Internet provider gains law change on Bulger killers

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The Independent Online

The danger of vigilantes publicly identifying James Bulger's killers was evident yesterday when one of the country's largest internet service providers went to the High Court to safeguard its interests.

Demon Internet succeeded in ensuring it would not be held accountable if someone posted pictures or details identifying Jon Venables or Robert Thompson on one of its servers without its knowledge.

Venables and Thompson were granted an open-ended injunction safeguarding their anonymity in January when Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division of the High Court, said their lives were at risk otherwise. The injunction has now been amended to protect internet firms from being prosecuted if they take "all reasonable steps" to prevent publication.

Thus plc, which operates under the name Demon, argued that it would be unfair if internet service providers (ISPs) were automatically found to be in contempt, even if they were unable to prevent the disclosure of banned material.

Lady Bulter-Sloss approved alterations ­ agreed by Demon and lawyers acting for Venables as well as the Attorney General ­ which stated that the ISP would not be in breach of the injunction unless it, its employees or agents knew that the material had been placed, or was likely to be placed, on its servers or could be accessed via its service and failed to take all reasonable steps to find out what was being posted on its servers and prevent the publication.

Before the boys' release last month, there were rumours vigilantes planned to publish illegally a closed-circuit television image of Thompson taken on a shopping trip with care workers. The fear remains that the law could be circumvented on a foreign internet site.

Thompson and Venables were 10 when they abducted two-year-old James from a Merseyside shopping centre in February 1993. They took him to a nearby railway line where they killed him. They were found guilty of murder later that year and held in secure local authority accommodation.

They were released on life licences after the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, in effect ended their tariff ­ the minimum period they must spend in custody ­ last October, saying it would not benefit them to enter the "corrosive atmosphere" of a young offenders' institution.