Mary Bell wins appeal for lifelong anonymity

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Mary Bell, the double child killer, and her teenage daughter won lifelong anonymity yesterday after a court ruled that Bell's notoriety and "semi-iconic" status put her at risk of physical attack.

But Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court's Family Division, stressed that the injunctions did not establish a general precedent and should not "open the floodgates" for other offenders to seek anonymity.

Bell was 11 when she strangled Martin Brown, four, and Brian Howe, three, in Newcastle in 1968 in a case that shocked the nation. She served 12 years for manslaughter and was released on licence in 1980.

Dame Elizabeth argued that there were "exceptional reasons" in support of her decision. These included the young age at which Bell committed the offences; the finding by the jury of diminished responsibility based on evidence of her abusive childhood; her semi-iconic status and the effect of publicity on her rehabilitation; the serious risk of potential harassment, vilification and ostracism, and the possibility of physical harm; and concerns for the welfare of her daughter.

The judge said that Bell, 46, and her partner had since created a largely settled life in the community and had brought up her daughter to be a "charming and well-balanced girl". Bell was given a new identity in 1984 after the birth of her daughter. But they were forced to move home after being tracked down by the media in 1998 when Bell caused controversy by receiving a reported £50,000 for helping with a book about her life. They were granted anonymity until her daughter's 19th birthday this week.

They had asked the court for protection from any disclosure of their identities, their addresses or any details about their lives that might identify them. The move was backed by the Attorney General who supported an injunction under Section 8 of the Human Rights Convention, which requires respect for someone's private and family life.

The only other child killers to have received lifelong anonymity are Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the killers of James Bulger.

Dame Elizabeth said it would be wrong for the court to find that notoriety would of itself entitle a released offender to such injunctions. She added: "The granting [of anonymity] in this case is not ... a broadening of the principles of the law of confidence nor an increase in the pool of those who might be granted protection."

The ruling angered the family of one of Bell's victims, who said the order did not prevent her from cashing in on her notoriety.

Sharon Richardson, the sister of Martin Brown, said: "We are devastated. No one is interested in our family - it is just Mary Bell. All we can hope is that this doesn't happen to other families because it rips you apart."