Jon Venables is in “clear and present danger” of being killed if his new name is made public, a High Court judge said today.
There is “compelling evidence” that he would be attacked in revenge for murdering two-year-old James Bulger, said Mr Justice Bean. He added that the courts had a duty to protect suspects and prisoners from harm — even “unpopular defendants” such as Venables.
The judge was explaining why he has decided Venables should continue to be protected at taxpayers’ expense following his conviction for child pornography.
Venables was jailed at the Old Bailey on Friday after admitting downloading and distributing indecent images of children. After the sentence was imposed, Mr Justice Bean renewed a 2001 order that stops Venables’s new identity, appearance and whereabouts being revealed.
It also bans the media from reporting where he is in jail and where he was at the time of his arrest In February, apart from the fact he had been living in Cheshire.
Today, in a 26-paragraph ruling, Mr Justice Bean rejected demands to lift Venables’s anonymity. He said: “[There is] compelling evidence of a clear and present danger to his physical safety and indeed his life if these facts are made public.”
The judge accepted there was “an understandable and legitimate public interest in the fact that one of James Bulger’s killers has now been convicted of child pornography.” But “there is no legitimate public interest in knowing his appearance, his location in custody, or the exact location at which he was arrested and to which he might return in the event of being released”.
Having faced the child porn charges under his real name, “there is no reason why his new name should be made public,” the judge said. “The effect of doing so would simply be to assist those who seek to track him down. The fact of the public interest is that the man formally known as Jon Venables has been convicted. His new name is entirely immaterial.”
The judge dismissed suggestions Venables is only been protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. “It is a fundamental duty of the state to ensure that suspects, defendants and prisoners are protected from violence and not subjected to retribution or punishment except in accordance with the sentence of the courts,” he said.
“That principle applies just as much to unpopular defendants as to anyone else.” Venables and Robert Thompson were 10 when they tortured and killed two-year-old James in Bootle, Merseyside. They were 11 when they were convicted and ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. They were released under new identities in 2001.
Last week the Old Bailey heard that after his release Venables had been arrested on suspicion of affray but not charged, and cautioned for possessing cocaine. James’s mother Denise Fergus has demanded an inquiry into the probation service’s supervision of Venables.