Newspaper is fined for contempt over Bulger killers' story

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The Independent Online

The publishers of the Manchester Evening News were found guilty of "significant" contempt of court over an article that could have led to the identification of the killers of James Bulger after their release from detention this year.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the president of the High Courts' family division and Britain's most senior woman judge, fined Greater Manchester Newspapers (GMNL) £30,000 and ordered the company to pay legal costs of £123,000.

Dame Elizabeth said: "I am satisfied that the information given in the article provided added information which, taken with other local knowledge, was likely to lead to the identification of the then whereabouts of one or both boys."

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were 10 years old when they killedJames Bulger, aged two, beside a Liverpool railway line in 1993. The pair spent eight years in secure accommodation before being granted their freedom by the Parole Board in June.

Fears that they would come to serious physical harm unless their identities were protected prompted Dame Elizabeth to impose a strict reporting ban on any information that might identify the pair, now 19.

GMNL – owned by the Scott Trust, which publishes The Guardian and The Observer newspapers – had defended the prosecution and asserted that the article was not in breach of the order. After yesterday's ruling, a statement issued on behalf of GMNL said it reasserted its support for the original injunction and repeated it would never knowingly contravene a court order. GMNL's lawyers are considering an appeal.

But Dame Elizabeth said that the observance of the injunction was of the highest importance. "Any breach could have disastrous consequences – and I don't use those words lightly," she said.

"It was very fortunate that no harm came from the revealing of the information in the Manchester Evening News article," she added.

She accepted the newspaper's assertion that it was a "sad blunder" and not a case of taking a calculated risk, but described the act as "lamentable failure of editorial control".

And Dame Elizabeth warned other media outlets to be "careful and effective in controlling the information provided to the public" in the Bulger case.