Newspaper faces contempt action over Bulger report

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The Independent Online

The Attorney General indicated last night that he intends to act against the Manchester Evening News over an article which allegedly had the potential to identify the whereabouts of James Bulger's killers.

An application will be made to commit Greater Manchester Newspapers Limited, the newspaper's holding company and part of the Guardian Media Group, for contempt of court over an alleged breach of an injunction issued in January. This banned information which might lead to the identification of the whereabouts of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

The announcement by Lord Goldsmith's office reflects his firm belief, made clear early last week, that an article published on 22 June, the day the Parole Board decreed the 18-year-olds should go free, breached the injunction made by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. A successful contempt of court action would leave the newspaper facing an unlimited fine. However, the possible imprisonment of the editor, Paul Horrocks ­ held responsible for all that appears in his paper ­ is ruled out since neither he nor his news editor, Steve Panter, will be respondents to the application.

The front-page article in question, which was displayed on to the newspaper's website, did not specifically identify the whereabouts of Thompson and Venables but may have enabled readers to deduce the fact.

It is uncertain whether the newspaper's defence ­ apparently still being prepared last weekend ­ will state that it considers the arguably oblique nature of its offending reference to be any defence. But two leading articles in November and January, both written by Mr Horrocks in support of continuing anonymity, may play in the paper's favour.

Last night, the Attorney General's spokesman said the application ­ which follows the newspaper's solicitors' explanation of its position, received on Saturday ­ would be made as soon as practicable.

Lord Goldsmith reminded all editors that the injunction prohibits the publication of any information likely to lead to the identification of Venables or Thompsonor their whereabouts.