contact each other, or the family of their victim.

They will not be able to return to the Merseyside region, which includes Liverpool, without permission from authorities.