Details about James Bulger killer Jon Venables will remain secret

The past identities of James Bulger killer Jon Venables will remain secret after a High Court judge rejected a bid by the murdered toddler’s father and uncle to have them revealed.

A lifelong injunction made in 2001 has allowed Venables to live under a cloak of anonymity since his release from a life sentence for the kidnap, torture and murder of the two-year-old in February 1993.

Lawyers for Ralph and Jimmy Bulger said certain details about the killer, including identities given to him up to 2017, were “common knowledge” and easily accessible online.

They asked the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, to vary the order so it would no longer protect this information.

Jon Venables naming legal case
James Bulger (left) and one of his murderers Jon Venables (PA)

In a ruling on Monday, the judge refused to alter the anonymity order, which he said was to protect the “uniquely notorious” Venables from “being put to death”.

He said: “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.

“This is, therefore, a wholly exceptional case and the evidence in 2019 is more than sufficient to sustain the conclusion that there continues to be a real risk of very substantial harm to (Venables).”

The judge added: “My decision is in no way a reflection on the applicants themselves, for whom there is a profoundest sympathy.

“The reality is that the case for varying the injunction has simply not been made.”

Anyone who breaches the wide-ranging injunction faces prosecution for contempt of court.

Speaking outside court after the ruling, solicitor advocate Robin Makin, for the Bulgers, said: “The authorities seem to be hell-bent on protecting JV regardless of the risk to others and this has been a primary driving force behind Ralph and Jimmy’s application.”

Sir Andrew refused permission to appeal against the ruling but Mr Makin said the Bulgers may consider pursuing a challenge at the Court of Appeal.

James Bulger was killed by Venables and Robert Thompson, who were both aged 10, after they snatched him from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside.

In his opening remarks, the judge said the crime had “profoundly shocked the nation”, adding: “The family of young James Bulger were and are deserving of the greatest sympathy as the indirect victims of this most horrific crime.”

Venables and Thompson were both granted lifelong anonymity by a High Court judge and have lived under new identities since their release from custody.

The court order was amended in relation to Venables after he was convicted of further offences in 2010 and February last year.

He was jailed for three years and four months last year after admitting surfing the dark web for extreme child abuse images and possessing a “sickening” paedophile manual.

He was charged after police found more than 1,000 indecent images on his computer.

It was the second time he had been caught with such images.

When he was arrested he told police he was plagued by “stupid urges”.

Lawyers for the Bulgers told the High Court last week that something had “gone wrong” with Venables’s rehabilitation and they, as victims, should be able to scrutinise his handling by the authorities.

They argued they are prevented from doing this because the terms of the injunction stop them from discussing details which are widely available online.

Mr Makin said they did not want the order to be discharged altogether but wanted it to be varied so certain details could be revealed without the threat of prosecution.

The court heard those details included Venables’s identities and former addresses up to 2017 and the prisons where he has been detained.

No application was made for his current identity to be revealed.

James’s mother, Denise Fergus, was not involved in the proceedings and no challenge was brought against the anonymity granted to Thompson.

At the time of a preliminary hearing in the injunction challenge last year, Mrs Fergus said in a statement: “I understand the motivation for the application but my concern is that if Venables were known by his own name, it could lead to vigilante action and innocent people being hurt.”

Only a handful of lifelong anonymity orders have been made to date, including those granted to Venables and Thompson, and child killer Mary Bell.