Bulger killers 'could be freed by Lord Woolf within months'

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The Independent Online

The killers of James Bulger may be free within four months if the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, rules in their favour today.

The killers of James Bulger may be free within four months if the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, rules in their favour today.

The former home secretary Michael Howard said yesterday that he feared Lord Woolf was going to take a lenient line with Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. They were given a minimum sentence tariff of 10 years after being convicted of the murder of the two-year-old in Liverpool in 1993.

Mr Howard extended the sentence to 15 years, but his decision was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, which said that only a court could set the tariff. Lord Woolf is due to announce his final ruling today at the High Court in London, in the presence of James's mother, Denise. Mr Howard said recent comments by Lord Woolf led him to believe he was planning to take a lenient line with Thompson and Venables.

Meanwhile the Home Secretary's right to set minimum tariffs for murder will be challenged by two new High Court cases. The cases of the life prisoners Anthony Anderson and John Taylor are to be heard as a matter of urgency as a test case. Lawyers for both prisoners will argue that the Home Secretary's powers to set tariffs is "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights, which is now incorporated into British law.

Anderson, 38, was convicted in May 1998 of two murders and given two life sentences. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, increased his minimum sentence from 15 to 20 years.

Taylor, 50, is serving life at Whitemoor Prison. His tariff was 16 years, but in March Mr Straw increased it to 22 years.