James Bulger: why killer Jon Venables will not be identified

Murdered toddler’s father and uncle challenging order protecting freed murderer’s anonymity

Jon Venables
Ten-year-old Jon Venables following his arrest in 1993
(Image credit: BWP Media via Getty Images)

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

A worldwide order issued by the High Court 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”, reports Metro.

But James’s father, Ralph Bulger, and uncle, Jimmy, launched a legal challenge to have the ruling overturned. They said that something has “gone wrong” in efforts to rehabilitate Venables - who has been convicted twice as an adult of possessing child abuse images - and argue that certain information about the killer’s life is already “common knowledge” and easily accessible online.

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But Andrew McFarlane, president of the high court’s family division, “refused to change the terms of the order”, reports The Guardian, with the judge saying it was designed to protect the “uniquely notorious” Venables from “being put to death”.

Describing it as a “wholly exceptional case”, McFarlane 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... 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.”

Bulger was killed by Venables and Robert Thompson, then both aged ten, after they snatched him from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside.

Venables was released under licence in 2001, but was sent back to prison for two years in 2010 after pleading guilty to downloading and distributing indecent images of children and breaking his parole conditions by returning to Merseyside.

He was released with a second new identity, before being sentenced to three years and four months last February after he “admitted charges of making indecent images of children and one of having a ‘sickening’ paedophile manual”, reports the BBC.

The Bulgers’ lawyer, solicitor-advocate Robin Makin, stressed the brothers did not want Venables’ anonymity order to be discharged altogether “but wanted it to be varied so that some information could be revealed without the threat of prosecution”, reports The Guardian.

This information “includes details of the killer’s former identities and addresses up until 2017 and the prisons where he was held”, says Sky News.

Makin argued that such details would help inform public debate about rehabilitation of offenders and help protect the public from Venables.

But McFarlane said he was not convinced that Venables’ identity was already public and even if it were that did not justify giving it “a higher profile than is currently the case”.

The judge said the injunction was designed to protect Venables from “being put to death”. However, he said he would permit “any agreed relaxation regarding the Ministry of Justice’s ability to disclose, from time to time if JV [Venables] is in custody or out on licence”.

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